Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou Celebrate Toni Morrison on Her Birthday

Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou comprise a powerful circle of sisterfriends. Today...

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Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou comprise a powerful circle of sisterfriends. Today is Morrison's 82nd birthday and her dear friends spoke with ESSENCE.com about their friendship and work. Here's an excerpt:


ESSENCE.com: There’s a lot to be said about the current state of Black women today. What do you think are our greatest victories and biggest challenges?
GIOVANNI: I think the challenge for women period is still to be ourselves. And I think that’s a decision that we should make. I don’t think other people should tell us what makes a woman. The only thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger ever said that made sense to me was that every child should know how to swim. For example, being a Black woman at my age, none of us can swim. The boys learned to swim because they could go to the creek or they could go to the river. Well, we couldn’t do that, we couldn’t go jump in there. We had issues of not having swimming pools because it was an era of segregation and we had issues of our hair. And we couldn’t afford to let our hair go back. Well, that’s ridiculous that you’re being controlled [in that way about your hair]. I think women have to make a decision, each of us, in our own way and for ourselves, who it is we are.

ANGELOU: The great challenges remain. They have not been lessened by what we’ve achieved. We continue to lift ourselves up and lift each other up but we have not achieved any level of acceptance that has kept us above the survival level.

ESSENCE.com: Do you think we will ever get above that level?
ANGELOU: Of course we will! We are better than we were. But not by being careless and not by being forgiving and thinking we have nothing left to do. The struggle continues unabated. We have more women trying to be better, trying to be present than we ever have. We have more women trying to support other women. I think we’re better off than we were but this doesn’t mean we’re finished and cool and everything’s okay. Black women are heads of universities and colleges and senators and congresswomen and we’re still pushing and stretching ourselves and trying to support ourselves. I think we are doing so much better than we think we’re doing. And it’s not nearly enough, but it’s something. And we have to say that. You see if you don’t say that you make young people think, “Well, damn, with the lives and deaths of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, we haven’t gotten any further?” That would be ridiculous! Then young people would say, “Well, damn, if that’s so, and those people are larger than life, then why should I even try?” So you can’t do that. You have to say we’ve made some outrageous and incredible strides. Not nearly enough, but we’ve made some.

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