From the Maya Angelou official website

From the Maya Angelou official website

Maya Angelou, the quintessential woman, author and educator leaves us today at the age of 86. Words cannot express the impact this amazing woman has had on my life. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a young girl and reading, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and hanging on every written word. The poem Phenomenal Woman spoke to me as a black woman…that’s me. As the touchstone poet and author of our time, she will be missed.

I cry as I reread the poem “We Speak Your Names,” by Pearl Cleage which was written for  A Bridge to Now: A Celebration of Remarkable Woman in Remarkable Times, or popularly known as the Legends Weekend spawned by Oprah Winfrey. This momentous occasion honored  twenty-five African American woman who were role models to the “Young’uns.”

Here is an excerpt from the poem “We Speak Your Names” (c) Pearl Cleage, 2005.  Maya Angelou was one of the honorees.

These words makes me weep because you are gone. But my tears are also filled with pride because you were here. Thank you!


Because we are free women,
born of free women,
who are born of free women,
back as far as time begins,
we celebrate your freedom.

Because we are wise women,
born of wise women,
who are born of wise women,
we celebrate your wisdom.

Because we are strong women,
born of strong women,
who are born of strong women,
we celebrate your strength.

Because we are magical women,
born of magical women,
who are born of magical women,
we celebrate your magic.

My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your
We are here because we are your daughters
as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us,
carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out
into the world to make our mark
and see what we see, and be what we be, but better,
truer, deeper
because of the shining example of your own
incandescent lives.

We are here to speak your names
because we have enough sense to know
that we did not spring full blown from the
forehead of Zeus,
or arrive on the scene like Topsy, our sister once
removed, who somehow just growed.
We know that we are walking in footprints made
deep by the confident strides
of women who parted the air before them like the
forces of nature that you are.

We are here to speak your names
because you taught us that the search is always for
the truth
and that when people show us who they are, we
should believe them.

We are here because you taught us
that sisterspeak can continue to be our native
no matter how many languages we learn as we
move about as citizens of the world
and of the ever-evolving universe.

We are here to speak your names
because of the way you made for us.
Because of the prayers you prayed for us.
We are the ones you conjured up, hoping we
would have strength enough,
and discipline enough, and talent enough, and
nerve enough
to step into the light when it turned in our
direction, and just smile awhile.

We are the ones you hoped would make you
because all of our hard work
makes all of yours part of something better, truer,
Something that lights the way ahead like a lamp
unto our feet,
as steady as the unforgettable beat of our collective

We speak your names.

We speak your names.


Additional Resources

Dr. Angelou’s last tweet