Maya Angelou will speak at One Mizzou Week

Sunday, November 11, 2012 | 7:00 p.m. CST; updated 8:35 a.m. CST, Monday, November 12, 2012

COLUMBIA — Poet laureate Maya Angelou fell asleep before Tuesday's presidential election was decided. She woke up at 2:30 a.m. and learned that President Barack Obama was elected for another term. She couldn't go back to sleep and spent the rest of the night watching and re-watching the election coverage.

Angelou, who described her election night during a phone interview with the Missourian, will visit MU as a speaker for the first One Mizzou Week, a week-long program on diversity. The sold-out event starts 7 p.m. on Monday at the Missouri Theatre.

Courage is one theme Angelou plans to address in her speech. She said she saw courage in Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s concession speech and thought it took grace for him to say that he and his family will be praying for the president.

"Courage, I believe, is the most important of all virtues, because it takes courage to practice all other virtues," Angelou said.

Angelou said she was blown away by the president's victory speech and was heartened by his audience's diversity.

"The pundits who continue to polarize us are failing and Americans are coming together," she said. "We are beginning to see ourselves in each other."

While Angelou cited the media as contributors to racial divisions, she also said that people don't take opportunities to come together in institutions like church, which are usually segregated.

“We need to become active or we risk becoming terribly inactive,” Angelou said.

Angelou's involvement in creating social change dates back to the Civil Rights Movement, when she worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

She met Malcolm X while living in Ghana and came back to the U.S. to help him build his Organization of Afro-American Unity, according to her website. After Malcolm X's assassination, Angelou served alongside King as the Northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Angelou said King’s compassion and commitment to the non-violent movement attracted her to the conference.

“Both men were charismatic and passionate about what they believed,” Angelou said.

Angelou remembers speaking with Malcolm X after his trip to Mecca. He told her he no longer saw white people as evil.

“It took courage to say this,” Angelou said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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