11 things that you may not know about Maya Angelou (1928-2014)


maya-angelou1) Maya Angelou’s actual name was Marguerite Ann Johnson and her brother, Bailey Jr, actually  nicknamed her “Maya.”

2) After being sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Freeman, the shock made Maya mute and she and Bailey Jr. were sent to live with her grandmother.

3) The literary icon gives her high school teaher Bertha Flowers credit for helping her to speak again after five years  of silence and for igniting her interest in literature. Angelou once stated that the period of silence actually allowed her to absorb her surroundings more intensely.

4) She had a cameo in the 1993 film , Poetic Justice. She met Tupac Shakur on set, made him cry , and didn’t even know who he was.

5) She mastered six other languages  besides English, including French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and the West African language Fanti.

6) She considered Oprah Winfrey  her dear friend and the daughter she always wanted.

7) She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry.

8) During the time of decolonization, Angelou made the decision in 1961 to relocate to Cairo, Egypt, where she became an associate editor for a weekly English-language newspaper. The following year, Angelou moved to Accra, Ghana, where she lived for five years.

8) She  befriendes Malcolm X  and planned on helping him build his new Organization of Afro-American Unity  before he was killed. Angelou met the black activist Malcolm X while living in Ghana. She moved back to the U.S. in 1965 to help him build his civil rights organization, but he was assassinated shortly after their return. Grieving, she took a step back from the movement, living in Hawaii and LA.

9) According to the New World Encyclopedia, DNA tests taken in 2008 indicated that Angelou was descended from the Mende people of Sierra Leone in West Africa.

10) She was  friends with Nelson Mandela , and they first met while she was a journalist in Cairo in 1962. Shortly after his death in Dec. 2013, she recited a poem in memory of the former South African president in a video that has racked up more than 1 million views on the YouTube channel for the U.S. Department of State.

11) She once said that she wanted the following phrase carved on her tombstone: “I did my best, I hope you do the same ».

8 things that you may not know about Nina Simone (1933-2003)


1) Nina Simone was her stage name. The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2) Her career was root in activism. At the age of 12,  She refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stance. Many of her songs in the ’60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era. Unfortunately, her activism wasn’t always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to play, and radio stations didn’t play her songs.

3) Simone  was awarded two other honorary degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

4) Her longtime guitarist, Al Schackman, said Simone once walked up to Martin Luther King, Jr., and said, “I’m not non-violent.” King reportedly replied, “That’s OK, sister, you don’t have to be.” Simone advocated using any means necessary to get equal rights for black Americans. The Civil Rights movement escalated when young black men were being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Simone became very vocal in the movement, making her less marketable in the mainstream media.

5) During the late ’60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry’s play of the same title. Simone even struck up with a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-70s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

6) One of her most famous song was banned : “Mississipi Goddam” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write.  She was fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

7) She uses her style to make a statement. Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation.

8) In 2010, an 8 foot sculpture  of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tyron, North Carolina.

Muhammad Ali : More than a hero


In 1981 Muhammad Ali saved a suicidal man who was threatening to jump out to kill hilself of a ninth-floor window in Los Angeles.

The situation was looking pretty grim, police officers couldn’t talk him down, and the crowd was chanting for the man to jump. Things could’ve taken a grisly turn if Muhammad Ali hadn’t come running up. He was across the street when he was told about the jumper. Without a moment’s hesitation, Ali hurried to the building and offered his assistance. Desperate, the police were willing to give anything a try, but they warned Ali that the young man might have a gun. The champ just shrugged. It was a risk he was willing to take.

Ali got as close as possible to the jumper, sticking his head out of a nearby window. The young man was shocked to see the world’s most famous athlete show up out of nowhere. “It’s really you!” he shouted. Over the next 30 minutes, Ali talked to the young man about his difficult home life and struggles to find a job. “You’re my brother,” Ali responded. “I love you, and I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Ali convinced the youth to unlock the door leading to the fire escape and finally led the young man safely down the stairs and into his Rolls-Royce limo. The boxer then escorted the man to a hospital and promised to help him build a better future. “Saving a life is more important to me than winning a world championship,” Ali said afterward. Then he got the man a job and an apartment and stayed in touch with him for years.



11 things that you may not know about Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

f8fa0fea81dc68ef13829996865a794a1) Muhammad Ali was originally named Cassius Clay in honor of a nineteenth-century white farmer and abolitionist who emancipated the forty slaves he inherited from his father.

2) The thing that motivated him to become a boxer was his beloved bicycle. When it got stolen in 1954,  12 year old Ali reported the theft to a policeman who gave boxing lessons at a local community center. The officer, who was also a boxing trainer, suggested that Ali learn how to fight, and six weeks later Ali won his first amateur boxing match by a split decision.

3) He never turns down an autograph request.As a young boy, Cassius Clay asked his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson for an autograph. Robinson rudely told the boy « I don’t got time. » Young Cassius never forgot how hurt he was by Robinson’s rejection.

4) Demonstrating his newfound conversion to the Nation of Islam and friendship with Malcolm X in February of 1964, Cassius Clay announced that he was revoking his “slave” surname and dubbed himself “Cassius X before becoming Muhammad Ali.

5) In 1967, during the Vietnam War, the heavyweight champion was not only arrested, but in addition the New York State Athletic Commission immediately suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Ali was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison. He remained free though while the conviction was appealed. In 1970 the New York State Supreme Court ordered his boxing license reinstated, and after 3 years Ali returned to the ring by knocking out Jerry Quarry in October 1970.

6) It was learned, many years after the fact, that there was also a secret war against Ali taking place behind the scenes. Declassified National Security Agency files showed that Ali was one of several individuals spied on during what was called “Operation Minaret.”
7) Ali was known for talking trash. He even composed his own verses in which he taunted his opponents and praised himself. People at Columbia Records were so impressed by his taunts that they decided to release a 1963 spoken-word album called I Am the Greatest, in which the twenty-one-year-old performed his “trash talking,” backed my musical accompaniment.
8) In 1975, Ali was watching the news on TV and a story came on about an elderly community that was closing because it didn’t have enough money. The next day the boxing champ went to the center and wrote a $100,000 check to keep the community center from closing. He also secretly gave a diamond ring worth thousands of dollars to a little girl in a wheelchair and routinely gave $100 bills to impoverished people he met on the streets.

9) He was  involved in charitable work and philanthropy around the world, he also fought multiple times abroad. Ali fought 15 of his 56 professional bouts outside the United States, including his famous 1974 « Rumble in the Jungle » match against George Foreman in Zaire.

10) He Saved 15 Hostages From Saddam Hussein in 1990. After Hussein invaded Kuwait, he took 15 public hostages as a human shield against what he thought would be an inevitable United States invasion. Against the public attacks of the George H.W. Bush administration, Muhammad Ali flew into Iraq in an attempt to free the hostages. Hussein made Ali wait a week before even meeting with him, but eventually the leader spoke to the humanitarian boxer and allowed him to bring the 15 hostages home not because  Hussein was such a big boxing fan, but because he respected that Ali had spoken out against the oppression and hypocrisies of the American government in the 1960s.

11) Since 2013, the Muhammad Ali Center in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, honors him with the “Three Days of Greatness.