New Yorkers celebrate life of Maya Angelou in Harlem

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HARLEM (PIX11) — To call her legendary seems an understatement.

A poet, writer, dancer, singer, activist, the list of hats worn by the great Maya Angelou run on and on.

At 86 years old, after months of ailing health, Angelou died peacefully at her Winston-Salem home in North Carolina.

“She was such a wonderful woman and I often say at times like this that service to others is a rent we pay for time on earth and Lord knows she paid in full,” said former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

Born Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis in 1928.

New Yorkers celebrate Maya Angelou outside her Harlem house

Angelou owned a brownstone in Harlem.

While North Carolina eventually became her home, Angelou also spent time here in New York City through her life. She sometimes lived in Mount Morris Park brownstone in Harlem.

“We’ve always passed by this house looking for her because we always knew that she lived on Mount Morris Park,” said Harlem resident Maria Freeman. “She was a great woman and she lived in our community and that makes me very proud.”

Khuumba Ama met Angelou in Harlem just six years ago. As a struggling artist, Ama says she sought guidance from the woman who had accomplished so much.

“She told me if I was passionate and consistent that everything would work out and be great. It encouraged me and gave me the courage to keep going.”

For friends like Dinkins, Angelou’s loss is a great one and one the world he says will feel for some time.

“I love her voice. As they used to say about Ella Fitzgerald, she could sing the telephone book.  Well Maya Angelou was that way,” the former mayor said. “You could just have her read the eye chart at a doctors office and it would sound terrific because she had a magnificent voice…it almost didn’t matter what she was saying but she was always saying something.”

That powerful, wise voice even touched U.S. presidents.

Angelou’s reading of “On the Pulse of a Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration was a most memorable one.

In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the greatest distinction offered to a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Today it will be her literary works that will carry on her legacy, countless poems and to this day, her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” touching on a troubling youth rocked by racial tensions in a Jim Crow South, to the story of her own rape at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend.

The young Angelou, blaming herself for his death, stopped speaking for almost six years as a result. It is then she says writing became her outlet.

On May 23rd, Angelou wrote on Twitter, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

In a statement Wednesday on Angelou’s Facebook page, her family wrote, “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being.  She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”

“Because she’s an extraordinary woman. Not everyone of her generation was able to do that.  I’m of that generation and I can’t do the things she did but she’s amazing and it’s a real loss,” Dinkin’s said. “I feel privileged to have lived during her time.”

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