RIP Maya Angelou: 20 Inspiring Quotes from the Poet and Activist

Laurel Pinson
Maya Angelou quotes

Photo: Getty Images

Maya Angelou—a poet, activist, and inspiration to many—passed away today at the age of 86. In a statement, her family said they were “extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.” The statement added: “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Over the years, she’s received more awards, accolades and honorary degrees than one can easily count—including the Presidential Medal of Freedom—and is perhaps still best known for one of her earliest works, the monumentally influential best-seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She has also long been a force for peace and forgiveness, inspiring her many followers and fans to live up to their potential and make the world a better place. Here are some of her most inspiring quotes on strength, forgiveness, courage, and love.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.”

“It’s one of the greatest gifs you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

young Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou at home in 1978. (Photo: Getty Images)

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

“We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”

“Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage, you cannot practice any of the other virtues consistently.”

“I believe that each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.”

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.”

“If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”

“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.”

Maya Angelou and Gloria Steinem

Maya Angelou with Gloria Steinem in 1983. (Photo: Getty Images)

“We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay—and rise!”

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

“I know for sure that love saves me and that it is here to save us all.”

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

As an added bonus, here’s a video of Maya Angelou reciting the poem she wrote for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

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