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My one pillar of refuge as a depressed and trauma-ridden teenager was the downtown library. I’d select about six or seven books, and read into the sunset. I’d skip alongside characters as they found lost love and said their goodbyes to dying grandmas. During one of my visits, I decided to depart from my daily dose of Donald Goines street novels and select a book with a rainbow on it. The back cover heralded Maya Angelou’s words so powerfully that I gave it a try.

I opened “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and the story of Marguerite Johnson, her grandmother Annie, and her brother Bailey enthralled me. The conversational style of remembrance drew me in; Marguerite and I were more alike than I knew.

I didn’t break my usual record of reading the book in a few hours. The story was so rich and entertaining that I decided to read a portion each night after everyone went to sleep. I wanted to capture every word, every description of setting in pure silence, as a way to invite myself into her experience. When I got to the portion of the book about abuse, I cried tears so heavy that they felt like hammers landing on my tiny arms. She was robbed of her innocence at the same time I was, and she refused to speak for a season. I was in the midst of my own teenage storm, and couldn’t cry out for the pain of it. I was relieved that someone else knew the horror I had yet to escape.

Maya Angelou’s story of restoration through the gentle and loving care of her teacher, Mrs. Flowers, comforted me and gave me hope for survival. Through the gift of words and books, she was resurrected. Through her gift of prose, my young soul was given a chance to build my faith. I believed just a tiny bit more in God that spring. I felt that if I just held on a bit, things would turn around for me.

My soul was encouraged to know that there was someone in the universe who knew what it was like to be trapped. Maya found a way out, and when she rediscovered her voice, her life began. The legacy of her life’s journey is now epic.

When I remember Maya, I remember courage, power, strength, love and joy. The courage she possessed in telling her story with such candor and grace revealed a power in her spirit that remained strong over decades. Her tender flight through life was laced with love and joy as she became the woman she never thought she could be because of other people’s standards. If we are persistent in our faith, and courageous in our steps to share our tragic and triumphant truths with the world, then we too can affirm that the lives we desire are upon us. We can then not only sing, but fly to freedom.

Esih Efuru, a 45-year-old writer, artist and minister, is raising a daughter in Charlotte, NC. Email her

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Remembering Maya: A Caged Bird Sings  was originally published on