When Michelle Obama strode to the stage of the Wells Fargo Center during the kick-off of the Democratic National Convention, even before the First Lady uttered a word, the capacity crowd in the hall conveyed its appreciation.
Amid cheers, waving of purple signs emblazoned with “Michelle” and enthusiastic applause, Obama—dressed in royal blue, hair coiffed to perfection—launched into a politically savvy, at times emotional speech, that melded her views on leadership, Black history, feminism and family values.
She first began by praising her husband, Barack Obama, noting that it’s been eight years since the 2008 convention in which the Princeton and Harvard-educated attorney shared with the nation and world why she thought her spouse should be president of the United States of America.
“Remember how I told you about his character and conviction, his decency and his grace—the traits that we’ve seen every day that he’s served our country in the White House,” said Obama of the man who would become the nation’s first black Commander in Chief. “I also told you about our daughters—how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world.”
Obama then spoke of the journey and what she termed “joy” of watching daughters Malia Obama and Sasha Obama (who were ten and seven, respectively when their father took office) grow from “bubbly little girls into poised young women.”
She reminisced about them being shuttled off to school in a black SUV accompanied by the Secret Service, whom Obama described as “all those big men with guns,” and the symbolism of her children in the larger scheme of America’s complicated history, particularly as it pertains to Black Americans.
“…I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves—and I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said to applause.
“And because of Hillary Clinton,” Obama continued, referencing the historic nature of that candidacy, “my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States.
“So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great,” she continued, “that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”
Obama’s remarks, delivered with in a voice firm with conviction and at times, tears in her eyes, resonated with many in the audience and beyond the arena. Yet for African American women in attendance at this year’s convention, the moment had particular significance.
“She was poised, polished and obviously prepared,” said the Rev. Vashti McKenzie, an AME Bishop who serves the Texas region. “Mrs. Obama has a way of stirring the crowd. She says tough stuff—such as talking about childhood obesity—but delivers it in a way that people receive.”
Renee Johnson, 34, a municipal employee in the nation’s capital, described the speech as “amazing.”
“I loved the way she spoke on topics that have never been addressed at a national political convention in quite this way. The imagery of the first black family to live in the White House and it being built by slaves was so powerful. I think it set a new tone for First Ladies.”
For Kiara Pesante-Haughton, 29, what Obama said to those assembled and the nation at large on night one of the convention was “pitch perfect.”
She says she appreciated that the First Lady didn’t name Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, but slyly called him out.
“And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children…I want someone with the proven strength to persevere,” Obama told the crowd. “Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a President faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.”
“I felt like it was exactly what the room needed to hear, and what the country needed to hear,” said Pesante-Haughton.
Deborah T. Owens, a native of Louisville, Kentucky attended the convention with several family members, who rarely miss a Democratic convention.
The 52-year-old executive, whose company “Corporate Alley Cat” provides resources and connects professionals of color in corporate America, said the references Obama made to women’s issues were on point.
“There’s still a need to discuss the glass ceiling and address wage equality and the discrimination women still face in the workplace,” she said. “I believe all women have benefitted from having a smart, authentic woman like Mrs. Obama in the White House.”
Indeed, watching the impact that Obama has had on America has been inspirational, said McKenzie. “I believe history will be kind to the President and his wife, even though some people aren’t now. But we’re gonna miss this First Lady and this first family.”
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