Dear Dr. Angelou,
I want to begin by saying “thank you.” You have been an inspiration to me for my entire adult life. I was first exposed to your writing when a professor of mine, Mary Frances Berry (who later became the Chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights), suggested I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” when I was in college in the 1960’s. I had shared with her that as a white man in my personal work on issues of civil rights, I felt inadequate to understand the experience of African American women. “Read Maya,” she said. I was profoundly moved and inspired and have been by you and your work ever since. Having had the privilege of meeting you and being around you a number of times, most recently when your portrait was dedicated at the National Portrait Gallery, I can only say that you were the rare person whose presence transcended their “mythology.”
Throughout my life I have been moved by the message of universal love and acceptance that you have communicated so powerfully; the inclusiveness that you have demonstrated in your writing and speaking and very being…with power and truth, and with a fierce grace that demonstrates so incandescently, as it did with Gandhi, with Dr. King, and with Madiba, that love and power can live together and be the greatest transformative influence that the world has ever known.
You will live forever in your poetry, in your songs, in your schools, in the children you have blessed, and in all of us who have been your students. You will live forever in my heart.
I will say farewell to you with my favorite of all of the prayers I learned as a child. It is the blessing that is given not only by a Rabbi, but also by people to their most beloved ones.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
(Yevharekha-kha Adonay Veyishmerekha) May the Lord bless you and keep you -
יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
(Ya-er Adonay panawv elekha vihunnekka) May the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
(Yissa Adonay panaw elekha, viyasen lekha shalom)
May the Lord lift up His face unto you and give you peace.
God Bless you.
With love and appreciation,