To kick off Black History Month, it only seems fitting to celebrate one of the most influential and inspirational females of our time, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.
It has only been 13 days since she has left the White House as the First Lady of the United States, yet her presence is increasingly missed. Her contribution and dedication has changed America forever.
This incredible woman gracefully embodies the definition of hope and change. Being the great-great-great granddaughter of Melvinia Shields, a young slave girl from South Carolina, Michelle has proven to the world that if you are willing to be dedicated and work hard, any dream is possible.
Born on January 17th, 1964, in Illinois, Michelle grew up in a small home on the Southside of Chicago. Her Father, Fraser Robinson, worked as a city-pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. While her mother, Marian, was a secretary at Spiegel's, until she later decided to stay home and take care of her children.
Michelle was always very driven when it came to education. She attended the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, the city's first magnet high school for gifted children, where she served as the student government treasurer and later became the class salutatorian. After High School, in 1981, Michelle was accepted into Princeton University and graduated cum laude in 1985 with a B.A. in Sociology. From there, she attended Harvard Law School, where she obtained her J.D in 1988.
After Law school, Michelle began her first job as an associate at a Chicago law firm, it was here where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. Although she had reservations about being in a relationship with a co-worker, the couple quickly fell in love. After two years of dating, Barack proposed and the two were married on October 3rd, 1992.
Michelle left corporate law in 1991 and decided to pursue a career in public service. She first began working an assistant to Mayor Richard Daley, followed by an assistant to the commissioner of planning and development for the city of Chicago.
In 1993, she became the executive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership programs that supported young adults in developing skills for their careers in the public sector. Three years later, Michelle was offered the position of associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago. It was during this time that she worked rigorously to develop the school's first community-service program.
Not only was Michelle thriving in her career and community outreach, but soon added another position to her resume, Mom. In 1998 and 2001, she gave birth to their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
In 2002 Michelle began her position as the executive director of community relations and external affairs for the University of Chicago Hospital, and in 2005 she was appointment vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Soon after this, Michelle and her husband began their journey down the campaign trail. On November 8th, 2008, Barack won the presidency and became the 44th President of the United State, making Michelle the first African American First Lady in history.
As First Lady, Michelle focused her attention on education, healthy living, poverty, and various social issues, including racism and gender equality. She frequently volunteered at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and spoke at public schools, encouraging and educating young students of the importance of obtaining a higher education.
"I wake up in a house that was built by slaves," Michelle told 2016 graduates of the City College of New York. “"I watch my daughters — two beautiful, black young women — head off to school, waving goodbye to their father, the president of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America — to America for the same reasons as many of you ... to get an education and improve his prospects in life.”
As the Obamas moved into the White House, they brought with them the most diverse administration in history, Providing positions for prominent black women, including, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett, and Head of Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes.
Michelle began the Let’s Move foundation, which promotes healthy eating and lifestyles for kids in effort to end childhood obesity. She has worked closely with the U.S Olympics, and various sports organizations to get young people involved with new sports and activities. In 2010 she passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which required schools to offer healthier meal options for students for little to no cost.
She has opened up conversation about diversity, inequality and race. Making speeches that address the progression of our society, yet making it clear where we still fall short. In 2015 Michelle addressed a graduating class of Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama, discussing the daily struggles of being black in our society today, yet encouraging students to stand strong in who they are and to never compromise their dreams.
“The world won't always see you in those caps and gowns. Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.” said Michelle. “If you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God’s plan for you, then you will keep fulfilling your duty to people all across this country. And as the years pass, you’ll feel the same freedom that Charles DeBow did when he was taking off in that airplane. You will feel the bumps smooth off. You’ll take part in that “never-failing miracle” of progress. And you’ll be flying through the air, out of this world -- free.”
In 2016 Michelle moved the nation with her speeches as she openly supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Speaking out about minorities, gender equality, and sexual assault. Coining the phrase "When they go low, we go high." as she spoke out against the behavior of now President, Donald Trump.
In Michelle’s final speech as First Lady, she left us with this message:
“So that's my final message to young people as First Lady. It is simple. I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don't be afraid—you hear me, young people? Don't be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life.”
Although her time as First Lady has come to an end, her impact on our world is forever unfolding.
Bri Di Monda