Margaret Eby
June 09, 2014 1:33 pm

Maya Angelou’s passing has sparked an outpouring of tributes from around the globe. But Michelle Obama’s speech about the late poet, which she gave at a memorial on Saturday, is one that has to be heard.

The First Lady appeared alongside Oprah and Bill Clinton to give her thanks to the “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” author, and her speech, which touched on the way that Angelou affected her perception as a young black woman, is a reminder of just how important Angelou was as a female role model.

“When I think of Maya Angelou, I think of the affirming power of her words,” Obama said. “The first time I read ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one else had ever dared to before.”

“Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace,” Obama continued. “Her words were clever and sassy. They were powerful and sexual and boastful. And in that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women … a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.”

Obama also noted how Angelou’s radical notion of self-acceptance helped empower her early on in life.

“As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to,” Obama continued. “But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple: She told us that our worth had nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said ‘each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.’”

“She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race,” Obama added.

The woman that inspired this speech was, in her own way, a revolutionary. But still more remarkable is how profoundly she affected the lives of her readers, including the young Michelle Obama, who credited Angelou’s words with carrying her from the “South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House.” It’s a reminder of the value and the power of words born from great minds. Those words can sustain, they can nourish, and they can help shape the future leaders of our country.

If you didn’t get the chance to catch the First Lady’s moving tribute this weekend, do yourself a favor — grab a box of tissues and watch it now.


(Image via The Grio)