The world is mourning the loss of Maya Angelou, one of the preeminent literary minds and civil rights activists of all time. Her influence reached across all aspects of our culture, from poetry to politics, from music to musical theater -- even to sports.
Like Nelson Mandela, another great civil rights leader whom we recently lost, Angelou recognized the power of sports to unite, even in a politically charged global climate. She was set to be honored by Major League Baseball with the Beacon of Life award before Friday’s Civil Rights Game between the Houston Astros and the Baltimore Orioles. Last week, she was forced to cancel her appearance due to health issues.
In 2008, Angelou’s unshakeable optimism was channeled on the world’s biggest sporting stage, when she was tapped by the U.S. Olympic Committee to pen a poem for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. The resulting work, “Amazement Awaits,” embodied her characteristic compassion and hope, ever-present in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardship:
We are here at the portal of the world we had wished for
At the lintel of the world we most need.
We are here roaring and singing.
We prove that we can not only make peace, we can bring it with us.
Recall that the Beijing Games were among the most cynical in recent memory, with host country China coming under fire for supporting the Sudanese government amid ongoing genocide in Darfur, suppressing Tibetan protesters and political dissidents, widespread censorship of the news media and crippling air pollution. City officials who oversaw the massive construction projects were investigated for corruption, as Beijing spent billions on preparations for China’s debut on the world stage. The treatment of migrant workers -- a recurring theme in this year’s Winter Games -- was ostensibly in violation of the International Olympic Committee’s charter.
And yet, as world leaders and presidential candidates used the Olympics to boost their own moral superiority, Angelou reminded us all that while we’ve lost sight of the original, unadulterated goal of healthy international competition, the games still “prove that we can not only make peace, we can bring it with us.”
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