I was in awe of Michelle Obama well before I sat attentively in her press pool as she schooled Howard University’s freshman this past September. All eyes trained on her like an Auntie putting them up on game as she dropped gems on how to excel during this precious time in their young lives.
“Hold onto your authentic self,” the nation’s first African-American First Lady said. “As you grow and achieve, remember who you always were, where you came from, who your parents were and how they raised you. That authentic self is gonna follow you through your whole life, so make sure it’s solid so that it’s something you can hold onto and be proud of.”
Those words so eloquently strung together with all the warmth and “you betta listen when i’m talkin’ to you” assertion that only a black woman can possess is why I’m certain I’ll miss her most of all when the First Family makes their White House exit in January.
As a dark-skinned black woman, it has taken far longer than I’m willing to admit to love myself in full. It took even longer to mine my inner confidence to put who I am – smart, opinionated, silly, headstrong – on public display and strive for things I’d never seen black women (in my family) achieve. Instead, I made myself small, malleable while trying to fit into a world I felt had no space for women that looked like me, whereas everything FLOTUS championed since those inaugural days in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has drawn me closer to realizing the limitlessness of a black woman’s influence and excellence.
From her hard-working, blue-collar upbringing to her two Ivy League degrees and the beautiful family of which she’s the center, she stands as a glowing example of a woman who can have it all while remaining true. She’s achieved success without mincing words, faced adversity with grace and charm, and has commanded respect with kindness, not Trump-like foot-stomping. She never seems to veil parts of herself or her blackness to accommodate unsafe spaces. In fact, she moves and stretches to create more room for herself and those like her. Plainly, she exacts change. And I’ve never known a First Lady to be as genuinely accessible or impactful. What’s more, she looks like me.
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