Looking back, we still find it hard to recall that Michelle Obama entered the national stage with a degree of caution. Little by little, appearance by appearance, the nation soon started to discover Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.
By the time Senator Barack Hussein Obama accepted his 2008 nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency, a bond had been formed with the then future First Lady of the United States that still is unbreakable. As she galvanized world leaders and global citizens and inspired countless young people, we felt a special connection with her.
Thank goodness writer Veronica Chambers felt that way, too. Always on the cutting edge of emotional and cultural spaces, the former ESSENCE editor has fittingly paid homage to Mrs. Obama: In The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99), she carefully pulls together various reflections that capture Mrs. Obama’s significance in our lives. As Chambers writes in the Introduction: “This anthology is less an intellectual analysis of Michelle Obama as First Lady and more of a series of musings, reminiscences and pash notes to Michelle Obama as homegirl, the woman we all want to be friends with.”
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Contributors include Ava DuVernay, Benilde Little, New York City first lady Chirlane McCray, Tanisha C. Ford and Roxane Gay. All the essays stand out as each writer stands up and attests to the ways in which Michelle Obama has defied stereotypes and pushed forward a vision and version of Black women that have always been there, but have often gone unacknowledged. Perhaps Ylonda Gault Caviness sums up why we love Michelle so much in “We Go Way Back,” which stresses Mrs. O’s honesty:
“I saw it back in 2007. When 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft asked if she feared for her husband’s safety as a presidential candidate, Michelle Obama looked dead in the camera, “The reality is as a Black man, Barack can get shot at the gas station.” Translation: “Please. We all know what time it is.” And now it’s time for us to keep an eye out for what Michelle Obama will do next. Whatever it is, she will be true to herself, which is exactly how she was when we met her.
This feature originally appeared in the February 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.