So much of this early background screams disadvantage and could well have seen many a person trapped in an existence of disadvantage and abuse. Maya Angelou overcame though, and in this background of her autobiography we can see some of the reasons why. She was fortunate to have a largely strong and supportive family. Momma was neither warm nor cuddly but she provided love and stability when the children needed it. She also sets a positive example in terms of hard work, treating people well and rising above discrimination. At two crucial moments Maya's mother stood by her, first by not doubting her over the rape and not sticking with her then boyfriend, and second by supporting her once she discovered Maya was pregnant. The close-knit black community in Stamps, the family's faith, and the value Maya found in education also contributed to her inner fortitude.
The other factor that really stood out to me was the importance of having other people believe in her at key junctures in Maya's life. I'm thinking here especially of Mrs Flowers as well as Miss Kirwin. Even if we don't have children of own, we should not underestimate the positive impact we can have on a child's life - a gift, a smile, a positive word of encouragement, time. Any one of these can stick with a child, potentially sustaining them and spurring them in a positive direction.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings could well have been a depressing read. But it wasn't. Even though it ends with Maya as a young unmarried mother, the reader is left with the sense that she will overcome whatever obstacles life throws at her in the future.