A Tribute to Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee, by Suze Guillaume

Opening words at the Tribute to Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee on February 11, 2015, @ Miami Dade College (North Campus)


Today I am honored to pay my respect to two phenomenal women. Today we celebrate the lives of Maya and Ruby, not because they are gone but because their work and words will live on forever. Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee created opportunities for little black girls from all over the world to succeed. I get chills knowing that these two beautiful women were activists, poets, play writers, and actors.

Dr. Maya Angelou (Marguerite Ann Johnson) was an American author and poet who died on Wednesday May 28, 2014, at the age of 86. Maya Angelou was the author of 30 books, including her groundbreaking autobiography, Why The Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou was a warrior for fairness and peace. On May 23rd, Angelou wrote her final tweet: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

Ruby Dee who was a legendary actress, poet, and Civil Rights activist, passed away On June 11, 2014 at the age 91. Her birth name was Ruby Ann Wallace, and the Harlem native was a generator on stage and screen, starring in the 1961 film A Raisin in the Sun, winning Obie and Drama Desk Awards for the play Boesman and Lena; she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her turn as the energetic mother to Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, in the 2007 film American Gangster. She was also a pioneer who paved the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers to break through during the height of segregation. Ruby Dee was married to Ossie Davis, the actor, activist, and WWII veteran, from 1948 until he passed away in 2005. The pair appeared in 11 stage productions and five films together, including Davis’s first feature film, 1959’s No Way Out, which also starred Sidney Poitier, and later, in the Spike Lee films Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever.

Their words were so powerful. There was a shift in the air when you heard them speak. A couple of months ago, I had a dream where both Maya And Ruby were exchanging dialogue. They were laughing and talking about how life was for them growing up. I was in awe when I was able to see them up close; I was eager to ask them questions but realized that they were not really there. I woke up and I had to ask myself this: What I am doing to make a difference?  I started calling all my sisters and girlfriends telling them, “We can’t be silent NO more. We have to speak up, like Maya and Ruby and all of the women involved in the civil rights movement.” Maya Angelou said it best: “Nothing will work unless you do.” Again, I say it: Nothing will work unless you do.

You can either sit and watch life pass you by or you can see something that needs to be done and make it happen. It is your call. I would Be silent no more. Ruby Dee said, “God, Make ME SO uncomfortable that I will do the very thing I FEAR. Sometimes you have to get uncomfortable so that you can surpass your fears.”

This event was a forum which included poems and skits that reflected Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee.  The discussion included women who were pioneers during the civil rights movement.

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