15 Reasons We Love Dr. Maya Angelou

Her poetry and prose inspired generations with messages of hope and harmony. Her poise and gracefulness, the very definition of a phenomenal woman. As we say goodbye to Dr. Maya Angelou, ESSENCE editors share the 15 reasons why she is our inspiration.

Yolanda Sangweni May, 28, 2014

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“I love Maya Angelou because she was one of the most complete and fully realized artists of her time—there is nothing she couldn’t do: sing, dance, act, write, cook. This woman was just fierce on so many levels.” —Vanessa Bush, Editor-in-Chief, ESSENCE Magazine

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“I interviewed Dr. Angelou in 2010 in her home in Harlem and what I love most about her is her keen memory after 84 years. This is a woman who remembers every detail of every interaction with some of the world’s greatest people. We talked about her days choreographing with Alvin Ailey in San Francisco, hanging out with Langston Hughes, missing her friend James Baldwin, dancing with Amiri Baraka, counseling Oprah, taking calls from Malcolm X and her encounters with Dr. Martin Luther King. This is a woman who lived! She was wildly independent, willful and unapologetic. But at the end of the day, when you ask her about her greatest achievement, she always said it’s being a mother to her son Guy.” —Wendy Wilson, ESSENCE Magazine

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“Her versatility — at various points in her life she was a dancer, singer, actress, memoirist, poet, director, etc. She showed that the possibilities for Black women are boundless.” —Dawnie Walton, Deputy Editor, ESSENCE Magazine.

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Because Dr. Angelou always managed to cultivate lifelong friendships with some of the world’s most influential men and women, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and James Baldwin.

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“Dr. Maya Angelou is what I call brilliant. The words that flowed from her weren’t just from her heart, they explained life as we know it.” — Derrick Taylor, former Associate Editor, ESSENCE.com

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“Because of her influence — she was Oprah’s mentor!” —Dawnie Walton, Deputy Editor, ESSENCE Magazine.

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Because her voice was comforting, and her words universal.

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“I’ll never forget when I was in college dealing with a good-for-nothing guy and my best friend told me “When someone shows you their true self for the first time, believe them.” It really stuck in my mind and helped me leave behind someone who was not good for me. I later heard Oprah repeat the same thing on her show and found out that the quote came from Maya Angelou. All those years it had been her words that helped me weed negative folks out of my life and for that, I am truly grateful for her!" — Nicole Marie Melton, former beauty editor, ESSENCE.com

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She earned over 30 honorary degrees and always remained humble. On top of that, she served on two presidential committees, proving her words carry weight in America.

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“My best friend and I use Dr. Angelou’s book Letter to My Daughter as a manuscript on awareness, kindness and living life fabulously.” —Yolanda Sangweni, entertainment editor, ESSENCE.com

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“I will never forget reciting Dr. Maya Angelou’s “On The Pulse of Morning” with my fourth grade class at our school’s poetry contest. It was the same poem she recited at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration a year earlier. We practiced so hard and memorized every line, down to the enunciation of each syllable. Although we didn’t win, we were so proud of ourselves. Almost two decades later, I remember it fondly." —Charlise Ferguson, Partner’s Editor, ESSENCE.com

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“In her lifetime she was described as a dancer, singer, actress, author and poet. In her 70’s she added cookbook author when she published Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes. Not many of us can boast the same. Dr. Angelou was a true renaissance woman.” —Yolanda Sangweni, entertainment editor, ESSENCE.com

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Because she influenced new generations of African-Americans artists, from Alicia Keys to Common.

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“It made me beam with pride when my youngest sister hijacked our mom’s Facebook account last month to write on Dr. Maya Angelou’s wall. She said, “Excuse me Mrs. Angelou, I’m an 8-year-old, very smart, in third grade, and admire your work.” Even she knows the power of Dr. Maya Angelou’s words. —Charlise Ferguson, Partner’s Editor, ESSENCE.com

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Because, simply put, Dr. Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman who raised herself out of poverty to become one of the world’s most accomplished African-American women. Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou!