The world suffered a tragic loss Wednesday upon learning that prolific American poet, author and Civil Rights pioneer Maya Angelou had passed away in her North Carolina home.

Though news of her death flooded Facebook and Twitter by way of obligatory inspirational quotes and trite ‘R-I-P’ statuses, it seems millennials, by most part, were unshaken by the passing of one of America’s greatest surviving Civil Rights voices.

Though the seminal I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is today widely read in U.S. high schools, youth fail to comprehend what her life meant beyond the setting of high school English courses.

Brief overview of an Angelou biography, which includes her being raped at a young age, living under southern Jim Crow laws and suffering the loss of friends Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. by assassinations, would suggest Angelou as a figure to be pitied – one to inspire blind rage against the injustices of man.

However, Angelou’s legacy is not one of rage. Her writings, whose prose and poetry elevated the black struggle beyond the confines of southern politics, made visible the humanity and tenacity present in anecdotes of abject, dehumanizing oppression. Angelou, through the resonance of language, instilled dignity into the voices of marginalized peoples, effectively empowering black voices. Her accounts of injustice left us hopeful rather than despairing and forced all Americans to realize the shared dignity of their black neighbors by way of emotional appeals.

Rather than the targeted violence of revolution, the Civil Rights movement pushed America towards moral justice through the emotional potency of such voices. Angelou’s legacy, instead, is one of empowerment – appealing to the universality of man to galvanize change rather than striking down dissenting opinions through violence.

Angelou’s legacy, thereby, made possible the peaceful toppling of Apartheid in South Africa and persists to serve as an exemplar to voices seeking empowerment today, such as those of the Arab Spring, the recent American LGBTQ movement, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and elsewhere. Changing hearts through discourse rather than silencing dissenting voices has become the model of the modern revolution.

American millennials have Maya Angelou to thank for the peace in which they live, where Americans engage in civil discourse to improve society, thereby recognizing shared human dignity. Angelou has permitted us to see hope despite the pervasive suffering of the world.

Now that Angelou has passed, it is the duty of millenials to uphold her legacy. Her death leaves an urgent responsibility in our hands.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Thomas Freeman is Texas-transplant and aspiring journalist trying (but often failing) to navigate New York City. A current NYU student, Thomas also writes articles and manages media content for 20to30.

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