“One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”
– First Lady Michelle Obama
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is the wife of the forty-fourth President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was in Chicago, Illinois to Fraser Robinson III, a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian Shields Robinson, a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store. Her mother later stayed at home until Michelle entered high school.
The Robinson family can trace their roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South; her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was an American slave in the state of South Carolina, where some of her family still reside. She grew up on Euclid Avenue in the South Shore community area of Chicago. The family ate meals together and also entertained together as a family by playing games such as Monopoly and by reading. She and her brother, Craig (who is 21 months older), skipped the second grade. By sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy). She attended Whitney Young High School, Chicago’s first magnet high school, where she was on the honor roll four years, took advanced placement classes, was a member of the National Honor Society and served as student council treasurer. The round trip commute from her South Side home to the Near West Side took three hours. She was a high school classmate of Santita Jackson, the daughter of Jesse Jackson and sister of Jesse Jackson, Jr. Michelle graduated from high school in 1981 as salutatorian, and went on to major in sociology and minor in African American studies at Princeton University, where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985.
Michelle was inspired to follow her brother to Princeton because he had shown her it was possible (he graduated in 1983). At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis entitled, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” “I remember being shocked,” she says, “by college students who drove BMWs. I didn’t even know parents who drove BMWs.” She obtained her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. She is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, following Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush.) While at Harvard, she participated in political demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who are members of minorities.
She met Barack Obama when they were among very few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin, and she was assigned to mentor him while he was a summer associate. At the firm, she worked on marketing and intellectual property. Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her. The couple’s first date was to the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. Michelle and Barack married in October 1992, and went on to have two daughters, Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha (known as Sasha) (born 2001).
After Michelle’s time at the firm, she later held public sector positions in the Chicago city government as an Assistant to the Mayor, and as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development. In 1993, she became Executive Director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit organization encouraging young people to work on social issues in nonprofit groups and government agencies. She worked there nearly four years and set fundraising records for the organization that still stood a dozen years after she left. In 1996, she served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the University’s Community Service Center. In 2002, she began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals, first as executive director for community affairs and, beginning May 2005, as Vice President for Community and External Affairs. She continued to hold the University of Chicago Hospitals position during the primary campaign, but cut back to part time in order to spend time with her daughters as well as work for her husband’s election.
She served as a salaried board member of TreeHouse Foods, Inc., a major Wal-Mart supplier with whom she cut ties immediately after her husband made comments critical of Wal-Mart at an AFL-CIO forum in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 14, 2007. She now serves on the board of directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.Although Obama has campaigned on her husband’s behalf since early in his political career by handshaking and fund-raising, she did not relish the activity at first. When she campaigned during her husband’s 2000 run for U.S. House of Representatives, her boss at the University of Chicago asked if there was any single thing about campaigning that she enjoyed; after some thought, she replied visiting so many living rooms had given her some new decorating ideas. After Mr. Obama’s election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.
At first, Obama had reservations about her husband’s presidential campaign due to fears about a possible negative effect on their daughters. She says that she negotiated an agreement in which her husband gave up smoking in exchange for her support of his decision to run. About her role in her husband’s presidential campaign she has said: “My job is not a senior adviser.” During the campaign, she has discussed race and education by using motherhood as a framework.
In May 2007, three months after her husband declared his presidential candidacy, she reduced her professional responsibilities by eighty percent to support his presidential campaign. Early in the campaign, she had limited involvement in which she traveled to political events only two days a week and traveled overnight only if their daughters could come along; by early February 2008 her participation had increased significantly, attending thirty-three events in eight days. She made several campaign appearances with Oprah Winfrey. She wrote her own stump speeches for her husband’s presidential campaign and generally spoke without notes.
Throughout the campaign, the media often labeled her as an “angry black woman,” and some websites attempted to propagate this perception, causing her to respond: “Barack and I have been in the public eye for many years now, and we’ve developed a thick skin along the way. When you’re out campaigning, there will always be criticism. I just take it in stride, and at the end of the day, I know that it comes with the territory.” By the time of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in August, media outlets observed that her presence on the campaign trail had grown softer than at the start of the race, focusing on soliciting concerns and empathizing with the audience rather than throwing down challenges to them, and giving interviews to shows like The View and publications like Ladies’ Home Journal. The View appearance was partly intended to help soften the perception of her, and it was widely-covered in the press. rather than appearing on news programs. The change was even reflected in her fashion choices, wearing more informal clothes in place of her previous designer pieces.
Throughout her husband’s 2008 campaign for President of the United States, she 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 children.
The marital relationship has had its ebbs and flows. The combination of an evolving family life and beginning political career led to many arguments about balancing work and family. Barack wrote in his second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, that “Tired and stressed, we had little time for conversation, much less romance”. However, despite their family obligations and careers, they continue to attempt to schedule date nights.
The Obamas’ daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private school. As a member of the school’s board, Michelle fought to maintain diversity in the school when other board members connected with the University of Chicago tried to reserve more slots for children of the university faculty. This resulted in a plan to expand the school. The Obamas’ daughters now attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington. Mrs. Obama stated in an interview on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show that the couple does not intend to have any more children and have received advice from past first ladies Laura Bush, Rosalyn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton about raising children in the White House. Marian Robinson moved into the White House to assist with caring for her grandchildren.
In July 2008, Obama accepted the invitation to become an honorary member of the 100-year-old black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, which had no active undergraduate chapter at Princeton when she attended.
With the ascent of her husband as a prominent national politician, Michelle Obama, like all other first ladies, has become a part of popular culture. In May 2006, Essence magazine listed her among “25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.” In July 2007, Vanity Fair magazine listed her among “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People.” She was an honorary guest at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball as an “young’un” paying tribute to the ‘Legends,’ which helped pave the way for African American Women. In September 2007, 02138 magazine listed her 58th of ‘The Harvard 100’; a list of the prior year’s most influential Harvard alumni. Her husband was ranked fourth. In July 2008, she made a repeat appearance on the Vanity Fair international best dressed list. She also appeared on the 2008 People list of best-dressed women and was praised by the magazine for her “classic and confident” look.
As a high-profile darker-complected woman in a stable marriage, it is anticipated that she will be a positive role model who will influence the view the world has of African-Americans.Her fashion choices were part of Fashion week, but Obama’s influence in the field has not impacted the paucity of African-American models who participate, as some thought it might. However, fitness trainers are noting that many women now aspire to have biceps and triceps like Michelle Obama.
She has been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy due to her sleek but not overdone style, and also to Barbara Bush for her discipline and decorum. Her white, one-shoulder Jason Wu 2009 inaugural gown was said to be “an unlikely combination of Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy”. The First Lady’s style is described as populist. She often wears clothes by designers Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, Donna Ricco and Maria Pinto, and has become a fashion trendsetter, despite the country’s economic woes.
She appeared on the cover and in a photo spread in the March 2009 issue of Vogue. Every First Lady since Lou Hoover (except Bess Truman) has been in Vogue, but only Hillary Clinton had previously appeared on the cover.
First Lady Obama has stated that she would like to focus attention as First Lady on issues of concern to military families and working families. During her early months as First Lady, she has frequently visited homeless shelters and soup kitchens. She has also sent representatives to schools and advocated public service. On her first trip abroad in April 2009, she toured a cancer ward with Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. She has began advocating on behalf of military families. Like her predecessors Clinton and Bush, who supported the organic movement by instructing the White House kitchens to buy organic food, Obama has received attention by planting an organic garden and installing bee hives on the South Lawn of the White House, which will supply organic produce and honey to the First Family and for state dinners and other official gatherings.
Obama has become an advocate of her husband’s policy priorities by promoting bills that support it. Following the enactment of the Pay equity law, Obama hosted a White House reception for women’s rights advocates in celebration. She has pronounced her support for the economic stimulus bill in visits to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and United States Department of Education. Some observers have looked favorably upon Mrs. Obama’s legislative activities, while others feel that she should be less involved in the intense politics. According to her representatives, she intends to visit all United States Cabinet-level agencies in order to get acquainted with Washington.
COMMENT BOX QUESTION: What one quality do you admire most about First Lady Michelle Obama and why?
MICHELLE OBAMA IN MOTION
SOURCE: Wikipedia, huffingtonpost.com, youtube.com