A few days ago at the White House, as military families enjoyed a Mother’s Day celebration in the chandeliered East Room, Michelle Obama offered praise for their sacrifice and service to America.
And then, scanning the sea of guests, the first lady took a few moments to publicly cheer someone else: her mother, Marian Robinson, seated quietly in the crowd.
“It wouldn’t be a Mother’s Day tea if I didn’t thank my own mommy. Mommy, there you are,” Mrs. Obama said, amid audience applause.
Calling her “my rock,” she noted, “She taught me to believe in myself, and more importantly, to pick myself up whenever I stumble. She is always a shoulder to cry on and talk to, and I do that a lot.”
“She has always inspired me,” the first lady continued, “to push myself to dream even bigger than anything she could ever dream for herself.”
When Barack Obama made history as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Obama was right beside him. As he campaigns for a second term, she continues to make her mark as the only African-American woman ever to serve as first lady of the United States.
Since arriving at the White House, the Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer has launched signature initiatives to tackle childhood obesity, and teamed with Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, to honor military personnel and their families.
All this, while juggling roles as a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend — not to mention official and unofficial duties that run the gamut from meeting the Queen of England, planting fresh veggies in the White House garden, or mentoring youth in the nation’s capitol.
“What a privilege to have such a smart and powerful first lady,” says Laura Murphy, a lawyer/director with the ACLU in Washington, D.C., who spoke not in her professional capacity, but as an African-American woman, wife and mother.
“She can do push-ups one day, then regally float into a state dinner in a designer gown,” Murphy said. “I think she’s brave and strong and poised and fierce.”
That sentiment was echoed by Patrice Gaines, a women’s advocate who runs the Brown Angels Center, a non-profit in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“When I think of Michelle Obama, the word royalty comes to mind. But there’s a commonality about her,” said Gaines, whose work centers around incarcerated women. “She shows her humanity, her connection to all of us. I respect that she’s not untouchable.”
Indeed, there’s a certain fascination and admiration that African American women have for the first lady.
A 2011 survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that nationwide, black women personally identified with Mrs. Obama, indicating that she understands them and is “mainstreaming” what women of color are capable of, to the world.
Black women see their own potential in Michelle Obama
“Black women look at Michelle Obama and see ourselves; we see our potential, and we see our future,” said Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative in D.C. and a member of the White House Council on Women and Girls Domestic Violence Workgroup.