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The 13 Most Moving Things Said at the Celebration of Maya Angelou’s Life

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Maya Angelou’s New York friends and family and fans got together to celebrate her life on Sept. 12 at Riverside Church in Manhattan. In a service which ranged from a mashup of “I’m Every Woman” and Angelou’s poetry to a stirring speech from her son, editors, offspring and dignitaries swapped stories and remembrances. Here are a dozen of the things people said to recall Angelou’s life:

Colin Ashanti Johnson, Angelou’s grandson spoke first remembering her resilience: “When she was treated badly she’d say, ‘Should I stop my ascension to heaven and turn around and discipline them?’ That was not going to happen.”

Secretary Hillary Clinton recalled how Angelou’s life reminded her of her mother’s and how Angelou encouraged first Bill and then she to run for President. “She was a walking talking work of art. Being in room with her was like being a room with the Mona Lisa. All eyes were on her.”

“Our country’s struggles and triumphs and progress over the past century are written all over her life. Indeed, she helped to write them.”

The room fell quiet as author Toni Morrison spoke of the friendship she and Angelou shared over the years. “We all know her public and celebrated and magnigficent reputation. We know these things and they’re stellar… Even more noteworthy are those private moments, those intimate gestures: her soothing voice on the telephone at the exact moment when you needed it most… She was the first non family member to call when my son died. It was a short, poignant conversation and it surprised and thrilled and comforted me.”

Rev. James A. Forbes., Jr., the senior minister emeritus at Riverside Church, who broke into poetry frequently, urged people to follow her advice. “Maya Angelou knew that every child of God has a song inside…Don’t wait for things to be perfect. Sing it.”

Guy Johnson, Angelou’s only son, whom she had when she was 16, and who is paralyzed as the result of a car accident in Ghana in his youth, recalled how he was sure his mother was going to get him killed with all the protest marching they did, but what a rich life they’d had together:

“I’m amazed at the life she lived. I was almost an adult before I really understood who she was. She scared me as a child…because she was so different from anyone else.”

“She wore her hair natural… at that time there were only eight other women under 100 who wore their hair natural and mom knew them all.”

“My mother knew that all knowledge was spendable currency, depending on the market. “

“Her faith was like a rock and I know because I rested on it…She used to say one person standing on the word of God is the majority.”

“She’d always say ‘Put it in my mouth to say Lord and I will say it. Put it in my heart to do it Lord and I will do it.’ ”

“If you remember anything about her remember [how she said] ‘Don’t be a prisoner of ignorance.’”

The last speaker, her grandson, Elliott Matthew Jones told the story of how, while visiting her when he was in college, he asked her to write a poem about the lamp on the table and she did. He asked how she did it and she said ‘I think of every lamp I’ve ever known and what they meant to me.’

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