The Friday Poem @ the intersection of Maya Angelou, Hillary Clinton and Muhammad Ali

Maya, Muhammad and Hillary. Not three names you would intuitively link together, but that’s what history claimed this week, as a ‘political poet’ passed, and a deceased poet’s 2008 words echoed in the background of a rally at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The news of the death of Muhammad Ali literally stopped the presses at the New York Times early Saturday morning. On Wednesday, newspapers across the country led with the history making headline reporting “Hillary Clinton‘s nomination: A win 96 years in the making”.

It will not be an easy road to November for Secretary Clinton as reported by Patrick Healy and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

“When Hillary Clinton swept onto the stage at her victory rally Tuesday night, the thunderbolt of history struck many Americans, no matter their love or loathing for her: A woman could be the next president of the United States.

But like so much about Mrs. Clinton, her speech, which lit up televisions and smartphones and social media all day Wednesday, produced conflicting emotions.

For some, it was an inspiring moment that brought home in a visceral way that Mrs. Clinton is the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major party. For others, there were chills and discomfort that this next step forward in our national story was unfolding with this particular woman.”


The candidate might take heart from the poem Maya Angelou submitted to The Observer in 2008, with the backstory told by Vanessa Thorpe for The Guardian.

“She is supporting Clinton despite her close friendship with television personality and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, a prominent backer of rival Democrat Barack Obama, the first black presidential hopeful with a real chance of reaching the White House.

Angelou is steadfast in her loyalty to Clinton. She said recently: ‘I made up my mind 15 years ago that if she ever ran for office I’d be on her wagon. My only difficulty with Senator Obama is that I believe in going out with who I went in with.’

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, said of the poem: ‘This is a great thing for The Observer to have.’ He favourably compared it with the ‘vivid flourishes’ of Angelou’s recent work. ‘With this kind of poem Angelou has decided to interpret public writing as a verbal equivalent of making a poster, and there’s nothing wrong with this. The rhetoric is full of big gestures that make a direct appeal to our feelings, rather than getting to it by the little winding ways more personal poetry might use.'”

The poem:

State Package for Hillary Clinton

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

This is not the first time you have seen Hillary Clinton seemingly at her wits’ end, but she has always risen, always risen, don’t forget she has always risen, much to the dismay of her adversaries and the delight of her friends.

Hillary Clinton will not give up on you and all she asks of you is that you do not give up on her.

There is a world of difference between being a woman and being an old female. If you’re born a girl, grow up, and live long enough, you can become an old female. But to become a woman is a serious matter. A woman takes responsibility for the time she takes up and the space she occupies. Hillary Clinton is a woman. She has been there and done that and has still risen. She is in this race for the long haul. She intends to make a difference in our country. Hillary Clinton intends to help our country to be what it can become.

She declares she wants to see more smiles in the family, more courtesies between men and women, more honesty in the marketplace. She is the prayer of every woman and man who longs for fair play, healthy families, good schools, and a balanced economy.

She means to rise.

Don’t give up on Hillary. In fact, if you help her to rise, you will rise with her and help her make this country the wonderful, wonderful place where every man and every woman can live freely without sanctimonious piety and without crippling fear.

Rise, Hillary.


Maya Angelou, 2008


On Thursday, Henry Louis Gates Jr. recalled ‘Muhammad Ali, the Political Poet’. In the essay he linked Angelou and Ali by their poetry, often labeled ‘doggerel’.

“Perhaps Maya Angelou, whose own poetry is sometimes labeled doggerel, said it best: “It wasn’t only what he said and it wasn’t only how he said it; it was both of those things, and maybe there was a third thing in it, the spirit of Muhammad Ali, saying his poesies — ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ I mean, as a poet, I like that! If he hadn’t put his name on it, I might have chosen to use that!”

“It would be a mistake to say that Ali made black oral poetry more sophisticated or complex, but he did make it more political. After learning his local draft board had declared him eligible for induction into the Army in 1966, Ali recited this poem:

Keep asking me, no matter how long,
On the war in Vietnam,
I sing this song:
I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.

On this Friday, we pause to remember the athlete, humanitarian and role model who was Muhammad Ali, we celebrate a milestone for women, and reflect on the words of two American poets who significantly influenced our culture.



Finding your passion is not terrible career advice

When we talk about passion@work we talk about ‘fit’. If we trivialize the importance of dedication, we devalue enthusiasm and energy in the workplace. Suggesting that someone follow their passion is not bad career advice.

Yesterday, New York Post journalist Mackenzie Dawson added her voice to the doubters.

“But for all its good intent, “Find your passion” can actually be pretty lousy career advice — and it usually doesn’t leave people feeling as though they’re any closer to finding something they really like doing.

The problem with “finding your passion” is that it’s completely overwhelming — kind of like starting the next Facebook — and face it, most of us aren’t the next Mark Zuckerberg. That’s because the idea of “finding your passion” is completely overwhelming — kind of like heading off to “paint the Sistine Chapel” or “start the next Facebook.”

Her argument is that this advice sets folks up to fail. OK. But how do you learn if you don’t try? And, BTW, most of us embark on passions that are far more manageable than starting the next Facebook. I’m reminded of a conversation I had at a reception a couple of weeks ago with a NYC charter school principal who has found her bliss and whose excitement was downright contagious.

This is what finding your passion is about: finding that place@work where you learn, grow and thrive.

Ms. Dawson’s article found support in quotes from recruiting firm ReWork co-founder, Nathaniel Koloc.

“A lot of people don’t know what their passion is — it’s a monolithic way to describe a career. Also, careers don’t work like that directly,” says Nathaniel Koloc, co-founder of the progressive recruiting firm ReWork. “Your career grows as you learn to give more value. Also, it’s misleading to imply that simply because you like to do something, other people will value it enough to pay you. At the end of the day, you’re talking about the marketplace.”

Instead of the dreaded P-word, Koloc recommends approaching your career choices from a different perspective, and asking yourself two main questions: “Where will I learn more?” and “Where will I provide more value?”

Not sure the charter school principal would agree, and I would offer that her workplace offers both lifelong learning, and adds significant value to the lives she touches daily. A calling, career is not always about the marketplace.

No one would offer advice to knowingly set someone up for failure. Success is an evolution built on learning and experience. Passion and value and learning are not mutually exclusive terms.

One more thing. Mr. Koloc currently serves as the Director of Talent and Acquisition & Development for ‘Hillary for America’. I always thought that political campaigns were the vortex of commitment and passion @work.

Telling someone to pursue their dream is never bad advice. Suggesting they understand the financial implications of their decision is prudent. Doing what you love is priceless.