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Black History Month – Maya Angelou

BlackbirdCaged Bird
Black History Month – Day 2

In the fall of 2014, I taught a course in World Religions to 25 men in prison. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher. It was also one of the most disturbing and unsettling experiences I’ve ever had as a pastor and theologian. I’m still unpacking the experience, and plan to continue writing in that direction.

For tonight, in honor of Black History month, I want to share a poem that I shared with my students at the end of class. We couldn’t take food into the prison, so I had to find a different way to celebrate the end of the term. I shared poetry. I’ve long loved Maya Angelou and she presciently captures the tragic situation in which U.S. prison systems are steeped in racial injustice and work to keep a form of slavery in place.

Let her words take flight and open up your imagination and your heart with compassion . . .

By Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou.