“The honorary duty of a human being is to love.” ― Maya Angelou

Today I was tooling around the internet looking for updates and news on the food waste reduction front. Honestly, it was a bummer. Yes, the vast majority of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, but hunger afflicts many in our midst. This time of year there are lots of stories about low-income families’ anxiety over the loss of meals from school programs. Thankfully, the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) will address the nutrition needs of a good number of children under age 18 at approved SFSP sites. Still, one in five kids in the U.S. struggles with hunger.

But college students are also at risk. Both Cal State and the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Wisconsin HOPE Lab) have conducted extensive research on student homelessness, displacement, and food insecurity. These and other colleges around the country have set up food pantries and programs to help food-insecure students. According to Tyler Kingkade, Fresno State has an app that notifies students of leftovers available from catered events, which also keeps food waste from the landfill. The most maddening fact is that according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, if we found a way to stop wasting the one third of all food produced on earth that we do, we could actually feed all the 795 million human beings who go to bed hungry every night. (Please see my related post, “Food waste reduction—One stone: two birds or 88 skips?”)

So I will continue to use my words to help raise awareness about efforts up and down the supply chain and at the local and individual levels aimed at reducing food waste to alleviate hunger and save the planet.

As well I thought I’d share this piece I wrote years ago about Maya Angelou; it was intended for inclusion in a book about leadership. While not directly related to the subject at hand, her story is inspirational. In the piece I mentioned Ms. Angelou’s noted quote, “The honorary duty of a human being is to love.”  Where might her words find relevance in 2016? Oh let us count the ways.  I hope you enjoy the piece.

Maya Angelou – Against All Odds

Suppose you learned that African-American author and poet extraordinaire Maya Angelou spent her first 13 years being shuttled among family households in different parts of the country. And that at age eight the trauma of being sexually assaulted, the brutal murder of the man convicted of the crime, and misplaced feelings of guilt propelled her into four years of self-imposed silence.

Then you find out that Maya gave birth to a son when she was 16 and abandoned her plans to attend college. That she had a stint as a madam in an effort to secure a future for herself and her son. And that she herself worked briefly as a prostitute when a debt-ridden boyfriend suggested it was a way to help him through some tough times.

You might ask “How is it possible that this woman built a successful, multifaceted career in the arts – one so stellar that it would capture the attention of President-elect Bill Clinton and prompt an invitation to write his 1993 inaugural poem?”

It’s one of the mysteries of human nature―why are some people powerless to overcome the adversity that’s hurled in their path, while others persevere in the face of giant obstacles and improve their lot?

Many who triumph have known people along the way who provided love and support, sometimes imperfectly, that made the difference. Maya Angelou was lucky this way. Add to that her intelligence, curiosity, courage, determination, and a longing to heal the pain she endured at the hands of unscrupulous men and a racist society, and you get an avalanche of self-expression in all its glorious forms.

The story of Maya Angelou has valuable lessons for people in all stations of life. In her lifelong struggle against racism, she has often pointed out that “…fundamentally, we are more alike than we are unalike.”

And we―as corporate executives, employees, politicians, world citizens, parents, and children―almost can’t lose by embracing her sentiment that “The honorary duty of a human being is to love.”

Here are just some highlights of a life in a perpetual state of growth:

◊ At age nine Maya began writing with the prodding of Bertha Flowers, an African American woman who gently coaxed her from her silent prison.
◊ During high school, Maya won a scholarship to the California Labor School for evening drama and dance classes.
◊ At age 15 Maya took a break from school and landed her fantasy job, one that no African-American female had yet held: She became a conductor on a San Francisco trolley.
◊ At age 25 Maya was hired to dance in a well-known San Francisco nightclub―her ticket to a successful career as a dancer, singer, and actress.
◊ Maya was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and, at age 32, was appointed to the important job of northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
◊ Despite a rocky start in creative writing, Maya’s resiliency, determination, and the encouragement of prominent African Americans culminated in the 1970 publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This successful first autobiographical novel set the stage for her evolution into one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary American literature.

Two themes that pervade Maya Angelou’s life and work are survival and optimism―both as they apply to herself and, importantly, to all humankind. Critics have noted that what sets Angelou apart from other less successful writers in this genre is the absence of bitterness. Her message is uplifting―as in the closing lines of her inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning:

Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope –

Good morning.

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