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.
Michelle Obama is not only the epitome of cool with laid natural hair and impeccable style. As shown in her T Magazine feature – a collection of essays written in homage to FLOTUS’s tenure – she championed initiatives to combat childhood obesity, educate young girls globally, encourage higher education and push for healthier eating habits. Mrs. Obama will forever be heralded as a brilliant mind who fought in favor of good, diverse people. She is as magnetizing as she is approachable. Not to mention she commands any stage with as much authority, if not more, as her husband.
Don’t get me wrong, I will shout like a Fantasia record when Barack, Sasha and Malia leave as well, because they’re altogether a symbol for black love, a healthy black family unit and black excellence. Plus, Barack Obama will forever be the history-making first black president and a reminder to black men of the heights they can reach. However, Michelle Obama is a living reminder that whatever a young black sista, in particular, wants to attain in this country, she can.
That’s why witnessing Michelle redefine the word “slay” in last night’s custom-made rose gold Versace dress is hard to celebrate abundantly. Though she was a vision as light ricocheted from her curves, everything about it begged the questions: Will we ever have another FLOTUS as charming, personable and impactful for women who need representation? Will she possess the same transparency? Can she spit bars about college or rhyme “Get Ur Freak On” on beat?
One can only hope the next woman to take office will be as vital.
Once the changing of the guard is complete, I have unwavering faith that Mo will in some way continue her work and remain a public icon (and #WCE!) even in the private sector. However, I take solace in knowing other black women have been as moved by Michelle as I have and will continue to be inspired by everything she will represent for years to come.