The Psychological Worth of Our New Quarter


Maya Angelou and George Washington: now on two sides of the same coin.

New Africa/AdobeStock

New Africa/AdobeStock


“Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.”

- Maya Angelou

The next time you use actual hard copy coins for the exchange of money, take a look at them. Just in time for Martin Luther King, Jr Day and Black History Month, maybe you will see the ones being shipped out by the United States Mint honoring Maya Angelou. It is the first in a series of circulating coins dedicated to American women and their roles in American history.

The design on one side of the quarter has an image of Angelou with her arms outstretched in front of a bird, which is in turn in front of what seems to me to be a radiant sun. As usual, there is the inscribed phrase of “E Pluribus Unum.” On the other side is a likeness of President George Washington, which was designed by the female sculpture Laura Gardin Fraser.

If you do not know who Maya Angelou was, she was many things, any one of which reflected doing “something wonderful for humanity.” She was a Broadway actress, dancer, cable car conductor, professor, author, civil rights activist, and the poet laureate who was the first Black poet to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, that of President Bill Clinton in 1993.

My wife and I saw her speak many times. With her resonant voice and dramatic skills, we could not come away without being inspired. See her on YouTube is you have not had that pleasure. She died in 2014.

maya angelou

In terms of psychiatry, she qualifies for being a model of resilience and recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder. As first described in her best-selling autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she wrote about her horrendous experiences of traumatic sexual abuse and racism in her childhood. Perhaps the “bird” in the metaphor of the book’s title was part of the inspiration for the quarter’s image.

Historically, having Maya Angelou and George Washington on 2 sides of the same coin may be connecting what was separate in our nation’s history. Black individuals were slaves during Washington’s time and women could not vote for almost 150 years. At a time of so much divisiveness in the US, we can only take flight once again if there is “E Pluribus Unum,” or, as our motto means:

“Out of many, one.”

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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