Maya Angelou’s friends and family gathered to celebrate her life at Wake Forest University in North Carolina today. Former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to the acclaimed author and poet, but it was Oprah Winfrey’s moving words that brought many at the memorial service to tears.
An emotional Winfrey described Angelou as a “mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my early 20’s.”
“She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life,” she said, holding back tears. “The loss I feel I cannot describe. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before…Rarely did we have a phone conversation where I wasn’t taking notes. I was a devoted student.”
Winfrey noted that the Angelou was her “spiritual queen mother, and everything that word implies. She was the ultimate teacher. She taught me the poetry of courage and respect.” “She was my anchor, so it’s hard to describe to you what it means when your anchor shifts,” she shared. “But I realized this morning I really don’t have to put it into words. What I have to do is live it, because that’s what she would want. She would want me, you, us to live her legacy.”
She added, “We can be better and do better because she existed.”
Mrs. Obama detailed how Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of Black women. “She celebrated black women’s beauty when no one had dared to before,” she said. “Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. She taught us it was okay to be your regular old self…How desperately Black girls needed that message. As a black woman I needed that message.”
Clinton, who was blessed to have Angelou speak at this 1993 inauguration, described her 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and life-changing. “I knew about the people she was talking about. I knew about the problems she was documenting,” he said. “Her great gift to us was calling attention to all the things she was paying attention to. The ‘Caged Bird’ was the first manifestation of her great gift.”
Mrs. Angelou passed away on May 28 at age 86.
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