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Remembering Maya Angelou
June 4, 2014

The following is adapted from an article by Jena McGregor published May 28 in the Washington Post.

The world lost an inspirational leader with the passing of author, actress, teacher and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

Angelou died May 28 at age 86 in North Carolina. She had survived the harshest of childhoods to become a beloved cultural pioneer.

Angelou understood what it takes to have the courage to lead and could articulate the virtues of courage, steadfastness and truth. Below are a few of her memorable statements.

  • On leadership: “A leader sees greatness in other people. He nor she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself.”
  • On dealing with other people: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
  • On decisionmaking: “I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.”
  • On the joy of work: “It is wonderful to celebrate people who work. It is terrible to want to work, but not find work that wants you.”
  • On telling the truth: “You don’t have to tell everything you know, but let what you do say be the truth as you understand it.”
  • On courage: “One isn’t born with courage. One develops it. And you develop it by doing small, courageous things, in the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up a 100-pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a five-pound bag, and then a 10-pound, and then a 20-pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds.

And that’s the same way with courage. You develop courage by doing courageous things, small things, but things that cost you some exertion — mental and, I suppose, spiritual exertion.”

  • On knowing when her work is done: “I know when it’s the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it’s the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.”
  • On standing by one’s principles: “I have a certain way of being in this world, and I shall not, I shall not be moved.”