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Diverse Elders Coalition

35 quotes to help guide your life from famous African American older adults

In honor of Black History Month, the Diverse Elders Coalition is featuring stories relevant to black aging during February. A new story will be shared every Wednesday, with additional posts shared throughout the month. Be sure to visit diverseelders.org regularly during the month of February.

As a tribute to Black History Month and this year’s theme, Civil Rights in America, we have pulled together quotes from various prominent African American older adults to motivate you and to help guide your life.

1. Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it. – Rosa Parks

2. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

3. If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. – Barack Obama

4. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

5. How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. – George Washington Carver

6. Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift. – Oprah Winfrey

7. The whole world opened to me when I learned to read. – Mary McLeod Bethune

8. Whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free . . . your true self comes out. – Tina Turner

9. Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. – Harriet Tubman

10. Have a vision. Be demanding. – Colin Powell

11. In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe. – Michael Jackson

12. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolute night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

13. Greatness occurs when your children love you, when your critics respect you and when you have peace of mind. – Quincy Jones

14. I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try. – Nikki Giovanni

15. I think education is power. I think that being able to communicate with people is power. One of my main goals on the planet is to encourage people to empower themselves. – Oprah Winfrey

16. It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their color. – Maya Angelou

17. It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. – Lena Horne

18. Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll have already shut it out…You can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself. – Mae Jemison

19. You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. – Malcolm X

20. As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

21. I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. – Audre Lorde

22. The outside world told black kids when I was growing up that we weren’t worth anything. But our parents said it wasn’t so, and our churches and our schoolteachers said it wasn’t so. They believed in us, and we, therefore, believed in ourselves. – Marian Wright Edelman

23. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde

24. You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day. – Marian Wright Edelman

25. No one should negotiate their dreams. Dreams must be free to flee and fly high. No government, no legislature, has a right to limit your dreams. You should never agree to surrender your dreams. – Jesse Jackson

26. Our nation is a rainbow – red, yellow, brown, black, and white – and we’re all precious in God’s sight. – Jesse Jackson

27. I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks

28. Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. – Ella Fitzgerald

29. One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am. – Michelle Obama

30. Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with. – Michelle Obama

31. I think if we are actually going to accept our generation’s responsibility, that’s going to mean that we give our children no less retirement security than we inherited from our parents. – Carol Moseley Braun

32. Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated. – Coretta Scott King

33. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

34. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. – Barack Obama

35. Yes we can! – Barack Obama

Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video, song by will.i.am

READ OUR OTHER BLACK HISTORY MONTH STORIES:

On the Shoulders of our Black Elders: Powerful Images from our Past (Black History Month: Civil Rights in America)

You won’t believe what I learned from our black elders (Black History Month)

10 things Black Americans should know about HIV/AIDS (Black History Month)