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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Maya Angelou: Her Beauty, In Her Words
1. Maya Angelou
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."
2. Maya Angelou
"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."
3. Maya Angelou
"A wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim."
4. Maya Angelou
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size But when I start to tell them, They think I'm telling lies. I say, It's in the reach of my arms The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me.”
5. Maya Angelou
"Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room."
6. Maya Angelou
"Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs?"
7. Maya Angelou
"I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being."
8. Maya Angelou
"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
9. Maya Angelou
"If you're always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
10. Maya Angelou
"We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike."
11. Maya Angelou
"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."
12. Maya Angelou
"Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option."
13. Maya Angelou
"I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it."
14. Maya Angelou
"If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love."
15. Maya Angelou
"I'm a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman. That's me."
16. Maya Angelou
"The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you're wrinkled."
17. Maya Angelou
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
18. Maya Angelou
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”