For decades, Maya Angelou has inspired women to laugh, cry and lift themselves up through her poetry and nonfiction books. Now, the writer, who’s helping establish the Maya Angelou Center for Health And Wellness, is spreading a message of physical wellbeing for women.
For Angelou, 84, launching the center is one of a few recent big events. In April, she was awarded the Presidential Medial Of Freedom, and she presided over a fundraising event for the Washington, D.C. schools that bear her name. The schools focus on at-risk teenagers.
The wellness center, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is the first regional center to coordinate women’s health care through every phase of the system, including counseling, preventive care, routine care, diagnosis and surgery. “Health navigators” will help women steer their way through the array of services available to them in the center, which will provide both preventive and regular care.
But Angelou also emphasized that for women to get the best services in any health-care system, they have to assertively manage their experience as patients. “If you feel something’s wrong, and you go to a diagnostician, be your own best advocate,” Angelou said. “Women often aren’t.”
The writer’s tough-love approach also includes advice on preventing AIDS, which has been on the rise among women. “To avoid self-protection is dumb,” she says. “If he tells you he doesn’t want to wear a condom, tell him you don’t want to do it the other way.”
She also had a few words for women who postpone mammograms. “I can’t believe women put mammograms off because the machine is uncomfortable or cold. The grave is a lot colder.”
But much of the time, Angelou added, it isn’t squeamishness that leads women to ignore their health: it’s the fact that they’re doing so much for others. “Women are caretakers,” she said, whether of a sick relative or of a family. “We have to learn to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.”
Besides preventive and diagnostic care, Angelou said, the center will help women to examine their own bad health habits and to replace them with better ones that will “make ourselves well.”
Eating issues are particularly important, said Angelou, who became overweight for a while some years ago. “I told myself, ‘What good is this doing?’ With her eating struggles behind her, Angelou says proudly, “I now wear the dresses that Oprah gave me twenty or twenty-five years ago.”
Many Boomer women, she said, also have to combat emotional as well as physical issues of aging. “Too many of us think that after 50, it’s all over but the shouting. That’s not true.”
At the center, a few miles from where she teaches at Wake Forest University, Angelou says she’ll be giving some talks and “thumping the drums” to get her message across.
It looks like she’s already started.
In honor of the center’s opening, Forsyth Medical Center, which will operate the center, is holding a contest for women to write about how they have changed a health habit. The winning passage will go on display in the center, and runners-up will get an autographed copy of Angelou’s book “ Phenomenal Woman.” To enter, go to Facebook and enter Maya Angelou Center in the search box.