DALLAS — Her regal smile and soul-stirring words greet students daily. They are a reminder that a woman who has serenaded presidents with poetry was once just like them.
“Dr. Angelou was a teen parent, and she became very successful, very influential,” said Dr. Cheryl Davis Humphrey, principal at DISD's Maya Angelou High School. “She reflects everything that I would want the girls to become.”
Maya Angelou High School is an alternative school for teen mothers. Angelou dropped out of school when she was the same age as Sandra Robledo, just 14. Robledo has a five-month-old baby boy.
“Some of her problems were the same as mine, and she didn’t give up,” Robledo said of Angelou. “She kept going.”
Angelou channeled her hardships into writing, something Humphrey felt could motivate students.
“We are trying to uplift them and instill resilience and perseverance in them,” she said.
In 2005, Dr. Humphrey came up with the idea to change the school's name from Health Special to Maya Angelou High School.
Teacher Michele Safford met Angelou at a book signing, and told her about her namesake school in Dallas.
“[...]And her face lit up and I was amazed that I was even in front of her,” Safford said.
Safford was also a teen mother, and was inspired by Angelou’s life and her books. She named her own daughter Maya.
Safford said Angelou asked her to write and tell her more about the school. She did, and Angelou later called the school and spoke with Dr. Humphrey. “She said, 'I have many schools named for me, but once Ms. Safford wrote to me and explained the mission of the school and the population that you serve,' she said, 'that is just so special to me.'”
Angelou sent books and posters. On Wednesday, the school observed a moment of silence and sent its condolences.
“I hope she's resting in peace and writing poetry with the angels now,” Safford said.