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President Barack Obama presents Maya Angelou with the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House Feb. 15, 2011

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When I was 10 years old I found a well-used book in my mother’s bedroom. The pages were folded back, the cover was barely intact and the pages were stained. If I had to guess, I’d say that the book had been read several times over. As I sat on my mother’s bed and flipped through the pages of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I didn’t know that it would be years before I realized the full impact of the book on my own life.

At age 10 I received my first lessons about racism, the importance of family and overcoming obstacles. But it wasn’t until adulthood that I was presented with similar obstacles. During several difficult life experiences, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was my bible. Whenever I needed motivation, I picked up that tattered book, which I refused to replace, and delved into the pages. I wouldn’t leave my couch until the book was read.

Maya Angelou taught me that you needed resilience in order to survive what life handed to you. She also taught me that neither my gender nor my skin color should prevent me from achieving my goals. Those lessons have stuck with me since I was that 10-year-old wondering if the book my mother held so dearly was something I should put down and not bother reading. 

Since news broke about Angelou’s passing, the top 10 hashtags on black Twitter have referred to the prolific writer. In celebrating her life and the legacy she leaves behind, many on social media are using the hashtag #mayataughtme to share those life lessons the great one bestowed upon them:

The passing of Angelou means different things to many people, but her legacy will live on several lifetimes over. 

Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.