by Kuae Kelch Mattox
No matter how you slice it, just about everything that First Lady Michelle Obama does these days, from the mundane to the sublime, continues to light up the airways.
Take that burger run for instance. Mrs. Obama recently took a group of new staffers to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a local DC eatery, and chowed down on a cheeseburger, fries and Coke. News? Maybe. But to folks in a town who have never quite seen a First Lady hobnobbing with the masses, it was quite a spectacle to behold.
She read one of her daughters’ favorite books, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to toddlers at a community health center, where a three year old girl taught her how to say “rana,” which means frog, and “oveja,” the word for sheep. She held a roundtable discussion with a group of teens who shared with her their concerns about gang violence, anti-immigration sentiments and the weaknesses of the school system.
A little more than three weeks into the Obama presidency, it appears as if Mrs. Obama is on a roll.
Last week the media jumped on the news that Mrs. Obama would grace the cover of the March issue of Vogue, only the second First Lady next to Hillary Clinton to appear on that coveted page. It’s not only a big deal for First Ladies. It’s a huge deal for African American women who can probably count on one hand the number of women of color who have appeared on the cover since the magazine first made its debut in 1892.
And while I admit I’ll be one of those in line at the supermarket to pick up the magazine, for all the fuss surrounding Mrs. Obama’s iconic cover girl status and sense of style, I’m much more intrigued by the little things that fall below the media radar…the subtle nuances, the back stories, the behind the scenes, the heart to hearts, like the unlikely exchange caught by Slate Magazine reporter John Dickerson when Mrs. Obama was visiting with teens at Mary’s Center, that community health organization in the Adams Morgan section of Washington. D.C. One inquisitive teenager inquired as to why she wanted to meet them. Mrs. Obama explained in her trademark “keeping it real” tone, “I was somewhat where you are. I didn’t come to this position with a lot of wealth and a lot of resources. I think it’s real important for young kids, particularly kids who come from communities without resources to see me. Not the First Lady, but to see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles that happen. There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or Barack’s head…When somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that gave mea greater challenge to prove them wrong…Every little challenge like that and very little success I gained more confidence and life just sort of opened up. So I feel like it’s an obligation for me to share that with you.”
There are the heartfelt comments she shared last week with a crowd of about 250 students at Howard University, my alma mater, about her struggles with balancing work and family, a battle to which many of us, working and not, can relate.
"There isn't a day that goes by, particularly after having kids, that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing, for myself, for my family, for my girls," she said.
Mrs. Obama said that she has found different solutions for the many different phases in her life. "There is no right way or wrong way to do any of this,” she said.
These stories tell me more about the woman that is Michelle Obama than a Jason Wu sheath dress ever will. More importantly, her words send powerful messages to young people in communities across the country like Washington, D.C. where role models are sometimes scarce and the daily grind of trying to make ends meet can take its toll. For children who are at-risk, and even those who are not, she can motivate and inspire, educate and excite.
What has made Ms. Obama all that more appealing is that she’s the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to say that she hasn’t figured it all out, that despite the high powered jobs, the Ivy League degrees and a famous address on Pennsylvania Avenue, she’s the girlfriend next door who’s still trying to figure out who she wants to be.