Maya Angelou has taken on many roles over the years. She’s been a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first female black director (Down in Delta), but she’s most famous for her work as a writer and poet.
Her latest project hits close to home — literally. The Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness, which opens June 28 in her adopted hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will provide a range of services including mental health, prenatal care, HIV and STD testing, emergency care, bone and joint treatment and heart disease and diabetes care.
Why did you decide to take up the issue of women’s health?
“I’m a woman! I have enough basic intelligence to know that I am wise to be on my own side. I am an advocate for myself, and an advocate for women. The center worked very hard on trying to focus on all aspects of women’s health and wellness. Once they had satisfied that framework, they decided to name the facility after me, and I’m pleased and flattered and delighted.”
What message would you like to instill in young girls when it comes to their health?
“Encouragement. Sometimes you have to unteach because modern society either obliquely or overtly tells women and girls that you’re not really all that. So women have to be detoxed from that kind of poison and informed how important they really are and that they need to protect themselves and give voice to their own thoughts.”
You recently turned 84 and you haven’t slowed down a bit! What’s your secret?
“I’m very blessed. I’m grateful. I continue to have an attitude of gratitude. The first thing I do in the morning when I awaken is say, ‘Thank you, Lord!’ I’m grateful to be alive, and I’m going to try to tell the truth as well as I know and tell it as eloquently as I can so that people can hear it.”
The health center will open in your town of Winston-Salem, N.C. What do you love about life there?
“It’s startling beautiful. It’s a beautiful town at the foot of the Great Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I moved here from Northern California and I thought I would really miss the beauty of Northern California, and I don’t at all! The people are also nice and very kind.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
“I cook and I read. I have fabulous gardens, so I like to sit out in my gardens. I cook for friends and have cocktails for friends. I watch Law & Order and listen to country music.”
Who are some of your favorite country singers?
“I’ve been seriously affected by the breakup of Brooks & Dunn. They broke up after 20 years and I’ve been seriously offended by that! I like some young singers, too. I like Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland — she can sing — and so can Carrie Underwood. And I love Blake Shelton. I’m also very smitten by a couple of real cowboys, Montgomery Gentry. I went to hear them and they gave me a guitar.”
How do you feel about the world today?
I thank God that I’ve lived long enough to see what I have seen, and I pray that people will continue to do better. We are doing better, it may not seem so, but there was a time when people were lynched in the middle of the street and it was not against the law. We are doing better, but we have so much more to do.”
Oprah Winfrey sent you a special Mother’s Day message this year. What’s it like to know that you are an inspiration to so many?
“It’s a blessing. I’m grateful to be of use. I will not be misused or abused, but I will be of use to anybody.”