RISING JOY: Friends, family honor Maya Angelou in ceremony

Joshua Bryant
Joshua Bryant

The black and white keys of the piano and the strings of violins filled Wait Chapel with music as friends and family gathered to remember a mother, sister, friend and teacher: Maya Angelou.


First-lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton, and long time friend Oprah Winfrey were among attendees in the front row to honor Angelou with colorful stories and reflections.


Angelou is a renaissance figure who died May 28 at the age of 86. She died after a life of many notable accomplishments including her role in the civil rights movement and  winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom award. Her life was honored on Saturday, June 7 at Wake Forest University during a morning ceremony. 


“There is no mourning here, there is no mourning,” her son, Guy Johnson said as he spoke about the passing of his mother. His grandson accompanied him to the podium. “We have added to the population of angels.”


His words spoke about how humanity and the planet Earth can use the works of everyone that can carry on the legacy of his mother. He talked of how his mom left this Earth in her sleep on May 28 after a battle with respiratory failure.

“She has left each one of us with something in our hearts,” he said after an emotional sigh.


The ceremony began with words from Angelou’s grandson, Elliott Jones, reciting words from Angelou’s famous poem, “Still I Rise.”


Friends Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey and singers BB and Marvin Winans took to the podium to remember their friend Angelou through song and reflections.


“We celebrate one of the greatest spirits the world has ever known,” Michelle Obama said about Angelou.


The first lady spoke right after BB Winans and his brother Marvin moved the crowd to the gospel song, “Stand.”


Other songs sang at the celebration of life ceremony included, “I Hope you Dance,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds” and “Remember Me.”


Angelou’s pastor Dr. Serenus Churn of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem gave the message that was taken from Proverbs 31:10: Who can find a virtuous woman?


As he read the scripture he noted that he would nominate Angelou as a virtuous woman because of her strong faith and desire to give.


Oprah fought back tears as she spoke of her prominent relationship with Angelou and she recalled a conversation with her "sister-friend."


“I remember when I was about to open my school in South Africa and I told her how it was going to be my legacy and I remember she told me, ‘not so fast’,” Oprah remembered.


She remembers that Angelou told her that her legacy is every woman that ever watched her show and decided to go back to school.  She listed several other examples before saying, “Your legacy is every person you ever touched.”


“I can’t fill her shoes, but I can walk in her footsteps,” 

– Oprah Winfrey



Maya Angelou Remembrance


From the program booklet: Celebration of Life ceremony

As a Wake Forest University graduate, I want to honor a fellow member of the WFU family. Writing was the only way that I knew how to share the celebration of the life of Dr. Maya Angelou. You will be missed. – Brittney S. Knox