We cannot write history without including women. While we are not widely recognized in the history books that teach our children every day, had it not been for black women and women of color who suffered, educated, endured, empowered, encouraged, invented and so much more, we would have missed out on a great deal. In this portion of our journal, we celebrate past and modern day women who are making positive contributions continuing the struggle, because the struggle continues...
What Manner of Woman is this?
Black Women Empowered
Celebrating our First Lady
Michelle Obama is a lawyer, Chicago city administrator and community outreach worker, as well as the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama and the 44th first lady.
Michelle Obama was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on January 17, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. She would later become a lawyer, Chicago city administrator, community outreach worker and—as the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama—the United States' first lady
Michelle was raised on Chicago's South Side in a one-bedroom apartment. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a city pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian, was a Spiegel's secretary who later stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig. The family has been described as a close-knit one that shared family meals, read and played games together.
Craig and Michelle, 21 months apart in age, were often mistaken for twins. The siblings also shared close quarters—they slept in the living room with a sheet serving as their makeshift room divider. Both children were raised with an emphasis on education. The brother and sister learned to read at home by the age of 4, and both skipped second grade.
By sixth grade, Michelle was attending gifted classes, where she learned French and took accelerated courses. She then went on to attend the city's first magnet high school for gifted children, where, among other activities, she served as the student government treasurer. "Without being immodest, we were always smart, we were always driven and we were always encouraged to do the best you can do, not just what's necessary," her brother, Craig, has said. "And when it came to going to schools, we all wanted to go to the best schools we could."
Michelle graduated in 1981 from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago's West Loop as class salutatorian. After high school, she followed her brother to Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1985 with a B.A. in Sociology. She went on to earn a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1988, where she took part in demonstrations demanding more minority students and professors.
Marriage to Barack Obama
Following law school, Michelle worked as an associate in the Chicago branch of the law firm Sidley Austin in the area of marketing and intellectual property. There, in 1989, she met her future husband, Barack Obama, a summer intern to whom she was assigned as an adviser. "I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, 'Oh, we'll hook these two people up,'" Michelle said. "So, you know, there was a little intrigue, but I must say after about a month, Barack ... asked me out, and I thought, 'No way. This is completely tacky.'" Initially, she refused to date Barack, believing that their work relationship would make the romance improper. Eventually, she relented, and the couple soon fell in love. Their first kiss took place outside of a Chicago shopping center—where a plaque featuring a photo of the couple kissing was installed more than two decades later, in August 2012.
After two years of dating, Barack proposed. "We were at a restaurant having dinner to celebrate the fact that he had finished the bar," Michelle remembers. "Then the waiter came over with the dessert and a tray. And there was the ring. And I was completely shocked." The couple married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 3, 1992.
High-Profile Work in Chicago
Michelle soon left her job to launch a career in public service, serving as an assistant to Mayor Daley and then as the assistant commissioner of planning and development for the City of Chicago.
In 1993, she became executive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership-training program that helped young adults develop skills for future careers in the public sector.
Michelle joined the University of Chicago in 1996 as associate dean of student services, developing the university’s first community-service program. She then worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals beginning in 2002, as executive director of community relations and external affairs.
In May 2005, she was appointed vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she continued to work part-time until shortly before her husband's inauguration as president. She serves as a board member for the prestigious Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Supporting Her Husband
Michelle Obama first caught the eye of a national audience while at her husband's side when he delivered a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois that November.
In 2007, Michelle scaled back her own professional work to attend to family and campaign obligations during Obama's run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Michelle says she's made a "commitment to be away overnight only once a week—to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day" for their two daughters, Malia (born 1998) and Natasha, known as Sasha (2001). It has been reported that the Obama family has no nanny, and that the children are left with their grandmother, Marian, while their parents campaign. "I've never participated at this level in any of his campaigns," Michelle says. "I have usually chosen to just appear when necessary."
After her husband's political role pushed the Obama family into the spotlight, Michelle was publicly recognized for her steely, no-nonsense campaign style as well as her sense of fashion. In May of 2006, Michelle was featured in Essence magazine as one of "25 of the World's Most Inspiring Women." Then in September 2007, Michelle was included in 02138 magazine as number 58 in "The Harvard 100," a yearly list of the school's most influential alumni. She has also made the Vanity Fair best-dressed list two years in a row, as well as People magazine's 2008 best-dressed list.
When her husband sought re-election in 2012, facing a challenging race against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama diligently campaigned on his behalf. She traveled the country, giving talks and making public appearances. In June 2012, she spoke to a crowd in Philadelphia, telling them, "It all boils down to one simple question: Will we continue the change we've begun and the progress we've made, or will we let everything we've fought for slip away?" She urged those in attendance to give "a little part of your life each week to this campaign."
In August 2012, Michelle delivered a noteworthy speech at the Democratic National Convention. "Every day, the people I meet inspire me. Every day they make me proud, every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth," she said. "Serving as your first lady is an honor and a privilege." She went on to praise the Latino community for supporting President Obama, and stated that her husband—"the same man [she] fell in love with all those years ago"—understands the American Dream, as well as the everyday struggles of American families, and cares deeply about making a difference in people's lives. Michelle won both public and critical praise for her narrative, called a "shining moment" by The Washington Post.
On November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as U.S. president. After Mitt Romney conceded defeat, Michelle Obama accompanied her husband with their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, onto the stage at the McCormick Place in Chicago where President Obama delivered his acceptance speech. To celebrate his victory, Barack Obama tweeted "Four more years" with a photo of him hugging his wife, which was taken at an August campaign event in Iowa. On election night, the presidential message with the photo of the first couple became the most popular tweet of all time.
Michelle Obama was by her husband's side the following January when he started his second term. She and the couple's two daughters Malia and Sasha stood with Barack Obama as he recited the official presidential oath of office on January 21, 2013, in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Michelle and the girls received a lot of attention for their inauguration fashions, which included clothes from Thom Browne, J. Crew and Kate Spade.
Later that day, Michelle Obama celebrated with her husband at several inaugural events. The first couple seemed on top of the world as they danced to Jennifer Hudson's rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." Michelle received raves for the red Jason Wu dress she wore.
Issues and Causes
As the 44th first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has focused her attention on issues such as the support of military families, helping working women balance career and family, and encouraging national service. During the first year of the Obama presidency, Michelle and her husband volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the Washington, D.C., area. Michelle also has made appearances at public schools, stressing the importance of education and volunteer work.
Ever conscious of her family's diet and health, Michelle Obama has supported the organic food movement, instructing the White House kitchens to prepare organic food for guests and her family. In March 2009, Michelle worked with 23 fifth graders from a local school in Washington, D.C., to plant a 1,100-square-foot garden of fresh vegetables and install beehives on the South Lawn of the White House. Periodically, throughout the summer, the same students returned to harvest various foods and learned to cook fresh-grown organic vegetables. Since 2010, Michelle has put efforts to fight childhood obesity near the top of her agenda.
Michelle Obama remains committed to her health and wellness causes. In 2012, she announced a new fitness program for kids as part of her Let's Move initiative. She, the U.S. Olympic team and other sports organizations have teamed up to get young people try out a new sport or activity. "This year, 1.7 million young people will be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities—many of them for the very first time. And that is so important, because sometimes all it takes is that first lesson, or clinic, or class to get a child excited about a new sport," Obama said in a statement.
Putting her message in print, Obama released a book as part of her mission to promote healthy eating. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America (2012) explores Obama's own experience creating a vegetable garden as well as the work of community gardens elsewhere. She sees the book as an opportunity to help readers understand "where their food was coming from" and "to talk about the work that we're doing with childhood obesity and childhood health," Obama told Reuters.
Advertisement — Continue reading below
Both Michelle and Barack Obama have stated that their personal priority is their two daughters, Malia and Sasha. The parents realized that the move from Chicago to Washington, D.C., would be a major adjustment for any family. Living in the White House, having Secret Service protection and always being in the wake of their parents' public lives has dramatically transformed their lives. Both parents try to make their daughters' lives as "normal" as possible, with set times for studying, going to bed and getting up. "My first priority will always be to make sure that our girls are healthy and grounded," Michelle said. "Then I want to help other families get the support they need, not just to survive, but to thrive."
Both Malia and Sasha attend the Sidwell Friends School, a private Quaker school in Washington, D.C. They seem to be living a fairly normal teenage existence despite their extraordinary circumstances. Michelle and Barack have certain rules that the girls are expected to follow, such as having to eat their vegetables and strict limits on how long and when they can use the computer or watch television.