FLOTUS Michelle Obama delivered an invigorating speech, detailing how
Maya Angelou’s affirming power with her words carried her from a little
black girl from Chicago to the White House. It was amazing to hear the
First Lady talk about her many struggles as a young black girl that
turned her into the powerful black woman she is today. Definitely
something we, as black women, can all relate to.
She spoke about Dr. Angelou’s words encouraging her when the world
still questioned her black womanhood and black beauty on the campaign
trail and beyond.
Here’s Mrs. O's full speech transcript:
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) My heart is
so full. My heart is so full. Bebe -- Oprah, why did you do that?
Just why did you put me after this? (Laughter.)
To the family, Guy, to all of you; to the friends; President Clinton;
Oprah; my mother, Cicely Tyson; Ambassador Young -- let me just share
something with you. My mother, Marian Robinson, never cares about
anything I do. (Laughter.) But when Dr. Maya Angelou passed, she said,
you’re going, aren’t you? I said, well, Mom, I’m not really sure, I
have to check with my schedule. She said, you are going, right?
(Laughter.) I said, well, I’m going to get back to you but I have to
check with the people, figure it out. I came back up to her room when I
found out that I was scheduled to go, and she said, that’s good, now
I’m happy. (Laughter.)
It is such a profound honor, truly, a profound honor, to be here
today on behalf of myself and my husband as we celebrate one of the
greatest spirits our world has ever known, our dear friend, Dr. Maya
In the Book of Psalms it reads: “I praise you, for I am fearfully
and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very
well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the Earth.” What a perfect
description of Maya Angelou, and the gift she gave to her family and to
all who loved her.
She taught us that we are each wonderfully made, intricately woven,
and put on this Earth for a purpose far greater than we could ever
imagine. And when I think about Maya Angelou, I think about the
affirming power of her words.
The first time I read “Phenomenal Woman”, I was struck by how she
celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before.
(Applause.) Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. 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, but she also graced us with an anthem for all women –- a call for
all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.
And, oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young
woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu
Barbie. (Laughter.) That was the standard for perfection. That was
what the world told me to aspire to. 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 has 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.
Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey –-
through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless
skyscrapers; through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls;
through long years on the campaign trail where, at times, my very
womanhood was dissected and questioned. For me, that was the power of
Maya Angelou’s words –- words so powerful that they carried a little
black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White
And today, as First Lady, whenever the term “authentic” is used to
describe me, I take it as a tremendous compliment, because I know that I
am following in the footsteps of great women like Maya Angelou. But
really, I’m just a beginner -- I am baby-authentic. (Laughter.) Maya
Angelou, now she was the original, she was the master. For at a time
when there were such stifling constraints on how black women could exist
in the world, she serenely disregarded all the rules with fiercely
passionate, unapologetic self. She was comfortable in every last inch
of her glorious brown skin.
But for Dr. Angelou, her own transition was never enough. You see,
she didn’t just want to be phenomenal herself, she wanted all of us to
be phenomenal right alongside her. (Applause.) So that’s what she did
throughout her lifetime -– she gathered so many of us under her wing. I
wish I was a daughter, but I was right under that wing sharing her
wisdom, her genius, and her boundless love.
I first came into her presence in 2008, when she spoke at a campaign
rally here in North Carolina. At that point, she was in a wheelchair,
hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. But let me tell you,
she rolled up like she owned the place. (Laughter.) She took the
stage, as she always did, like she’d been born there. And I was so
completely awed and overwhelmed by her presence I could barely
concentrate on what she was saying to me.
But while I don’t remember her exact words, I do remember exactly how
she made me feel. (Applause.) She made me feel like I owned the
place, too. She made me feel like I had been born on that stage right
next to her. And I remember thinking to myself, “Maya Angelou knows who
I am, and she’s rooting for me. So, now I’m good. I can do this. I
can do this.” (Applause.)
And that’s really true for us all, because in so many ways, Maya
Angelou knew us. She knew our hope, our pain, our ambition, our fear,
our anger, our shame. And she assured us that despite it all –- in
fact, because of it all -– we were good. And in doing so, she paved the
way for me and Oprah and so many others just to be our good, old,
black-woman selves. (Applause.)
She showed us that eventually, if we stayed true to who we are, then
the world would embrace us. (Applause.) And she did this not just for
black women, but for all women, for all human beings. She taught us all
that it is okay to be your regular old self, whatever that is –- your
poor self, your broken self, your brilliant, bold, phenomenal self.
That was Maya Angelou’s reach. She touched me. She touched all of
you. She touched people all across the globe, including a young white
woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya, and raised her son
to be the first black President of the United States. (Applause.)
So when I heard that Dr. Angelou had passed, while I felt a deep
sense of loss, I also felt a profound sense of peace. Because there is
no question that Maya Angelou will always be with us, because there was
something truly divine about Maya. I know that now, as always, she is
right where she belongs.
May her memory be a blessing to us all. Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)