Maya Angelou, Rest in Peace

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A Woman of Substance: Dr. Maya Angelou on Michelle Obama

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1/14/12: Embrace of a Liftetime
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Celebrated American icon Dr. Maya Angelou has passed at the age of 86. The following is an essay the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and poet wrote for ESSENCE in 2009.

When I was asked during the campaign to introduce then Senator Obama and Mrs. Obama, I called Oprah Winfrey. I knew she had socialized with them. I asked her, “What is Mrs. Obama like? What should I expect?”

Oprah said simply and without hesitation, “She’s the real deal.”

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I am just so proud and so pleased to see her as our First Lady. She shows things to the world that are natural to African-American women. By that I mean her “home-iness”—her concern about growing foods for her family’s kitchen and feeding them from the soil. Homegrown food is what southern Black women have always been about.

She is taking us back to our roots. 

She has also—with President Obama—reintroduced the idea of romance into the American culture. Certainly past presidents have been married. And President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, were a beautiful couple. But when I saw the President and the First Lady dance after the inauguration—to Etta James’s “At Last” of all songs—I literally wept.

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It was so touching, so poignant. Lots of people had been under the impression that White people made love and Black people had sex. The way the President held her and led her. And the way she followed him…It brought me to tears.

Mrs. Obama has such an effortless grace. The clothes she wears and the way she wears them—so very beautifully—make us all feel good about ourselves as women. So much of what she wears is easily attainable and affordable to the secretaries, the teachers and all regular working women that when we see the way she is outfitted, she makes us all feel equal to her. And we feel that she is very much like us.

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It’s in those moments that we begin to see the fullness of her as a woman. She looks after her family—her children, her mother—just as Black women have traditionally blended generations. She loves her husband. She is intelligent. She is accessible. She is dignified but she is not aloof. She has a sense of humor but she is not a gadabout.

Michelle Obama represents all women.

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