June 7, 2014
Photos courtesy Oprah.com and Mayaangelou.com
On the morning of Saturday, June 7, a host friends, colleagues, and family members of Dr. Maya Angelou gathered for a memorial service at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to remember the renowned poet. Angelou died on May 28th in her home in her sleep after battling a long illness. The list of attendees at the memorial ran the gamut of friends Angelou had collected throughout her long life. Guest included: Oprah Winfrey, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Cicely Tyson, Bebe Winan, Valerie Simpson (of Ashford and Simpson) and a host of others who were so graciously referred to as “Maya’s extended family.”
Memorial Speakers and Highlights
“We are more alike than we are unalike,” was the common phrase many of the speakers recalled when referring to Angelou’s legacy of wisdom and devotion to uniting humanity. It was one of her most famous quotes.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
President Clinton recalled his last meeting with Angelou, when he discovered that she had become wheelchair bound. Clinton remembered her retort to whispers about the wheelchair. She admonished Clinton, “Just because I’m wheelchair bound doesn’t mean I don’t get around.”
Clinton spoke of her majestic words and voice: “God loaned her his voice. She had the voice of God, and he decided that he wanted it back for awhile.”
In an interview with Winfrey in 1993 about the request from President Clinton to write the poem “On the Pulse of Morning”, Angelou responded, “I know that I am a child of God. The request from my president is a result of me being a child of God, and I am up to it. I come from the creator like everybody else…so all I have to do is pray and prepare myself and go to work.” The reading of the poem at Clinton’s inauguration was historic, having only occurred twice in U.S. history. Robert Frost was the first inaugural poet, reading at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
Oprah Winfrey recalled a pivotal moment in her life and career when Angelou’s wisdom of words changed her life and perception of problems that entered into her life. “I was locked in the bathroom sitting on the toilet seat…I was upset about something – I don’t even remember what it was,” Winfrey said tearfully and laughingly. “Isn’t that how life is.” She said during the conversation with Angelou, the no nonsense poet replied, “Stop it. Stop it now…I want you to stop and say thank you…because whatever it is God has put a rainbow in the clouds and you are going to come out alright on the other side.” Winfrey continued in tears, “The lost I feel I cannot describe. She was my spiritual queen mother…She’d say you’re not in it…those people can’t hold a candle to the light God has shining on your face.”
Remembering the court case brought against her in 1998 by Texas cattlemen for a statement she made regarding beef, Winfrey said, “Mama Angelou came to Texas with a prayer posse…warrior mom… Dr. Phil told me to look in the jurors eyes. Maya said, ‘No, look above their heads.’”
Maya was a “proud to spell my name W-o-m-a-n,” Winfrey said. “She said to me ‘You alone are enough.’”
“The first time she told me I was her daughter, I knew I was home,” said Winfrey.
“Maya always said, ‘When you learn, teach; when you get, give,’” said Winfrey.
After building her all-girls school in South Africa, Winfrey proclaimed that this would be her greatest accomplishment. Angelou replied, “’Oh no, not so fast. You legacy is how you lived and what you said every day.’”
In her last conversation with Angelou — while Winfrey was filming the movie “Selma”– Angelou spoke her final inspiring words to her. “She said to me, ‘I want you to do it and to take it. Take it all the way,’” Winfrey remembered.
FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA
First Lady Michelle Obama remembered her trepidation on becoming First Lady, fears that Angelou would calm with words of wisdom and support. Obama said, “Maya Angelou knows who I am and is rooting for me. So I can do this. I’m good.” She continued, “She showed us if we stayed true to who we are, then soon the world will embrace us.”
Obama recalled the love and bond shared by her family for Angelou. She spoke of how President Barack Obama’s mother so was utterly inspired my Angelou — she so inspired a young white woman, “who named her daughter Maya and raised her son to be the first black president,” said the First Lady.
ANGELOU’S PASTOR SERENUS CHURN, SR.
Angelou’s pastor, Serenus Churn, Sr. led his remarks with the biblical text, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far more than rubies.”
Churn said Angelou always emphasized that “if you neglect those around you, then you are a failure.”
He recalled a woman’s encounter with Angelou. “The woman said to Maya, ‘You know I’m a Christian,’ and Maya replied, ‘Already, I’m still working on it.’”
Churn closed by quoting Shakespeare: “Now cracks a noble heart…Goodnight sweet princess…May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…and wait up for us and we’ll see you in the morning.”
ANGELOU’S SON GUY JOHNSON
“Our blood family is quite small. Will the blood family please stand? If I had not said blood family, you might have all stood up,” quipped Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson in his remarks.
“There is no mourning here; there is no mourning. She has added to the population of angels,” he remarked.
Johnson recalled his mother’s words, “My mother would say, ‘I think courage is the most important of all the virtues. Without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.’”
“She would ask you, ‘What are you doing to improve the human condition? How will you challenge yourself…?’” said Johnson.
VALERIE SIMPSON OF ASHFORD AND SIMPSON
Valerie Simpson recalled Angelou’s zest for life. “Maya Angelou loved to party…did it up until she passed. What do you have [planned]on your books, because Maya always had plans. If you know spirit, then you know she’s here, and I think she’s saying…‘You’re going to make it.”
Simpson sang the memorable song “Remember Me”.
ANGELOU’S GRANDSON COLIN JOHNSON
Colin Johnson recalled the bond he shared with Angelou, his grandmother. “I remember her as just grandma, and she called me Grand,” he said.
She once told her grandson, “I am the hand at the small of your back keeping you steady. I might let you trip, but I will never let you fall.”
Johnson close by saying, “My grandmother always said, ‘’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.’”
WAKE FOREST STATEMENT
A Wake Forest University representative recalled Angelou’s words to him: “I’m not a writer who teaches; I’m a teacher who writes,” she said. He then proclaimed, “Maya Angelou has become a member of the family of Wake Forest, dazzlingly and forever.”