To the teacher:
The remarkable poet and writer Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014. This activity, structured as a circle, invites students to consider Angelou’s poem Still I Rise. (It can be adapted to use in a non-circle format as well.) Thanks to Molly Foresta and her 10th grade history students, whose circle about Maya Angelou inspired this activity.
If you choose a circle format and are not familiar with this practice, please see our Introduction to Circles.
The dialogue in circles is facilitated by a talking piece. The piece is passed around the circle in order, from one person to the next. The person who is holding it is invited to speak or pass. Everyone else in the circle practices active listening. Everyone in the circle has an opportunity to share without interruption what is on their mind, and those not speaking can listen more fully without the distraction of preparing a response or rebuttal. In this way, the talking piece encourages more thoughtful reflection and unhurried expression.
As teacher, you will play the role of facilitator and participate in the go rounds.
Ask students who Maya Angelou was. What do they know about the "phenomenal woman"* who died at the age of 86 on May 28, 2014?
Elicit and explain that Maya Angelou died at the age of 86 last week. She was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, MO on April 4, 1928. After a rough childhood, during which she became mute for almost five years, she became one of America’s most lauded poets and writers. While mute, she is said to have developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and her keen ability to listen and observe the world around her. Angelou became the first African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco in the 1940s.
After giving birth to a son in 1946, she wrote later in her life that she "slid down the social ladder into poverty and crime." Without job training or an advanced degree, she worked as a restaurant cook and prostitute while raising her son as a single mother. She later became a dancer, singer, and performer in clubs around San Francisco. In 1959 she moved to New York to concentrate on her writing. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild. After meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960 she became an organizer and activist. She became friends with Malcolm X a few years later and help him build a new civil rights organization.
Angelou is best known as a prolific and award-winning author and civil rights activist. In 1993, she recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011.
* See Angelou's poem called Phenomenal Woman.
Ask students to take a minute of silence as they remember the life of Maya Angelou.
Circle: Still I Rise
Hand out copies of "Still I Rise" (see below).
Go round 1:
Invite participants to read one line at a time going around the circle, so that you are reading the poem together as a group.
Go round 2:
Invite participants to study to poem and pick one line that resonates with them. In the second go round, invite participants to read the line they picked as you go around the circle again, this time creating the group’s own version of "Still I Rise."
Go round 3:
Send the talking piece around asking participants to read the line again and explain why they picked that particular line.
Touch on some of the things that were shared in the circle. You might share that the poem is about resilience in the face of hardship. Maya Angelou obviously overcame much hardship in her life, but despite the hardship continued to rise.
Go round 4:
Ask students to think about a time in their life they overcame hardship. What were they able to draw on in their lives that allowed them to rise? Provide index cards for students to write down what they were able to draw on to overcome hardship. In the go round, ask them to share a time in their lives they overcame hardship, then add their card to the center of the circle, creating a group "center piece."
Go round 5:
Ask students to look at the various supports, values, beliefs, etc. that have been contributed to the center piece, allowing participants in your group to "rise." Send the talking piece around asking people to reflect on these and/or respond to what has been shared.
If possible, play this clip of Maya Angelou performing "Still I Rise": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqOqo50LSZ0&feature=kp
Go round 6:
Send the talking piece around, asking students to share one word in response to the poem. If there is time, continue to send the talking piece around till everyone passes.
Maya Angelou was a courageous woman who overcame much hardship in her life and stood up for what she believed in whether it was a popular belief or not. In her work she talks about courage frequently. This is what she said of courage:
"One isn’t born with courage. One develops it. And you develop it by doing small, courageous things, in the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up 100 pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a five pound bag, and then a ten pound, and then a 20 pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds. And that’s the same way with courage. You develop courage by doing courageous things, small things, but things that cost you some exertion - mental and, I suppose, spiritual exertion."
In Maya Angelou’s name, think of one small courageous thing you can commit to this week to start building and strengthening your own courage muscles.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.