Wake Forest and the greater community of Winston-Salem joined together for the first annual Maya Angelou Garden Party on April 8. It was an afternoon of spoken word poetry, music, games and fellowship to celebrate what would have been the late poet, actress, author and longtime professor’s 90th birthday.
The event was student-led by the Wake Downtown Student Ambassadors and was the product of an idea first born in the Innovation Quarter last spring when Provost Rogan Kersh’s class, Universities and Communities, joined with Winston-Salem State students to discuss university and community interactions.
Angelou, who was a professor of American studies at Wake Forest for more than 30 years, inspired many in the Winston-Salem community and across the world. When the class was asked to think of ways to bridge what is often considered to be a gap between the university and the community, no one could think of a better link than Angelou.
When the idea was given to the Wake Downtown Student Ambassadors, the group was quick to carry out the idea of honoring Angelou as a means for connecting Wake Forest with members of the community who may not normally engage with those on the Reynolda Campus on a regular basis.
“It was important to honor Dr. Angelou because she is an inextricable part of Wake Forest University and this community,” said Alana James, associate director of community engagement at Wake Downtown.
“It was fitting that a garden party was held in her honor because it is well-known how much she enjoyed them.”
The party, which was held in the Innovation Quarter’s Bailey Park, included the sharing of cupcakes and lemonade, the playing of games and child-led chalk artwork, in addition to 20 speakers who either performed original spoken word poems or recited some of their favorites, some written by Angelou herself.
“The attendees, readers and artists represented a diversity of background, interest, age and profession, so it truly was an event for all,” James said.
One of the performers, Alan Brown, a professor at Wake Forest, shared a part of one of his favorite poems, “Amazement Awaits,” recalling conversations he had with Angelou about this piece and its relevance to his work with sports and child literacy.
Another speaker was Jerdei Neequaye-Pinkston, an actress and writer, who performed, “Mother Maya,” an original piece written as a tribute to Angelou and all mothers.
“Maya has inspired so many and I wanted to share a bit of her light,” Neequaye-Pinkston said.
Among the 200 people who came out to Bailey Park on Sunday afternoon was Rosa Johnson.
Johnson, Angelou’s niece, said it was wonderful to see people at the garden party.
“What I’m so happy about is that my aunt continues to inspire people, poets and life,” Johnson said. “To have this honoring her is very appropriate and very nice.”
Overall, it was an inspiring afternoon that honored the life and legacy of Angelou, a true treasure to Winston-Salem and the rest of the world.