July 27 — 9:32 am, 2016

First lady reminds us of what the election is really all about

michelle photo2 Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

A video touting First Lady Michelle Obama’s lifelong commitment to public service and her tireless efforts in advocating for children filled the jumbo screen in the convention hall of Wells Fargo Center. The video, which featured children talking about what the first lady means to them, was a moving prelude to her taking the stage during Day One of the Democratic National Convention.  

Then she was announced. And when she finally took the stage, the crowd roared.

As I looked out onto the convention floor, everyone had leapt to their feet, hoisting purple signs reading “Michelle” up into the air. I raised my sign as high as any others – probably higher – and joined the chorus of deafening cheers for the woman I consider to be the greatest first lady that this nation has ever had.  

She walked out in magnificent blue, and in her smile, I saw the warm and comforting expression that only a mother can give. As I watched her take the podium, my mind traveled back to the very first time I saw the first lady speak. It was in 2010, just two years into the first term of the Obama administration, and Michelle Obama had come to Fairhill Elementary School. The school has since closed, a casualty of the School District of Philadelphia’s downsizing. But at that time, Fairhill was recognized for its successful focus on nutrition, and the First Lady had traveled to the North Philadelphia school to discuss her “Let’s Move” initiative, a nationwide campaign to prevent childhood obesity.

I remember her saying in that speech before a packed cafeteria crowd that the issue of childhood obesity was concerning to her not just because she is the first lady of our great nation, but because she is also a mother. She showed that she cares about kids’ health, and as a mother myself, that is important to me.

“I care about my kids and all of our kids, so ‘Let’s Move’ is a nationwide campaign to rally this country around one single, but ambitious goal – and that is to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation so that the kids born today can grow up with a healthy weight,” she said that day.  

In that speech, Obama demonstrated that she was not only thinking about the future of our kids and their health, she was doing something about it. I didn’t take her words as just platitudes on a piece of paper that sounded good for the media. I could feel that she meant it. Her love for all of the nation’s children, not just her own, not just the students at Fairhill Elementary, was written on her face and inflected in her voice. And at the end of the speech when I was given the great privilege of speaking to her face-to-face and hugging her, I felt the love and compassion she undoubtedly carries with her each and every day.  

On that day,  like the children in that convention video, I contemplated what First Lady Michelle Obama meant to me. I settled on hope; hope for a better future for every boy and girl in United States. As a mother, I want the best for my son and I want our leaders to want the best for him, too. On that day, I could see that Michelle Obama was a first lady who was going to work hard at making that happen.   

So when I attended the Democratic National Convention to hear her speak again, I was excited and anxious to hear what message she would have. This presidential campaign has often been bitter, but throughout her tenure in the White House, she has been nothing but positive, encouraging, motivating, and inspiring.

After hearing her, I developed an even greater respect, admiration, and love for her because of her willingness in these challenging times to remind all of us what this election is really about – the future of our children.

She brought that home by recounting an unforgettable image of her daughters: “When they set off for their first day at their new school, I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns.

"And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, ‘What have we done?’”

And then, without naming Donald Trump, she skillfully reinforced the choice we face in this election: “And make no mistake about it, this November, when we go to the polls, that is what we’re deciding — not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, this election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives,” she said.

“… You see, Hillary understands that the president is about one thing and one thing only – it’s about leaving something better for our kids. That’s how we’ve always moved this country forward – by all of us coming together on behalf of our children.”

In an election season filled with so much talk about email scandals and divisive rhetoric about building walls and banning people because of their faith, Michelle Obama reminded us what this country of ours represents – equality for all and opportunities for all – and the responsibility of our president to demonstrate those positive truths to our children. After all, my son, your sons and daughters, are going to be the future political leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals, and what they do and the decisions they make as adults will shape this country and lay the foundation for the generations that will follow them. So we have to invest in how we are shaping their lives today. The first lady made that crystal clear, and I thank her for that.

Of course, it’s hard sometimes not to get caught up in analyzing the latest headline of the day as you stand around the watercooler in the morning. But Obama reminded the crowd about what really matters. Just as she did on that afternoon six years ago at Fairhill Elementary, her message emphasized that we must focus on the children and the example we set for them. And before she could even close out her speech, commanding everyone to get to work in electing Hillary Clinton as our next president, the crowd was roaring yet again and the signs bearing Michelle’s name were raised once more.

At the end of the night, the effects of her speech were visible. Out in the parking lot, a woman from California walked with me to the shuttle and shared her thoughts. She beamed about Michelle Obama, but then with a tinge of sadness, the woman said, “You know we won’t have another first lady like her.”

With a smile as wide as I could muster, I simply said, “I think you’re right.”

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