My Reflection on Meeting a Phenomenal Woman

Maya Angelou

My first full time job in Washington, DC was working at the Maya Angelou Public Charter School’s Shaw Campus near Howard University teaching literacy. The school, which was founded to serve older DC youth seeking to get their high school diploma, was one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever had. Abused, abandoned and forgotten youth were the faces that filled our hallways. After a year working in the school I remember being frustrated, tired and completely done. You aren’t trained how to deal with the life so many of those students faced everyday. At the end of the year Dr. Maya Angelou came to speak and that event changed my entire prospective on the work we did there and the work I do at my current job.

If you have ever met Dr. Angelou it would not shock you that she is one of the most amazing people you can ever come in contact with. A high school drop out at age 14, she later returned and graduated only to become a single mother on the streets of San Francisco, CA at the age of seventeen. The woman who never went to college is fluent in five languages and has earned over 50 honorary degrees. The woman we look to for words to express our thoughts was raped by her step-father at seven years old and when she testified against him, a mob from the community nearly beat her to death. She would later not speak another word for six years.

I met Dr. Angelou on a hot day in June at a time when I was unhappy in my work, feeling down for myself, and frustrated with my students. However still to this day I remember her saying, “not many people will remember what you say, not many will remember what you’ve done, however they all will remember how you made them feel.” She was right. At age seventeen Dr. Angelou had been abandoned and abused by her family and forgotten by the rest of the world. She however never allowed that to determine how great she would be for the world. This week she closed her eyes for the last time as reports from North Carolina say she was found dead in her home, but she left us a life that as we examine it should help us serve one another more.

Everyday I am blessed to work with a group of amazing young women who at times can be a challenge. Many of them have experienced some of the same life hurdles of Dr. Angelou. If her life teaches us anything, it should be that their present doesn’t have to be their future.

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Joseph Lynn Kitchen Jr. is an ordained Baptist minister from Prince George’s County, MD where he serves as a community leader on issues of education reform, public transportation and youth empowerment. Joseph is President of the Young Democrats of Maryland. Learn more about Joseph’s work at


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