Maya Angelou’s Lessons on Philanthropy

Image Courtesy: Flicker
Image Courtesy: Flicker

Writer. Poet. Dancer. Activist. Maya Angelou has taught us so much with her life’s work, it feels surreal she won’t be here to instruct us any farther. But will always remain our North Star; shining bright in the midnight sky with an overpowering luminosity that will transcend time. It’s hard to accept this kind of loss. Not just for who she was to society’s standards, but what she became for each of us individually: a great aunt. This void is reminiscent of my grandmothers’ passing. It feels like this dark curtain has been drawn over my heart and can’t be reversed without reflecting the weight of the loss.

However, I couldn’t let one day pass without mentioning the most heartfelt lesson she could teach us: the power of philanthropy. Mama Maya not only quietly contributed to countless charities and fundraisers, including Cheerful Givers and Hands on Nashville orgs, she also boosted the ability to give what is needed to others. She shared that philosophy in an interview earlier this year:


To highlight the point even more she wrote an essay “The Sweetness of Charity,” on how offering a helping hand can enrich the soul.

She writes:

The New Testament informs the reader that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I have
found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. The size and substance of
the gift should be important to the recipient, but not to the donor save that the best thing one can give
is that which is appreciated. The giver is as enriched as is the recipient, and more important, that
intangible but very real psychic force of good in the world is increased.
When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose
face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will
profit from that grantor’s gift.
Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence -neither speed up nor
slow down, add to nor diminish – it is an imponderably valuable gift. Each of us has a few minutes a
day or a few hours a week which we could donate to an old folks’ home or a children’s hospital
ward. The elderly whose pillows we plump or whose water pitchers we refill may or may not thank
us for our gift, but the gift is upholding the foundation of the universe. The children to whom we
read simple stories may or may not show gratitude, but each boon we give strengthens the pillars of
the world.


R.I.P Maya Angelou. May your words spoken and written wrap around us like a scarf with grandma’s lingering scent attached.


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