Maya Angelou: 'We are all teachers whether we know it or not'

ATLANTA – Just a month shy of her 86th birthday, Maya Angelou has the mental agility of most women half her age.

This is matched by a longing to continue to share wisdom in spite of her increasingly frail health.

In reality this translates to a demanding schedule of lectures and speaking engagements up and down the country.

Still, when Dr. Angelou agreed to deliver a keynote speech at the inaugural Women 2 Women Conference in Atlanta this coming weekend her commitment was guided by a “sister-friendship.” The literary star is a close and longtime friend with conference organizer Sonjia Young.

“We have been very good friends for many years,” said Dr. Angelou in an interview with theGrio. “We have loved her and I have taken her as a big sister. She’s not afraid to ask questions and I like that.”

Young, 71, a respected business owner and community leader, said the idea to bring women together to learn from each other has been five years in the making. She adds that based on years of experience mentoring young women, she saw the need to bring this mentor-mentee relationship that naturally exists among women in informal settings to the forefront.

Young finally found the necessary impetus to kick-start the symposium after launching the Young Eventions Group (YEG), an Atlanta-based nonprofit mentoring organization for women and their families.

Established in 2013, YEG promotes mentoring and supports initiatives dedicated to creating and nurturing relationships. Saturday’s convention is the first programming event for the newly minted nonprofit.

The goal of the day-long conference at Atlanta Marriott Marquis is to bring generations of women together to inspire one another and to learn from each other how to lead better, more fulfilling lives.

“The idea is to pass down lessons and legacies that seasoned women like me and Maya have learned, and share the benefit of our experiences with younger generations of women,” said Young, who incidentally happens to be the sister-in-law of civil rights leader Ambassador Andrew Young.

“Maya is also my personal mentor,” adds Young. “I’ve learned the value of intergenerational mentoring primarily through her example.”

“We are all teachers whether we know it or not,” said Dr. Angelou. “I used to think I was a writer who could teach but I’ve found in the last 15 years I am a teacher who can write.”

In fact, Dr. Angelou believes the age-old tradition of elders passing down their wisdom has been watered down, partly because “older people are not respected as much as they used to be.”

She also asserts that technological advances, particularly the reliance of the Internet as a tool for information, is another is factor. But “A laptop can only do what you tell it to do,” said Dr. Angelou.

It is with this steadfast commitment that 85-year-old Dr. Angelou will depart from her Colonial-style North Carolina home, most likely on Friday, to travel into Atlanta. “The youngsters don’t have to make all the mistakes again,” said Dr. Angelou.

Dr. Angelou will speak from the theme “I Am Here for You,” a sentiment she expressed to Young when she was asked to deliver her speech. The internationally celebrated poet and formidable author will also receive the “Phenomenal Woman Award” on Saturday, an accolade designated in her honor and coined after one of her most famous works.

Dr. Angelou will be joined by a diverse and influential roster of panelists who will share personal stories and knowledge on topics ranging from health to career success and interpersonal relationships.

Others — such as Elisa M. Palefsky, Vice President of Sales at SPANX; Camille Davis-Williams, the founder of Greater Atlanta Women’s Healthcare and Alena Edmondson, a sought after life coach — will also pass on their knowledge.

YEG will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Maya Angelou Teen Center at the Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA, a state-of-the-art youth center in Southwest Atlanta.

The center, opened in 2011, offers a program designed to transform teens’ belief systems about their abilities, potential and capacity to overcome obstacles. Among other things, the initiative offers conflict resolution skills as well as leadership and personal development training.

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