Archive for the ‘MICHELLE OBAMA-A BLACK FIRST LADY!’ Category

OBAMA-BLACK MUSIC AT THE BLACK HOUSE!-Video- Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson and The Blind Boys of Alabama Perform

February 14, 2010


via Video- Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson and The Blind Boys of Alabama Perform at the White House.


January 27, 2010


via Obama.

Photo- The Obamas on cover of NYT magazine

October 30, 2009





Photo- The Obamas on cover of NYT magazine.


August 8, 2009









– Obama In Ghana: “I Have The Blood Of Africa Within Me” First Posted: 07-11-09 08:33 AM | Updated: 07-12-09 03:20 PM

(AP) ACCRA, Ghana — America’s president and Africa’s son, Barack Obama dashed with pride onto the continent of his ancestors Saturday, challenging its people to shed corruption and conflict in favor of peace. Campaigning to all of Africa, he said “Yes you can.”

“I say this knowing full well the tragic past that has sometimes haunted this part of the world,” Obama told a riveted Ghanaian Parliament. “I have the blood of Africa within me.”

In the faces of those who lined the streets and in many of Obama’s own words, this trip was personal. Beyond his message, the story was his presence _ the first black U.S. president coming to poor, proud, predominantly black sub-Sahara Africa for his first time in office.

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The emotional touchstone of his visit: a tour of Cape Coast Castle, the cannon-lined fortress where slaves were kept in squalid dungeons, then shipped in chains to America through a “Door of No Return” that opens to the sea.

Obama absorbed the experience with his wife, Michelle, and their girls, Sasha and Malia.

“I’ll never forget the image of my two young daughters, the descendants of Africans and African-Americans, walking through those doors of no return but then walking back (through) those doors,” he said later at a grand departure ceremony. “It was a remarkable reminder that, while the future is unknowable, the winds always blow in the direction of human progress.” Ghanaians lined up on the tarmac lingered for a time even after Air Force One disappeared into the nighttime sky.

The White House said Obama held no big public events in a city frenzied to see him because Obama wanted to put the light on Africa, not himself. But reality proved otherwise.

Obama billboards dotted the roads. Women wore dresses made of cloth bearing his image. Tribal chiefs, lawmakers, church leaders, street vendors _ to them, it felt like history.

Story continues below

“All Ghanaians want to see you,” lamented Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, before feting Obama to a breakfast banquet of hundreds of guests at the coastal presidential castle.

To their disappointment, most people did not see him. The lack of open events and the heavy security kept many in this West African nation away from Obama. They watched him on TV.

Overall, there was no dampening the tone of joy. Headlines screamed of Obama fever.

“It makes us proud of Ghana,” said Richard Kwasi-Yeboah, a 49-year-old selling posters of the American president. “We’re proud he chose us. It proves that Ghana is really free.”

At the heart of Obama’s message here: African nations crippled by coups and chaos, like Ghana has been in the past, can reshape themselves into lawful democracies. He said it takes good governance, sustained development, improved health care.

And that the moment is now.

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen,” Obama said. “It needs strong institutions.”

The son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, Obama bluntly told Africa to take more responsibility for itself but proclaimed: “America will be with you.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest places in the world.

Obama also got openly personal _ recalling the grandfather who endured being called “boy” as a cook for the British in Kenya, the father who once herded goats in a small Kenyan village. Not mentioned was the path of his wife, Michelle, who is a descendant of slaves.

In essence, Obama’s history with Africa seemed to give him freer license to speak about the continent, as if he were being honest with a friend. He gave an unsentimental account of squandered opportunities, brutality and bribery in postcolonial Africa.

About every time Obama cited his basic argument _ that democracy is about more than holding elections, that Africa resist the drug trade and enforce a rule of law _ members of Parliament raucously cheered him on. Then again, this audience was friendly. When Obama left, a choir sang a song to his campaign theme of “Yes we can,” a line he used himself.

Evoking the memory of American civil rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., Obama noted that King was in Ghana in 1957 to hail Ghana’s independence from the British. He quoted King as calling the moment a triumph of justice, and told young Africans they must remember that.

“You can conquer disease, end conflicts and make change from the bottom up,” Obama said. “You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.”

All together, Obama was spending less than 24 hours in Ghana. But they packed in personal moments, in contrast to his summit-heavy travels across Russia and Italy over the last week.

At a maternal health clinic in Accra, he turned into a sentimental dad when he met a group of mothers holding newborns. “This is the highlight of the trip,” he said, beaming.

By afternoon, he was contemplating the human capacity for evil at the castle, which served as a headquarters for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Obama walked with his arm around Malia, 11. The first lady held the hand of Sasha, 8.

“Hopefully one of the things that was imparted to them during this trip was their sense of obligation to fight oppression and cruelty wherever it appears,” the president said.

Ghana and the U.S. have something of a diplomatic kinship. Obama is the third straight U.S. president to visit this tropical nation; George W. Bush was here just last year.

That reflects just how much the United States, which dwarfs Ghana’s size, wants this country to be a model of democracy and invests tens of millions of tax dollars to help it.

But what the Obama White House did not want on this trip was the Bill Clinton moment. In 1998, on a blisteringly hot day, a crowd at a Clinton rally nearly caused a horrific trample.

That also affected why Obama did not hold an outdoor event of his own.

Obama will be back to Africa. But he suggested that he won’t go for the traditional model of devoting a trip to Africa alone, as if it is separated from world affairs. Instead, African nations might be wrapped into his multinational travels more often.

“What happens here,” he said, “has an impact everywhere.”


Associated Press writers Mark S. Smith and Todd Pitman contributed to this story from Accra.





Obama’s visit to fort a ‘full-circle experience’
Ghana’s coastal castle was departure point for African slaves

George Osodi / AP
On Saturday, President Barack Obama and his family will visit this coastal castle in Ghana that was Britain’s West Africa headquarters for the shipment of millions of slaves to Europe and America. Video

updated 3:29 p.m. ET July 10, 2009
CAPE COAST, Ghana – From the rampart of a whitewashed fort once used to ship countless slaves from Africa to the Americas, Cheryl Hardin gazed through watery eyes at the route forcibly taken across the sea by her ancestors centuries before.

“It never gets any easier,” the 48-year-old pediatrician said, wiping away tears on her fourth trip to Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle in two decades. “It feels the same as when I first visited — painful, incomprehensible.”

On Saturday, Barack Obama and his family will follow in the footsteps of countless African-Americans who have tried to reconnect with their past on these shores. Though Obama was not descended from slaves — his father was Kenyan — he will carry the legacy of the African-American experience with him as America’s first black president.

For many, the trip will be steeped in symbolism.

“The world’s least powerful people were shipped off from here as slaves,” Hardin said Tuesday, looking past a row of cannons pointing toward the Atlantic Ocean. “Now Obama, an African-American, the most powerful person in the world, is going to be standing here. For us it will be a full-circle experience.”

Built in the 1600s, Cape Coast Castle served as Britain’s West Africa headquarters for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which saw European powers and African chiefs export millions in shackles to Europe and the Americas.

Nearly two centuries later, misery still lingers
The slave trade ended here in 1833, and visitors can now trek through the fort’s dungeons, dark rooms once crammed with more than 1,000 men and women at a time who slept in their own excrement. The dank air inside still stings the eyes.

Visiting for the first time, Hardin’s 47-year-old sister Wanda Milian said the dungeons felt “like burial tombs.”

“It felt suffocating. It felt still,” said Milian, who like her sister lives in Houston. “I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t expect to experience the sense of loss, the sense of hopelessness and desolation.”

Those who rebelled were packed into similar rooms with hardly enough air to breath, left to die without food or water. Their faint scratch marks are still visible on walls.

Down by the shore is the fort’s so-called “Door of No Return,” the last glimpse of Africa the slaves would ever see before they were loaded into canoes that took them to ships that crossed the ocean.

Horrible history contrasts with present
Today, the door opens onto a different world: a gentle shore where boys freely kick a white soccer ball through the surf, where gray-bearded men sit in beached canoes fixing lime-green fishing nets, where women sell maize meal from plates on their heads.

Behind them is Africa’s poverty: smoke from cooking fires rises from a maze of thin wooden shacks, their rusted corrugated aluminum roofs held down by rocks. Children bathe naked in a tiny dirt courtyard.

“I just can’t wrap my mind around this,” said Milian, who works at a Methodist church. “If it weren’t for all this” — for slavery — “I wouldn’t be standing here today. I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I do. I wouldn’t practice the religion I do.”

Milian also grappled with the irony that fort housed a church while the trade went on, and that African chiefs and merchants made it all possible, brutally capturing millions and marching them from the continent’s interior to be sold in exchange for guns, iron and rum.

“It’s mixed up,” Milian said. “It’s not an easy puzzle to put together.”

Though slavery in the U.S. ended after the Civil War in 1865, its legacy has lived on. The U.S. Senate on June 18 unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation.

“This is part of our history,” said Hardin, who first visited Ghana in the late 1980s and later married a Ghanaian engineer she met in the U.S.

Her 15-year-old son was along for the first time. “I want him to understand what his liberty really means, who he really is,” Hardin said.

But racism, both sisters agreed, would not end with Obama’s visit.

“Let’s not be naive. When your skin is darker, you are still going to be treated differently,” Hardin said. But Obama’s trip “will be a turning point, not just for America but for the world.”

Milian said Obama’s journey would also bear a message to those who organized the trade.

“It will say they failed, it all failed,” she said. “The human mind is capable of horrible things, but the fact that we’re standing here, the fact Obama will be standing here, proves we are also capable of great resilience.”



Obama says tour of Ghanaian slave fortress should be eye-opener for daughters
Bureau News July 11th, 2009
Obama: Daughters should learn from slave tour

CAPE COAST, Ghana — President Barack Obama says he hopes his family’s tour of a former slave fortress on the coast of Ghana shows his daughters that history can take very cruel turns.

Eleven-year-old Malia and eight-year-old Sasha accompanied Obama on a tour of Cape Coast Castle Saturday.

Speaking afterward, Obama said his daughters are “growing up in such a blessed way.” He said one of the things he hopes they picked up from the tour is a sense of their obligation to fight oppression and cruelty everywhere.

Cape Coast Castle was the place where shackled Africans were held in squalid dungeons before they were shipped off into slavery.



June 8, 2009




Michelle Obama named as one of the 100 most beautiful women in the world

Michelle Obama, who was named one of the 100 most beautiful women in the world by the American men’s magazine Maxim, seems to have made less of an impression on Iman, the supermodel.

Tim Walker. Edited by Richard Eden
Published: 9:58PM BST 17 May 2009

Michelle Obama was No 91 on the magazine Maxim’s list Photo: GETTY
According to David Bowie’s wife, Mrs Obama is “not a great beauty”.

Iman, 53, insists that she did not, however, mean it as an insult.

“She is so interesting looking and so bright,” says the model. “That will always take you further. When you’re a great beauty, it’s always downhill for you.”

The First Lady was No 93 in the magazine’s list, beating Padma Lakshmi, the former wife of Sir Salman Rushdie, and Marisa Tomei, the Hollywood actress.

Iman was reflecting on the experiences of black women who achieve fame, such as Mrs Obama, the first black American First Lady, who is a lawyer by training and a former executive.

Iman said that her own rise to stardom did not free her from racism. “You suddenly represent a whole race, and that race goes, ‘Well, that person does not represent our ideals of beauty’. For lack of a better term, it becomes what it was like during slavery,” she said.

“One had the field nigger and the house nigger. There was this notion that I was chosen by white fashion editors to be better than the rest, which I am not.

“I did not like being thought of as the house nigger.”


June 6, 2009




Charles Ommanney / Getty Images for Newsweek
Michelle Obama, in Sioux City, Iowa.

What Michelle Can Teach Us

Forget Claire Huxtable. She could be a real-life role model for black women.

By Allison Samuels | NEWSWEEK
Published Nov 1, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Nov 10, 2008

Throughout this long, tense election, everyone has focused on the presidential candidates and how they’ll change America. Rightly so. But selfishly, I’m more fascinated by Michelle Obama and what she might be able to do, not just for this country, but for me as an African-American woman. As the potential First Lady, she would have the world’s attention. And that means that for the first time people will have a chance to get up close and personal with the type of African-American woman they so rarely see.

Usually, the lives of black women go largely unexamined. The prevailing theory seems to be that we’re all hot-tempered single mothers who can’t keep a man and, according to CNN’s “Black in America,” documentary, those of us who aren’t street-walking crack addicts are on the verge of dying from AIDS. As writer Rebecca Walker put it on her Facebook page: “CNN should call me next time they really want to show diversity and meet real black women that nobody seems to talk about.”

Like Walker, I too know more than my share of black women who have little in common with the black female images I see in the media. My “sistafriends” are mostly college educated, in healthy, productive relationships and have a major aversion to sassy one-liners. They are teachers, doctors and business owners. Of course, there are those of us who never get the chance to pull it together. And we accept and embrace them—but their stories can’t and shouldn’t be the only ones told.

Yet pop culture continues to hold a very unevolved view of African-American women. Take HBO’s new vampire saga “True Blood.” Even in the world of make-believe, black women still can’t escape the stereotype of being neck-swirling, eye-rolling, oversexed females raised by our never-married, alcoholic mothers. Where is Claire Huxtable when you need her?

These images have helped define the way all black women are viewed, including Michelle Obama. Before she ever gets the chance to commit to a cause, charity or foundation as First Lady, her most urgent and perhaps most complicated duty may be simply to be herself.

It won’t be easy. Since her emergence on the national scene, Obama has been deemed radical, divisive and the adjective that no modern-day black woman can live without: angry. Thankfully, so far, she’s endured these demeaning accusations with a smile and shrug—at least in public. But if she does end up in the White House, continuing to dial back her straightforward, vibrant personality isn’t the answer. In the same way that Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton each redefined what it meant to be First Lady, Michelle will forge her own path. Not only will she draw the usual criticisms, but she’ll be open to some new ones too. I eagerly await the public reaction if Sasha and Malia ever sport cornrows or afro puffs on the South Lawn. And if Michelle decides to champion a program that benefits black youth, will her critics slam her for being too parochial?
To be fair, Hillary Clinton’s early involvement in her husband’s administration (think health-care reform) brought a major backlash. But there’s no real evidence of Michelle Obama’s desire to be a huge presence in her husband’s potential administration. Besides helping military families, we don’t even have many clues about what projects she might tackle.

Whatever she does, I hope she doesn’t fall victim to critics with little point of reference. Take this month’s issue of Town and Country magazine. An article—written by a white female reporter—offers advice to both potential First Ladies. The writer suggests Cindy McCain let her “personality and experience shine” and motivate others to give back.

For Michelle, the writer suggests that she avoid “popping off when your guard is down” and to be careful “about how, when and if she injects her ethnicity … into her platform as First Lady.”

The underlying message is that the last thing anyone needs to be reminded of is that Michelle Obama is all black, unlike her husband, who is mixed—as the writer points out for seemingly no reason.

And that speaks to the larger issue that Michelle Obama could pose for the media. Because few mainstream publications have done in-depth features on regular African American women (and no, Halle Berry, Oprah and Beyoncé don’t count), little is known about who we are, what we think and what we face on a regular basis. For better or worse, Michelle will become a stand-in for us all.

Just as she will have her critics, she will also have millions of adoring fans who usually have little interest in the First Lady. African-American blogs such as Sisterlicious, Black Girls Rock and That Black Girl Group have all written about what they’d like to see Michelle bring to the White House—mainly showing the world that a black woman can support her man and raise a strong black family. As contributor Felicia Jones wrote on one blog, “Michelle Obama will be the hero my little girls have been looking for. The hero doesn’t have to shake her booty or point her finger to get noticed and respected. My little girls finally have a role model.” Michelle will have to work to please everyone—an impossible task. But for many African-American women like me, just a little of her poise, confidence and intellect will go a long way in changing an image that’s been around for far too long.

© 2008


May 19, 2009


Sojourner Truth statue in Capitol at last
By Askia Muhammad
Senior Correspondent
Updated May 18, 2009 – 12:24:01 AM

WASHINGTON ( – After a nearly 13-year struggle, “Truth” has been firmly established at the United States Capitol.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applaud as bust of Sojourner Truth is unveiled. Photo: Askia Muhammad
A bronze bust of abolitionist and women’s suffragist Isabella Baumfree—who began calling herself “Sojourner Truth” at age 46—was unveiled in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center April 28, finally establishing the “Truth” of the struggle of many Black women at the seat of Congress.

The event marked drastic changes in American life in the 126 years since Sojourner Truth’s death, and since a dedicated group of Black women began to fight in October 1996 to have her recognized with a statue in the Capitol, along with those of White women’s rights advocates.

The ceremony was headed by women who’ve reached unprecedented heights: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first woman in that position; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who succeeded the first woman in that post; and Michelle Obama, like Mrs. Truth, herself a descendant of slaves.

“I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as first lady of the United States,” Mrs. Obama told the crowd of more than 1,000. She said she is glad that Black children touring the Capitol—“boys and girls like my own daughters”—could now “come to Emancipation Hall and see the face of a woman who looks like them.”

Mrs. Truth was an early crusader for women’s right to vote and for an end to slavery. She met presidents Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and Ulysses S. Grant in 1870. She delivered her signature speech: “Ain’t I A Woman?” at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. She died in November 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, Mich.

Oscar award-winning actress Cicely Tyson performed the “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, receiving a prolonged standing ovation from the mostly female, mostly Black audience, which was organized by the National Congress of Black Women.

The struggle began with the late Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, founder and former chair of NCBW. Dr. Tucker originally wanted to add Mrs. Truth’s likeness to the eight-ton, marble, “Portrait Monument,” statues of the White heroines of the women’s suffrage movement Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

When that campaign failed in 1997, Dr. Tucker famously condemned the White, marble statue, saying it had been “chiseled in hate,” because a portion of the stone where NCBW wanted Mrs. Truth’s likeness to be hewn remained formless.

Later, a plan for Mrs. Truth to have a stand-alone bust in the Capitol was approved by Congress in 2006. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) were the key sponsors of that legislation. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The resulting bust—featuring Mrs. Truth wearing her trademark bonnet—was created by California-based sculptor Artis Lane. Behind the leadership of Dr. E. Faye Williams, who succeeded Dr. Tucker when she died in 2005, NCBW raised more than $500,000—often in $1 and $5 contributions—to pay for the final installation.

“This has been an awesome day for women, especially Black women today, because we know that like our struggles, Sojourner before us struggled to make sure that we would be free from the shackles of slavery. We’re so delighted that we were able to lead in this effort to put the first Black woman in the United States Capitol, and we’re even prouder that we had our own first lady, who looks like us here today to unveil that statue,” Dr. Williams told The Final Call.

“It took the work of all these women here who are gathered around me,” she continued, “the members of the National Congress of Black Women, out on street corners, out in parking lots, going to schools, working, begging, pleading, just for ‘A dollar for Truth,’ and fortunately many people gave it up.”

President Obama’s family was the largest personal donor to the effort, said Dr. Williams, along with Black women’s social organizations including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and The Links.

“This is a day that words cannot describe,” William Tucker, husband and constant companion of Dr. Tucker in life and in her work, told The Final Call.

“The fulfillment of this day, fulfilling all the hopes and the dreams, the aspiration, the hard work, the labor and the toil of my dear late wife—C. Delores Tucker—this is fulfillment of all of that agony and toil of her life, that she toiled so hard for.

“Almost up until her death, her dying moments, she was concerned about this day: Sojourner Truth taking her place in this Capitol to undue the wrongs that history had committed on our people,” Mr. Tucker continued. “She was determined and dedicated to doing that, committed to doing that. Today is a fulfillment of all of that.”

Mrs. Truth’s life was an inspiration, several speakers, including both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and the Senate told the audience. Her original owners spoke only Dutch. The young Isabella Baumfree learned English when she was 10 years old. As a slave she suffered beatings and abuse, and was once sold for $100 “and a herd of sheep.”

Mrs. Truth later gained her freedom and changed her name to reflect her personal journey. When she left her owner after he failed to keep his agreement to allow her to work to earn her freedom, she later declared, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it,” she once said.

FCN is a distributor (and not a publisher) of content supplied by third parties. Original content supplied by FCN and News is Copyright 2009 FCN Publishing, Content supplied by third parties are the property of their respective owners.

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May 3, 2009


Obama’s Rabbi
Alec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times
Hallelujah, shalom: Rabbi Funnye singing at Shabbat services.

Published: April 2, 2009
Rabbi Capers Funnye celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year in New York City at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a mainstream Reform congregation, in the company of about 700 fellow Jews — many of them black. The organizers of the event had reached out to four of New York’s Black Jewish synagogues in the hope of promoting Jewish diversity, and they weren’t disappointed. African-American Jews, largely from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, many of whom had never been in a predominantly white synagogue, made up about a quarter of the audience. Most of the visiting women wore traditional African garb; the men stood out because, though it was a secular occasion, most kept their heads covered. But even with your eyes closed you could tell who was who: the black Jews and the white Jews clapped to the music on different beats.

Alec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times
Rabbi Capers Funnye
Funnye, the chief rabbi of the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, one of the largest black synagogues in America, was a featured speaker that night. The overflowing audience came out in a snowstorm to hear his thoughts about two men: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. King is Funnye’s hero. Obama, whose inauguration was to take place the following day in Washington, is family — the man who married Funnye’s cousin Michelle.

A compact, serious-looking man in his late 50s, Funnye (pronounced fu-NAY) wore a dark business suit and a large gray knit skullcap. He sat expressionless, collecting his thoughts, as Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Band steamed through their sanctified rendition of the Hebrew hymn “Adon Olam.” Nelson, a black Jew, was raised in two Jewish worlds — a white Reform temple in New Jersey and a Black Jewish synagogue in Brooklyn — and he borrows from both. The first time the Rev. Al Sharpton heard a recording of Nelson’s “Adon Olam,” he said, “I can hear that’s Mahalia Jackson, but what language is she singing in?”

Mary Funnye, Capers’s wife, tapped her foot to the music and smiled with apparent equanimity, but her husband knew she was seething inside. “Mary has been a rabbi’s wife for a long time,” he told me a few weeks later. “She has an excellent synagogue poker face. But she really wanted to be in Washington that night” — for the early inauguration festivities — “not New York. And you can’t really blame her.”

The Funnyes were invited to Washington by the Obamas for a full calendar of inaugural events, including a dinner that evening held by the president-elect for his family and close advisers. Mary’s brother, Frank White Jr., a businessman who served as a prominent member of Obama’s national finance committee, was invited. So were three of Funnye’s sisters. It was going to be the family reunion of the year, the social event of the season and a crowning moment in American history. Mary had a formal gown ready. But here she was, singing “Adon Olam,” as she did virtually every Shabbat in Chicago.

Still, to be fair, this night was a historic moment for her husband too. For the first time in a rabbinical career stretching back to 1985, Funnye had been invited to speak at a white, mainstream synagogue in New York. Plenty of black Christian ministers, in a spirit of ecumenism and racial harmony, have addressed Jewish congregations in the city. But a black rabbi? Many American Jews regard the very concept as an oxymoron, or even, given the heterodoxies of much Black Jewish theology, some sort of heresy. Funnye has been trying for years to demonstrate that he and his fellow Black Jews belong in the Jewish mainstream. Mostly he has been ignored.

But it is hard to ignore a man with a cousin in the White House. Tonight was payback for all those years of stupid jokes (“Funnye, you don’t look Jewish”), insulting questions and long, wondering stares. Funnye was finally being given the stage at a high-profile Jewish event. “My Broadway debut,” he said, without evident irony, as he prepared to go on. “Been a long time getting here, but I’m ready.”

Capers C. Funnye Jr. was born in South Carolina in 1952 and raised on the South Side of Chicago. His paternal relatives are Gullahs from the barrier islands off Charleston, S.C. The Gullah community has retained many of its original African customs and much of its ancestral language. On his first visit to Nigeria, in 2001, Funnye was delighted to discover that variations of his family name are common in Africa. On his maternal side, he is a Robinson. His mother, Verdelle, was the sister of Fraser Robinson Jr. — Michelle Obama’s grandfather. That makes Funnye and Michelle Obama first cousins, once removed.

And not that removed, really. “Our families were very close,” Funnye says. “All through my childhood, our families were in and out of each other’s houses, celebrating holidays together, that kind of thing.” As kids, Funnye and Michelle Obama weren’t peers (he was nearly 12 years older), but they connected in earnest years later, in 1992, at her wedding, and a friendship developed. The Obamas, like Funnye, were involved in community organizing in Chicago, and they saw one another often, socially and professionally. It didn’t surprise Funnye, he told me, that when he and Mary went to Washington to attend Obama’s inaugural ceremony after Funnye’s speech in New York, they were in the good seats, near Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Family is family.

Funnye was not always Jewish. When he went off to college at Howard University in 1970, he was the conventionally Christian son of upwardly striving parents. But he was moved by the radicalized atmosphere of the day. Black nationalism, Afrocentrism and cultural separatism were in vogue, and Funnye came to see Christianity as an alien religion imposed on blacks by white slave masters. “I was never an atheist,” he told me. “I just wanted to find the right way to worship him.”

During a summer job in Chicago, some friends introduced Funnye to Rabbi Robert Devine, the spiritual leader of the House of Israel Congregation. Devine preached that Africans were the true descendants of the biblical Hebrews, and that Jesus, the Messiah, was a black man. The message appealed to Funnye. Devine baptized him in a public swimming pool, and Funnye entered the complicated world of black American Jewry.

Estimates of how many black Jews there are in the United States range widely. It all depends on who is doing the counting and what criteria are being used. There are Jews who happen to be black: kids adopted by white Jewish families, for example, or the offspring of mixed parents. (Orthodox Judaism recognizes as Jewish the offspring of only Jewish mothers; Reform, the largest American denomination, accepts patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent.) There are also African-Americans who have been converted to various forms of Judaism, as well as Jews of Ethiopian origin who immigrated to Israel and subsequently moved to America. Probably no more than 2 percent of the American Jewish community is made up of black Jews.

There have been African-Americans with blood ties to white Jews since at least the early 19th century. Among them was Julia Ann Isaacs, the daughter of a white Jewish man, David Isaacs, and a free black woman, Nancy Ann West. In 1832 Julia married Eston Hemings, the son of Sally Hemings and — more than likely — Thomas Jefferson. Another was Francis Cardozo, a freeborn black man of Jewish descent (and a distant relative of the Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo), who during Reconstruction served as secretary of state and treasurer of South Carolina. But in almost no such early cases did the offspring of black-Jewish unions identify themselves as Jewish.
Black Judaism as a self-conscious religious identity arrived in America in Lawrence, Kan., in 1896. A charismatic Baptist named William Saunders Crowdy established a black congregation called the Church of God and Saints of Christ, where he preached that Africans were the true descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Didn’t the Bible tell that Moses married a black-skinned woman? he asked. And that King Solomon bestowed on the queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian, “all her desire”?

One implication of Crowdy’s doctrine was that blacks were God’s chosen people. This might have been a hanging offense in Kansas at the time had white people been aware of it, which they mostly weren’t. The denomination practiced an eclectic, “roll your own” brand of religion that combined beliefs and practices of the Old and New Testaments. Crowdy’s tabernacles practiced male infant circumcision, observed Saturday as the Sabbath, celebrated Passover and other Jewish holidays — but venerated Jesus Christ.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Crowdy’s faith offered freed slaves and their offspring something that mainstream Christianity did not: a grand historical identity and a distinctively black mode of religious expression. This proved to be a potent mix. Since the formation of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, there have been more than 200 congregations in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean. Today the group still has more than 50 affiliated congregations. In addition, a great many other “messianic” Jewish houses of worship have flourished, including Rabbi Robert Devine’s congregation, where Funnye first came to regard himself as a Black Jew.

“When I joined Rabbi Devine’s shul, I felt less like I was converting to Judaism than reverting,” Funnye recalls. “Going back to something.”

For a few years after leaving Howard, as he worked a series of jobs in Chicago, Funnye found Devine’s conception of Judaism to be rewarding. But he eventually became uncomfortable with the hybrid nature of Devine’s theology. As his interest in Judaism deepened, Funnye was increasingly drawn to the more conventional teachings of a black, Brooklyn-based rabbi named Levi Ben Levy, the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Israelite movement. “He taught me that real Judaism isn’t mixed in with Christianity,” Funnye says. He studied with Levy for five years, long distance from Chicago; the curriculum included Biblical Hebrew, liturgy, standard rabbinic texts and Jewish history from the perspective of African originalism. In 1985, Levy ordained Funnye as a rabbi, although no mainstream denomination accepted the title or Levy’s right to confer it.

Very few white rabbis were even aware of the existence of the Hebrew Israelites. The movement was established in the early 20th century by Wentworth Matthew, a charismatic figure who arrived in Harlem at the end of World War I, claiming to be from Africa, although he was more likely born in St. Kitts. Matthew proclaimed himself a rabbi and founded a congregation in New York called the Commandment Keepers. He was influenced by the idea that blacks were the original Hebrews; but unlike William Saunders Crowdy, who lived in rural Kansas, Matthew modeled his congregation on the white Judaism he saw around him in New York. He called his a storefront a shul, introduced a standard Hebrew prayer book and weekly Sabbath Torah readings, discouraged excessive shows of emotion during worship, insisted on separate seating for women and men and instituted a modified version of kosher dietary laws. He also, and crucially, denied the divinity of Jesus and the truth of the New Testament.

As Matthew’s group grew, it became far more “orthodox” in its Jewish ritual and code of conduct than the average Reform temple. Still, Matthew held some highly unorthodox beliefs. Chief among them was the doctrine that many white Jews are descended not from the ancient Israelites but from the Khazars, a tribe of Turkic nomads who, according to legend, converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century. Mainstream scholars say there is no historical evidence for such a claim, but it remains an article of faith for many Black Jews. (The claim is also a staple of anti-Israel rhetoric, a fact that Funnye, who like most Black Jews supports Israel, says makes him uneasy.)
Matthew didn’t express animosity toward white Jews. On the contrary, he saw and appreciated them as temporary placeholders, people who kept the faith of Israel going while the Black Jews were lost in bondage. He sought to make common cause with and be included in the wider Jewish community: twice he applied for membership to the mainstream New York Board of Rabbis, but he was turned down. The Orthodox rabbis were flabbergasted that any gentile, black or white, would have the chutzpah to declare himself to be a Jew, let alone a rabbi. Some of the more liberal rabbis were intrigued by the Hebrew Israelites but were not willing to fully embrace them as fellow Jews.

For Matthew and his followers, the disappointment was acute. “Rabbi Matthew concluded that black Jews would never be fully accepted by white Jews, and certainly not if they insisted on maintaining a black identity and independent congregations,” Sholomo Ben Levy, the rabbi of the Black Jewish Beth Elohim Hebrew Congregation in Queens, wrote in an article published by the Hebrew Israelites. “Since his death in 1973, there has been virtually no dialog [sic] between white and black Jews in America.”

It has become the mission of Capers Funnye to start that dialogue. “I believe in building bridges,” he told me as we sat in his office at the Beth Shalom synagogue in Chicago, a week and a half after his Martin Luther King Day speech in New York. “That’s why speaking at the synagogue was so important to me.”

“Has Mary forgiven you?” I asked.

Funnye nodded. “We drove down to D.C. and made one of the balls the next day,” he said. “And she got to snap a picture of Denzel Washington, so everything is more or less cool.”

At the King Day celebration in New York, the musician Joshua Nelson proved a hard act to follow; Funnye came across as stiff and cautious, expressing measured thoughts about Jewish solidarity, the brotherhood of man and the need for peace in the Holy Land. But here in his study, surrounded by books and family pictures, he seemed far more at ease. The Sabbath was only an hour away, and people kept busting into the room — kids who wanted to show off their grades; an assistant rabbi who wanted a word about the youth group; ladies of the Nashe Or (“Women of Light”) Sisterhood who wanted to know what time exactly the communal meal should be served.

Funnye handled it all in good spirits. He is not only the chief rabbi of the congregation, which, in various permutations, has been around 90 years; he is also its C.E.O., spiritual leader, head social director, senior teacher and unofficial cantor. Beth Shalom, which he joined as an assistant rabbi in 1985, has about 200 members, making it the largest of the six American synagogues affiliated with the International Israelite Board of Rabbis (the organization that serves the Hebrew Israelites), and Funnye is the Israelites’ only full-time rabbi. A majority of his congregation are converts to Judaism, although a large number are second- or third-generation Black Jews. (People often confuse Funnye’s congregation with that of Ben Ammi Carter, a fellow black Chicagoan, who established a community of followers in Israel in 1969. Funnye, who says there is no similarity between their theologies, is at pains to differentiate the two.)

Early in his rabbinical career, Funnye says, he realized that his Jewish credentials were too limited and exotic for the kind of outreach efforts that he wanted to do. So he enrolled at the mainstream Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Judaic Studies. And in 1985 he underwent a second conversion, this one certified by a Conservative rabbinical court. Before he took this step, he consulted with his earlier mentor, Rabbi Levy; Funnye feared insulting other Black Jews. “I didn’t want anyone to interpret my conversion as meaning I thought they weren’t Jewish enough,” he told me. But he received Levy’s blessing. “I explained that if I was going to do the kind of outreach I wanted, European Jews had to feel that I was their brother,” Funnye said. “But I’m still a Black Israelite. A halakhic conversion” — one in accordance with traditional Jewish law — “wasn’t going to take away any of my blackness.”
After his second conversion, Funnye taught Hebrew and Jewish subjects at Chicago-area congregations and worked for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a group dedicated to fighting poverty, racism and anti-Semitism in the city. He sent his four children to Jewish day schools, quietly built his congregation and got to know the leaders of the white Jewish community. In 1997, he did what his mentors had all failed to do (and no Hebrew Israelite rabbi has since done): he became a member of the local Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Michael Balinsky, the executive vice president of the Chicago Board, says Funnye makes a conscientious effort “to play an active role in the mainstream Jewish community without losing his Black Hebrew tradition. He’s taken a leadership role for the Jewish community on civil rights issues and outreach to Hispanics and Muslims.”
In January, Beth Shalom organized a community celebration with members of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a social-justice organization in Chicago headed by a Palestinian-American activist named Rami Nashashibi. Funnye has also worked to improve Chicago’s historically strained relations between its black and Jewish communities. In conversations with white Jews, he has defended the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom he admires, and he encourages dialogue with Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, whom he counts as a friend.

“I don’t agree with everything the man says or thinks,” Funnye said of Farrakhan. “I’m a Jew, after all. But you need to talk. Right now I’m trying to put together a group of Chicago rabbis for a meeting with Minister Farrakhan.”

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Two so far,” he said. “But I’m still working on it.”

Before sundown that night, Funnye joined about 60 congregants in the social hall for Friday-night blessings and a fried-fish-and-spaghetti dinner. In 2004, Beth Shalom bought its current building, on South Kedzie Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side, from a rapidly declining congregation of Lithuanian Jews. It has a tan brick exterior and a layout common to American synagogues circa 1955; it is a virtual twin of the temple in Michigan that I attended growing up.

The money for the building came mostly from tithes and contributions, and raising it was a stretch. “The members here are working people, teachers, city workers, mostly middle class,” Funnye said. “We don’t have any billionaire philanthropists, like the Bronfmans or the Crowns. The only rich black Jew I ever heard about was Sammy Davis Jr., and he’s dead. Besides, he was Reform.”

After the dinner, Funnye chanted the grace and then reassembled his flock in a large classroom for evening prayers and a Torah lesson. The week’s portion happened to be the story of the Exodus, and Funnye used it to illustrate the virtue of interdependence. “Think about it,” he said. “God told Moses to talk to Pharaoh, but Moses stuttered, right? I mean he stuh-stuh-stuh-stuttered. That’s what they called it back then. Nowadays he’d get called a rapper.” This got a laugh. A woman sitting nearby said, “Teach the Torah, rabbi.”

Funnye went on: “Moses stuttered so bad until he had to bring in his brother Aaron, who was a Cohen, a priest, to talk for him. And you know no priest is going to stutter, right?”

This got another laugh, and Funnye closed in on his moral — the importance of people from different backgrounds sharing the benefits of their respective upbringings. “I mean, hey, you grew up in the suburbs, maybe you can help me with something,” he said. “Or if you came up on 59th Street — some of y’all know what I’m talking about — so I know some things that you just don’t know. We can help each other.”

The congregation applauded and called out in agreement. This wasn’t the button-down Funnye who spoke at Stephen Wise in New York; here he was a signifying South Side Chicago rabbi.

A few years ago, before Beth Shalom bought its new synagogue, its members would meet in a small building on a blighted street in Chicago. A Latino gang worked one corner of the block, and a black gang worked the other. “Soon as we got there, somebody marked up the building with graffiti,” Funnye told me. “I went to both gangs and told them: ‘This is a synagogue, with elders and children. I don’t care what business you do during the week, but from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown you need to be respectful.’ I let them know that I am a man of peace but I’m not a pacifist and I had men in the congregation, so if we had a problem we’d deal with it ourselves, not call in the police until later.”

I was surprised to hear that the speech worked. “And the gangs fell into line, just like that?”

Funnye chuckled. “Well, I also had a word with some brothers I met doing prison counseling, and they may have intervened. I put out word when we moved here too. I don’t get in people’s business, but I won’t allow anyone to disrespect our synagogue.”

Because of Funnye’s connection to the Obamas, his community work has occasionally been a source of political interest. Between 1997 and 2002, Funnye served as the executive director of Blue Gargoyle, a nonprofit social-services agency that offers, among other things, adult-literacy and alternative-education programs. Blue Gargoyle was in Barack Obama’s district when he was an Illinois state senator, and during Funnye’s tenure, Obama earmarked a total of $75,000 for the organization. The issue of the earmarks and the family connection was raised by some of Obama’s opponents during the 2008 presidential campaign, but it didn’t gain traction; evidently the disbursements were aboveboard.

Funnye also worked with Michelle Obama in her capacity as executive director for community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she focused on health issues affecting young people. Funnye told me that the only money Blue Gargoyle received from the university was a $5,000 grant for a tutoring program, and that the money did not come through Michelle Obama’s office at the hospital.

At the start of the 2008 presidential primary season, Funnye contributed a few hundred dollars to the Obama campaign but didn’t publicly endorse Obama, and he avoided mentioning the family connection. “I was afraid it might do him harm in the Orthodox community,” he told me. “I believe they were the ones putting out stories about Barack being a secret Muslim and so on. They could have made me out to be a friend of Farrakhan’s or a cult leader or who knows what.”

Obama apparently wasn’t worried by the association. During the Democratic primaries, as he came under repeated attack for being insufficiently pro-Israel, Obama reached out to Funnye, by way of Mary’s brother Frank White, the Obama fund-raiser. White told me that Obama encouraged him to “tell Capers to get the word out that I’ve got a rabbi in my family.” Funnye acknowledges getting the message. Before long, The Forward, the Jewish weekly, ran an article on Obama’s rabbi, and the news spread like low-fat cream cheese from Boca Raton to Brooklyn.

Funnye’s association with Obama probably didn’t reassure fervent Zionists — the rabbi is considerably to the left of Obama on Middle East policy — but it didn’t seem to hurt either. The connection to Obama certainly didn’t hurt Funnye. “I got no blowback from the Orthodox at all,” he said. “In fact, I started getting phone calls from a couple Hasidic rabbis in Israel who want to get together.”

There is no black Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. When they congregate on the Sabbath, the Hebrew Israelites come from all areas of the city, and they tend to spend the entire day in shul. The lyrics to the songs they sing are the same as the ones heard in any traditional synagogue, but the music is different. Hebrew prayers are sung in unison in something resembling call and response. A gospel-like band accompanies the choir’s weekly performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” During the Torah procession the congregation sings, “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion.”

On one of the days I was there, in early February, I was the only white Jew in the shul, and an old guy in front of me kept turning around and showing me the right page. There’s a nudnik like him in every shul I’ve ever been to.

I forgave him, though, during the Torah service, when a young man faltered over the blessings and looked mortified. “Not your fault, young man,” the nudnik said. “The fire of the Torah burns so hot to where sometimes it just confuses your mind.”

At the end of services, I met a young woman named Tamar, who said her children are the only black Jews enrolled at the Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School. “Things have been a little tricky for them at school since Obama won,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked. “Aren’t most of the parents at the Day School Democrats?”

“Yes. They voted for Obama, and their kids are glad he won. But they don’t love Obama the way my children do. They aren’t thrilled in the same way.”


“My kids are wondering, If their classmates and teachers figure out how personal this is for them, will they be considered more black and less Jewish?”

When I told Funnye the story he chuckled but said he wasn’t surprised. Being a black Jew in America can be a trying experience, even when white Jews are well intentioned. One morning I went with Funnye to a suburban Conservative congregation, where he was to deliver another Martin Luther King speech. We sat at the head table. I ate bagels and lox while Funnye chatted with a convert to Judaism. At the end of the meal the host rabbi stood and began chanting the blessing after food.

When he saw that Funnye wasn’t singing along, the rabbi pointed to the appropriate words. He didn’t realize that Funnye wasn’t praying because he was still eating. Another nudnik.

On Inauguration Day, Capers and Mary Funnye drove down from New York and made it to Washington in time for a quick shower. Then they boarded a bus for Obama-family relatives that drove them from venue to venue throughout the day. Over lunch at the Old Executive Office building, Funnye recounted, he bonded with Obama’s Kenyan grandmother and aunt and exchanged business cards with the president’s Kenyan half-brother. “I get to Africa from time to time,” Funnye said.

That was an understatement. Funnye heads the Pan-African Jewish Alliance, a group established to help Africans join and feel more included in the mainstream Jewish community. For its founders — Gary Tobin, the head of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, and his wife, Diane — the motivation is in part demographic. Discovering or creating millions of Jewish Africans (as well as opening the community in the United States to African converts and to African-Americans with Jewish roots) would, the Tobins say, greatly strengthen what they see as a stagnant population.

Funnye’s motive is more spiritual. As a Hebrew Israelite rabbi he maintains that many Africans were originally Jewish. Some, like the Lemba of South Africa, claim direct descent from the Jews of the Bible. There is considerable resistance to this notion, but many leading scholars take it seriously. “I have no problem believing that the Lemba of South Africa are descended from Jews,” says Jonathan Schorsch, an assistant professor of Jewish studies at Columbia University. “Jews are ethnically and biologically mixed. It just makes sense that this mixing took place in Africa as well as other places.”

Funnye’s closest connection is to the Ibos, a tribe in Nigeria, some of whose members describe themselves as Jews. Beth Shalom has a sister synagogue there, and Funnye travels back and forth. For all practical purposes, he is the chief rabbi of Nigeria, and he has plans to reunite the Ibos eventually with the worldwide Jewish people through formal conversion.

Before he gets to Africa, though, Funnye has other commitments. A French organization recently flew him to Paris for a Martin Luther King event. He now finds himself flooded with invitations to speak at big Jewish congregations in California, Florida and Long Island. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, is planning a meeting for Funnye with his colleagues. I asked Potasnik if the organization would be willing to reconsider membership for the Hebrew Israelite rabbis. “We’d entertain an application,” he said. “I’d love to see the test case.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Reform Movement, is, like Potasnik, ready to consider new possibilities. “The fact that men and women sit separately in the Israelite congregations might be a problem for us on gender-equality grounds,” he told me. “But race would certainly be no problem for us.”

A few years ago, Funnye considered applying for membership to the Union for Reform Judaism. He shelved the idea when his congregants objected on the grounds that the white congregation was not observant enough. “Some of their rabbis perform intermarriages,” Funnye explains, “so some of our people were uncomfortable. But sometimes I think it would be good to be part of a larger movement. Maybe we’ll revisit the subject.”

Funnye hasn’t built all his bridges yet, let alone crossed them, but the progress he has seen — both as a black Jew and as a black American — has mellowed him. “You know, as a young man I was angry about the way we were laughed at and ignored,” he said. “I sometimes went down to the kosher meat market here in Chicago, put my face right up in the face of one of the Orthodox rabbis and yelled, ‘I ain’t never seen no white Jews before!’ I was so hurt I became obtuse and bitter. But I don’t feel that way anymore.” He paused. “There’s no need to shout. People are ready for a dialogue, to talk and to listen.”

Zev Chafets is a frequent contributor to the magazine. His most recent article was about Rush Limbaugh.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 26, 2009
An article on April 5 about Capers Funnye, a rabbi who is a cousin of Michelle Obama’s, misstated the name of an organization to which he considered applying for membership. It was the Union for Reform Judaism, not the Union of Reform Jews.


April 27, 2009


Monday, April 27, 2009
Michelle Obama: 100 Days Of Transformation
The 21 women nervously mingling at the White House were among the best in their fields. They had achieved Olympic gold, Grammy awards and four stars in the Army. One had orbited the earth aboard space shuttle Endeavour. Some had reached the highest outposts of corporate America, or had earned kudos on stage or on the big screen. They were together for one reason: Michelle Obama.

As a candidate’s wife, as it became increasingly clear Barack Obama might win the presidency, she had dreamed about a day like this, when she could bring together such a talented group and send them off to give pep talks to kids in the public schools.

As first lady, she realized she could make it happen.

“I couldn’t have imagined this a year ago,” Mrs. Obama said. She was speaking one morning last month to the other high achievers she had invited to the blue-and-yellow Diplomatic Reception Room in the basement of the White House.

Once in the White House, Mrs. Obama quickly was out the door and running on a bunch of issues, all of them very traditional, first ladylike and unlikely to upset the public.

She dashed around from one government agency to another, thanking often-criticized civil service employees for their work and plugging the president’s $787 billion economic stimulus package.

She got beyond official Washington, too — touring a neighborhood social services center, reading to little kids, serving mushroom risotto at a soup kitchen. She gave pep talks to high school students and dirtied her hands in the garden.

In Europe, she caused a media frenzy, not as much for where she went or with whom she met or for what she said, but for the outfits she wore to meet the British prime minister, the queen of England and the French president and his wife, a former fashion model.

Some of the clothes she wears sell out immediately after aides say where she got them. Numerous Web sites dissect and analyze her style; at least one is posting photos of every outfit she wears in public.

In London, she alone drew a rare, and much talked about, public display of affection from Queen Elizabeth II.

At a reception for world leaders attending the G-20 economic summit, Her Majesty draped an arm across the first lady’s back. Mrs. Obama returned the gesture, sparking endless discussion about whether it was wrong of her to touch the queen.

But the embrace also was a symbol of just how far Michelle Obama’s transformation had taken her. By getting a touch from the queen, she pulled off something few others have.

Mrs. Obama organized her own kind of G-20 summit at the White House last month, with an all-female cast ranging from singer Alicia Keys to actress Fran Drescher to astronaut Mae Jemison.

The assignment was to go out and inspire young people. Girls, especially.

Getting them to see their potential wasn’t something Mrs. Obama talked about on the campaign trail. The pep talks came after she realized the role model and source of inspiration she had become for so many.

“Nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I’d be standing here as the first African-American first lady of the United States of America,” she told an audience of schoolgirls in London. “If you want to know the reason why I’m standing here, it’s because of education.”

It’s a simple pitch, and it’s the same whether she is talking to students in D.C. or England.

She was in their shoes once, but she liked going to school, she liked being smart, she liked getting A’s. She worked hard to get ahead and to prove the people who doubted her wrong. She tells students they can do the same.

Laura Bush says she wished she’d realized earlier the power she had as first lady.

Michelle Obama’s journey has already gotten her to that point, and she sees what she can accomplish.


April 7, 2009






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