Using the full-range of her talents, Maya Angelou delighted a crowd of more than 2,600 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
A poet, author and professor, Angelou entertained Tuesday, Feb. 26 the largest crowd, by far, in the history of UNCP's Distinguished Speaker series. Due to overwhelming demand, the venue was moved to the Jones Athletic Complex, and nearly 100 watched on closed circuit television in the University Center lounge.
Angelou was energized by an adoring crowd, which gave her several lengthy standing ovations.
"It delights my heart that this is largest crowd to hear a speaker in Pembroke," Angelou said. "I thought I was coming to your arts center, and I find myself in your stadium."
She proceeded to sing, recite poetry, laugh and cry while delivering a message that covered a "rainbow" of emotions.
"When it looks like the sun isn't going to shine any more, God put a rainbow in the clouds," she said introducing her theme for the evening. "Each one of us has the possibility, the responsibility, the probability to be the rainbow in the clouds."
Growing up in tiny Stamps, Ark., Angelou told the story of being raised by a caring family and of crippled "Uncle Willie" who taught her to do multiplication tables.
"We can change the world -- in Pembroke or New York City, in Stamps, Arkansas or Rome, Italy," she said. "Rather than give over our power, we must take it for ourselves."
Angelou said it is no small irony that she speaks to thousands of people each year when at one point in her life, she was mute. She told the story of her childhood rape and the untimely death of the perpetrator.
"I thought that my voice had killed him, so I became mute," Angelou said. "I thought if I spoke I could kill anyone."
With the aid of several tissues, she said during this mute period, her grandmother said, "When you and the Lord are ready, you are going to be a teacher."
"I don't know how she knew," Angelou said. "It is my blessing .. to be that for somebody. My grandmother was the daughter of an ex-slave and had about four years of education."
She encouraged the crowd to reject fear and have the courage to stand up against racial and ethnic "pejoratives."
"Sometimes I think we climb up the weakest side of the mountain," Angelou said. "Courage is the most important of all virtues because without it all the other virtues cannot be applied consistently."
"Each of us has the possibility to change the world where we are," she said. "I will change what I can, and what I can't, I will try to see a new way, and, maybe, that will change."
"It is time for us, as adults and Americans, to change the climate in the rooms where we live," Angelou said. "When you learn, teach; when your get, give. As for me, I shall not be moved. Each of us has the possibility and the privilege of becoming the rainbow."
Church, school and civic groups arrived early on campus in busloads to hear the famed writer and teacher. They were not disappointed.
Angelou is a professor at Wake Forest University and has won a Grammy and been nominated for two Tony Awards, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She has acted and directed films and written numerous books or poetry and prose, including "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," which tells the story of her childhood difficulties and ultimate triumph.
UNCP's Distinguished Speaker Series continues April 2 with Native American author Sherman Alexie. Corporate sponsors for Angelou's appearance were The Robesonian, The Fayetteville Observer, the Carolina Women's Center of Laurinburg and Native Angles Homecare of Pembroke.