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Page last updated at 07:26 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Notes to Obama: Maya Angelou

A new president cannot have too much good advice, so BBC World News America is asking personalities from various walks of life to tell President-elect Barack Obama what they think he should do when he takes up his new job on 20 January.

Maya Angelou gives her thoughts on America's next president, Barack Obama

I am a poet. What I'm going to say to you now, however, is not a poem, it doesn't pretend to be. These are ruminations or reflections upon the advent of President Barack Obama.

We needed him. We the race needed him. We the American people, we needed him.

Banks, automobile companies, insurance companies needed him. The stock market in Japan and Germany, in France and Britain, in China, in New York City needed him.

And out of that great need, I believe he came. Barack Obama, Senator Barack Obama came.

Intelligent, facing forward, including everyone, excluding no-one. He came with some charm - not enough to make him seem glib.

But what he did is he brought something we cannot live without, and that is hope. He brought the possibility that we might really see ourselves as we really are. A great country.

I believe in the secret part of every heart of an American is the desire to belong to a great country.

I think that President-elect Barack Obama offers us the chance to have a great president with whom we can identify.

Not as a black person, not even as a male, but really as an American citizen who will speak for the voiceless, who will not forget the poor black or the poor white, who will remember the out-of-work Asian and the dislocated Spanish-speaking person.

Poet, author, director and activist
Pulitzer-prize nominated for poetry
Wrote poem for Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration

This is a man who I think I would like to hear speak to people in hospitals, he has intelligence and compassion. Those two elements are not always to be found in the same person.

It is said to whom much is given from them much will be expected. I believe we have been given a great president. I believe he needs us probably more than we even needed him.

I believe that each of us, each American, has got to pay back or pay it forward. I believe each of us has got to do something to help us become more of what James Baldwin called these yet-to-be United States.

I think that each of us can find a place to give some time... I think these seem to be small things but they accumulate. And I do believe that good done anywhere is good done everywhere.

I think that our new president deserves all our help. I believe we Americans, we deserve the most we can get. I believe we are a great people and I believe we will have a chance to show it.

When I see the cabinet President-elect Obama has chosen, I realise he's very serious. He really means to bring together a team who will match the mountain of work - we have men and women in that cabinet who match the mountains.

They may not be all that cunning politically but we've had quite enough of that, I think. They may be more forthcoming, and not a minute too soon.

I know what an American is. You can say it in these three words: Yes I can.

I can be better than you imagine. And if you force me, I can be worse than you can imagine. Yes I can.

In a climate where all men and women are known to be equals, "yes I can" speaks for the brahmin in Boston and the theologian in Nashville, Tennessee. It speaks for the rabbi at the hall of tolerance in Los Angeles and it speaks for the imam in the largest mosque in the United States. It speaks for us all.

BBC World News America airs on BBC World News weeknights at 0000 GMT.

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