February 20, 2011

Feb 20 – Michelle Obama: Lawyer, Wife, Mother, Daughter, Sister, First Lady, Activist, Hugger

First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama

I was thrilled to hear that President and Mrs. Obama have accepted an invitation from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to visit London on an Official State Visit, at the end of May. The last time they visited London, they stayed at the residence of the US Ambassador to the UK, which is right near where I live; so, I was able to glimpse many of their activities. This time, because it will be an Official State Visit, they will be staying as guests at Buckingham Palace.

Also, the last time the Obamas were here, the First Lady caused quite a controversy because she ‘hugged’ The Queen. Certainly, here in the UK, the initial reaction by members of the media (and probably The Royal Household, although the official line was that “no royal etiquette was breached.”) was that they were ‘horrified’. “One does not hug The Queen”. Personally, I thought it was hilarious, as well as brilliant. Mrs. Obama is a natural hugger; and the best part was that The Queen reciprocated the ‘hug’. She was probably thrilled that someone, whom she liked outside of her family, had treated her like a real person, for the first time in decades. The media has slowly, but grudgingly, got over this ‘breach in protocol’, and seems to now be in awe of someone who could be ‘so brave’ and ‘so real’. But, that is who Michelle Obama is.

The controversial 'hug' with HM The Queen

Born in January, 1964, on the South Side of Chicago, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was the daughter of a city water plant employee and a homemaker.  Despite the potential impediment of living in a one-bedroom apartment (The living room, converted with a divider down the middle, served as Michelle's bedroom), education, integrity and hard work were always stressed by her parents. Michelle was diagnosed as a gifted student at an early age. Both she and her brother (Craig, who is 16 months older than Michelle) skipped the Second Grade; and Michelle graduated from high school with honors, was a member of the prestigious, National Honor Society, and was the class Salutatorian (second highest grade point average). Michelle was inspired to follow her brother to Ivy League School, Princeton University, where she was one of very few Black students. She earned a Cum Laude Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and African-American Studies – writing a thesis entitled, Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.  Michelle earned her Juris Doctor, with honors, from another Ivy League School, Harvard Law School. While there, she participated in demonstrations to encourage the hiring of more minority professors and the accepting of more minority students; and she worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases.

Princeton University

Harvard Law School

Sidley & Austin was fortunate enough to have Michelle join its firm, after she graduated Law School, as an Associate in the Marketing and Intellectual Property Departments. It is there, where she met Barack Obama, when she was asked to mentor him, after he joined the firm, a year later, as a Summer Associate. Finally agreeing to date him, Michelle and Barack eventually fell in love and got married.

Barack and Michelle Obama

After a few years at Sidley & Austin, Mrs. Obama was drawn back to public sector and community work, and left the firm to become an Assistant to Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley, and subsequently, the Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development for the City of Chicago. Following those roles, Mrs. Obama became the founding Executive Director of the Chicago Chapter of Public Allies, a non-profit organization, which trained and encouraged young people to be leaders in the public sector. During her four-year tenure, Mrs. Obama set fundraising records, which stood for over a decade. In 1996, Mrs. Obama joined the University of Chicago as Associate Dean of Student Services. While serving in that position, she developed the university's first community service program. In 2005, she became Vice President of Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center and developed a phenomenal volunteer program. She was also earning over $300,000 per year – twice that of what her husband was earning as a then United States Senator;  and sat on six Boards of Directors.

When her husband decided to run for President of the United States, Mrs. Obama was hesitant, at first. It meant disrupting the family (by then, they had daughters, Malia and Sasha) and putting it under intense scrutiny and pressure; as well as giving up her own, successful career. She eventually embraced the idea and became a key campaigner for her husband – being a great, public speaker and having a steely, no-nonsense style – yet was extremely approachable. She often campaigned with good friend, Oprah Winfrey. Mrs. Obama’s critics often tried to label her as ‘an angry, Black woman', during the campaign. Responding to a Fox News Correspondent’s reference to her ‘fist bump’ with her husband, when he had clinched the Democratic Presidential Nomination, as a “terrorist fist jab,” the New Yorker magazine very controversially addressed that with a seemingly ‘militant’ and ‘racist’ cover, which caused quite a storm (it somewhat redeemed itself less than a year later depicting her as style icon, on the cover – and ironically, ‘fist-bumping’ is now almost overused in mainstream society – even showing up on sitcoms and in films). She did not let that detract, nor deter her, though; commenting, "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."

Obama Family
Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey
The 'fist bump'

Controversial New Yorker cover
New Yorker Style Icon cover

Mrs. Obama officially became First Lady in January, 2009. She remains committed to community service, and spends a lot of time visiting schools, volunteering for charities, gardening (she has planted the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt served as First Lady), supporting the families of those in the military. She has also introduced many new artists to The White House, hosting evenings such as the Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word. One of her biggest initiatives has been to try to help combat obesity – especially amongst children – launching Let’s Move, last year. She stated that her goal is to make this effort her legacy: "I want to leave something behind that we can say, ‘Because of this time that this person spent here, this thing has changed.’ And my hope is that that’s going to be in the area of childhood obesity." Click here to see a very short interview with Mrs. Obama talking about Let’s Move.

The White House Vegetable Garden

Volunteering at a Homeless Shelter
Grammy Winner, Esperanza Spalding, at The White House

Michelle Obama at an NFL Let's Move Event

Having also become a style icon, Mrs. Obama has graced the covers of several magazines; and she has donned the clothing of up-and-coming designers, such as 26-year-old Taipei immigrant, Jason Wu, who designed her Inauguration gown. One of the reasons that Mrs. Obama’s style is remarked upon so often is because of those enviable arms. They’re amazing! Women around the world now ask their personal trainers to help them get ‘Michelle Obama arms’. Those arms are great for hugging, too; and whether it is HM The Queen, schoolchildren or her own children, Mrs. Obama hugs likes she means it. 

ESSENCE magazine cover
Jason Wu Inauguration Dress
Casual Style walking Bo

I think that Mrs. Obama is quite a role model, on so many fronts; and I cannot wait until May. Hopefully, I will be able to hug her, too, while she is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, The White House, Biography.com, Answers.com, Google Images, YouTube


  1. This just goes to show that Mrs. Michelle Obama is a selfless philanthropist. She is caring, thoughtful, helpful and considerate. It is obvious that she is more 'for, and with the people' in the literal sense. She does not act like a 'stuck up' White House woman, but she goes out and engages herself with members of her society. God bless the First Lady.

  2. A beaaauuuutiful black woman, indeed.

  3. Hi Zena,
    A very brilliant piece on Michelle Obama. How do we get in touch with you?
    From Ten2TeensMagazine