Maya Angelou’s appearance on US coin: What this means for the disability community in Nigeria (Pulse Contributor's Opinion)

Late Poet and Writer Maya Angelou’s iconic appearance on a US quarter coin is a big win for not only African-Americans but also Nigerian disability community which remains a minority.

Maya Angelou’s appearance on US coin: What this means for the disability community in Nigeria

Last week, Maya Angelou became the first black woman to appear on the U.S. quarter. Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist.

Maya and America have shown us, once more, that they are a history-making minority individual and nation; so can we!

The late foremost African-American poet, and activist has become the first Black woman to be featured on a US quarter coin. That’s arguably one of the most significant recognitions and achievements for not only the African American society but also for every minority person, individual, and community in Nigeria and around the world.

While African-Americans are beyond proud of this national recognition bestowed on a respected figure from its community, the disability community in Nigeria would be especially thrilled and invigorated over this momentous credit in US Black history.

Every minority person in Nigeria, including children, adolescents, men, and women with disabilities, must now be newly keenly aware of the power of hope in the face of adversity; of the overarching role of smarts, grits, and determination necessary for actualizing our goals.

Maya Angelou and the African American community have shown us what is humanely possible.

Angelou tells us that despite our minority status as Nigerian people with disabilities, despite the disproportionate amount of physical and psychological trauma we experience a day in, day out, as well as the occasional jail time, arrests, and battery in the hands of unsympathetic institutions and law enforcement agencies, we can demonstrate decency and show the world our uniqueness and individualism.

Like Maya Angelou’s writings that were best known for portrayals of strong African American women, Deaf people and individuals with visual impairment can show the world the strength of our values, and also the “humanity” of our hardships. Rather than treat us based on what we are, society can treat us and make policies and legislation that see us for who we are: a community of exceptionally-abled individuals.

Despite our fine brains and our uniqueness, members of the disability community in Nigeria remain a minority-- with significant safety and governance challenges, ranging from high unemployment, poor information/knowledge acquisition, molestation, and emotional/sexual abuse of the deaf/blind child, and social and physical and psychosocial harassment.

For this moment in the historic African-American, Maya Angelou tells us that we can still be heard. That despite our current minority status, we can overcome.

Maya Angelou, in her singular characteristic usage of a first-person point of view and the rhythms of folk song, says, even though we are “caged”, we can sing. We can thrive in the face of extraordinary limitations.

Angelou may have been accustomed to many firsts. At Bill Clinton Inauguration in 1993, Maya Angelou became the first black woman to write and perform a poem at a presidential inauguration. That was a lot to hold for the African-American community.

Maya and America have shown us, once more, that they are a history-making minority individual and nation; a person and society that are keenly aware of their imperfection and are doing everything to become better, more advanced, and more integrated for the benefit of every person, every object, and every entity that ever, ever lives.

If there is anything that the appearance of Maya Angelou on a US coin bears on the psyches of people with disabilities in Nigeria, it is that, out of many, we are one. Every one of us matters, regardless of station, status, or disability. We matter all. Disabled as we are as individuals, we are first and foremost, persons and individuals.

The featuring of Maya Angelou on an American currency is a testament to the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fundamental decency of a good society. And the Government of Nigeria can have an active consideration.

Maya Angelou was an American writer, poet, and civil rights, activist. The child of divorce, Maya Angelou spent most of her childhood living with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, the place she calls her hometown. After graduating with honours from Lafayette County Training School in 1940, Angelou was reunited with her mother in San Francisco, California, America’s largest state by total land area.

At the age of 16, she graduated from high school, gave birth to her son Guy, and began a series of jobs, including cooking and waiting tables. With black blood running through her veins and stuck within a minority, a despised Black community that had no access to what regular white Americans inherently had, Maya, as her brother fondly called her, overcame considerable hardships, including emotional and sexual abuse.

It was during this traumatic period of being “silenced” (like several members of the Nigerian disability community do) when Angelou developed her astonishing memory, her extraordinary liking for books and literature, including her ability to listen and observe the world around her, her biographer had reportedly written.

Maya had tremendous writings. Principally, she wrote of the African American woman’s coming of age, of struggles with discrimination, of the African and West Indian cultural heritage, and the acceptance of the past.

“Of the acceptance of the past”. Like the famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer, I pray, may we be “granted the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Thank you, Maya. Thank you, America, for presenting to us a pathway to accepting the things we cannot change and the courage to hope for a more inclusive, tolerant society in Africa’s most populous nation.

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