In middle school, I met Maya Angelou. My mother is a high school English teacher and Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker at a conference she attended. Unbeknownst to us, Maya Angelou was also staying at the same hotel as us. My mother ran into her at the hotel restaurant and told Ms. Angelou she wanted her to met her daughters. My mother went to the hotel room and excitedly took us to the restaurant to meet  Maya Angelou.

I knew who she was and loved her work. I actually started writing poetry in middle school.

Ms. Angelou was sitting at a small table enjoying dinner. Her presence was larger than life. She gave us her undivided attention. My mother lovingly said, “These are my jewels.” Maya smiled. My mother handed Maya Angelou a book to sign, I know why the Caged Bird Sings.

She signed the book and looked at my sister and I and said, “Don’t let anybody steal your stuff.” Being about 13 or 14 years old, I thought she was talking about sex.

It wasn’t until I was in law school that I revisited what she said and I understood what she meant. Growing up, I was always teased for my voice. It was too high, squeaky and being the daughter and granddaughter of English teachers, I often heard that I spoke too proper. All of this made me very apprehensive about public speaking. I took AP Government in High School and loved it. I thought about law school, but immediately envisioned a court room and public speaking and thought, nah, I’ll stick to medicine. But I was much more passionate about law and politics than I was science. I didn’t even want to take AP Biology in high school and I did not. But I took AP Government.

Looking back on my childhood, I realized that I let others steal my “stuff.” When Maya Angelou looked me in my eyes and told me not to let anybody steal my stuff, the enemy was in the process of stealing my stuff.  For a long time I avoided public speaking and opportunities where my voice would be heard all because of insecurities that developed during childhood.

I’m so glad I got my stuff back. I have no problem speaking in front of any audience. How ironic, one of the things I was teased about the most is something essential to my career. I use my voice everyday. As an attorney, I use my voice to advocate for others. I go to court twice a week and the pitch of my voice is the least of my concern. In fact, I enjoy going to court.

The words Maya Angelou spoke mean so much to me now. It was as if she was a prophet warning me about what was ahead. The gifts, talents and dreams given to you from the Creator are your “stuff.” The things that make you uniquely you are your “stuff.” There are things that only you have the grace to do.

young Jen

Don’t let nobody steal your stuff.



  1. R. Stew
    November 15, 2017 / 2:46 pm

    Ohhhhh my this is good!!! Really appreciate that story Jen. I can relate in soo many ways!

  2. Shalon
    November 15, 2017 / 2:33 pm

    OMG, I’m constantly telling my children this. Especially the oldest one. He’s at the age where is meeting up with challenges and dream stealers. I tell them all to DREAM BIG little ones, the sky is the limit. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading about your journey and your transparency.

  3. Racine Jones
    November 15, 2017 / 4:00 am

    Jennifer, your words are powerful, and your message reaches the heart. It is obvious, through your writing, that your strength is bind in your ability to tailor your words to send messages that grab at heart strings. Your voice is powerful, be it as an orator in the courtroom or dipped from the ink of a pen. God has made you perfect for the path you are taking. Your “stuff” means much to many and will make a difference for many more.

    • November 15, 2017 / 5:38 am

      Beautifully written. I am humbled.

  4. November 15, 2017 / 3:44 am

    I am truly humbled by your comment! I looked up to you guys!! Let me know if I can be of assistance on your journey to law school!!

  5. Monica Street
    November 14, 2017 / 10:28 am

    Soror…I am so proud of you. I watched you grow from a child playing at Merrill to being with your mom at the high school. Now I am inspired by you…I have let time, money and other people’s opinions steal my stuff. I will be enrolled in law school by 2020. Thank you for the reminder to not let anything steal my stuff!

  6. Jason Deslandes
    November 14, 2017 / 1:01 am

    Great read Jennifer! In T.D. Jake’s book Instinct he says what we fear or hate is typically our calling and we should walk towards it. Keep up the good work.

    • November 15, 2017 / 3:24 am

      Thanks Jason! I have been meaning to read that book!

  7. Carolyn Street
    November 13, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    Jennifer, this just confirms one moment in time can change a life. We have to speak positive words into our young people to encourage and boost their self esteem. As always, I am so proud of the woman you have become.

  8. Kena Brown
    November 13, 2017 / 7:01 am

    Thank you for sharing a special memory and a valuable lesson!

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