In 2002, I spent a week working with a group of teenage girls at a camp called Birch. Those girls have had an ongoing influence on my life for the, wow, 12 years since then.

Birch was a camp for families living with HIV/AIDS. These girls were, in many ways, totally typical of their age, and in other ways wise beyond their years. They taught me a lot about grace and humour and fierceness in the face of great odds. They named themselves “The Phenomenal Women”, after a poem by Maya Angelou.

Which is why, when I heard Maya Angelou had died, I thought of that group of girls, fierce and beautiful in the face of death and disease. I feel like that is a fitting memorial for a woman who spent her life fighting fiercely and beautifully in the face of oppression.

May we all fight with such grace, fierceness, beauty and strength. Fly well, Maya. You were one of our greatest.


Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.