Michelle Obama evokes personal story to inspire young African leaders to pay it forward
July 30th, 2014
05:32 PM ET
9 years ago

Michelle Obama evokes personal story to inspire young African leaders to pay it forward

Washington (CNN) –– Speaking before a packed ballroom of young African leaders and innovators, first lady Michelle Obama advocated Wednesday for female empowerment through education.

“I imagine that for some of you here today, getting your degree might have meant disobeying or disappointing your families,” she said, specifically addressing the girls in the room.

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“Maybe while you’ve been acing your studies and thriving in your career, you have a grandmother who has been wringing her hands because you’re not yet married. But, my sisters, you all are here today because you have found a way to overcome these challenges, and you have blossomed into powerful, accomplished women. And we need you all to help others do the same.”

Mrs. Obama called on global action to lift all women from oppression, expressing that a nation cannot succeed without investing in its young girls and women first.

“The truth is, I don’t think it’s really productive to talk about issues, like girls’ education, unless we’re willing to have a much bigger, bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today,” the first lady continued.

“We need to be having this conversation on every continent and in every country on this planet. And that’s what I want to do today with all of you, because so many of you are already leading the charge for progress in Africa.”

Mrs. Obama didn’t hold back, at times admonishing countries where violence against women is prevalent and acceptable, and acknowledging there’s more work to be done.

“While I have great respect for cultural differences, I think we can all agree that practices like genital cutting, forced child marriage, domestic violence are not legitimate cultural practices, they are serious human rights violations and have no place in any country on this Earth,’ she said.

Mrs. Obama said the United States has made great strides in women’s rights, but still has a way to go, citing issues such as unequal pay and under representation of females in Congress.

The first lady acknowledged that her own story and path to the White House was only possible through getting an education, and paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, the first African president of South African, who would have celebrated his 96th birthday this month.

“My ancestors came here in chains,” Mrs. Obama said.

“My parents and grandparents knew the sting of segregation and discrimination. Yet I attended some of the best universities in this country. I had career opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. And today, I live in the White House. As Madiba once said, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done,’”

The first lady continued: “My story and the story of my country is the story of the impossible getting done. And I know that can be your story and that can be Africa’s story too. But it will take new energy, it will take new ideas, new leadership from young people like you. That is why we brought you here today.”

Filed under: Michelle Obama
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Chris..E.Al

    Her own path to the W.H. ? Standing by who Barracks ? The peace prize winner ? The one who cant keep peace and divides americans ? By the way where is the white girls im sure many kids may wonder ? Way to go again .

    July 30, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  2. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Thank you Mrs. Obama. Unfortunately many in the black community don't try to help others not unlike themselves do the same. I know this from experience. I don't know how many times I've heard people say, "I've got mine, you better get yours." That's not how other races and cultures do it. They help one another. If one of them knows a job is hiring they tell their friends and families and help them get hired too. I'm not saying all of us are like that because we're not. I've helped several people I know get in the company I work for since I've been here. But I do know a lady that refuses to tell anyone when her company is hiring. She keeps having bad luck and wonders why. We need to learn to come together as a people. If we can't how can we ever hope to become the strong, intelligent people we truly are? We also need to focus on education. Parents need to stress to their children everything our ancestors died for. We need to tell our children that 150 years ago you could be killed simply for knowing how to read and write. We as a people and a community need to learn to get along, come together and take our education seriously. Life is not a joke.

    Thank you Mrs. Obama for being a real role model. You've been the best FLOTUS of my lifetime.

    July 30, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    The problem is........Islamic terror is increasing in Africa.........with all of the bad things that entails.

    The Obamas don't get that, though. They love Islamists.

    July 30, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  4. Thomas

    We all need inspiration !

    July 30, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  5. Chuck

    Redistribution of our Wealth is what she wants

    July 30, 2014 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  6. Marie MD

    What? Michelle Obama was born to a wealthy family and had all the perks in life. She didn't work for anything.
    Oops, my bad. I haven't had my coffee yet this morning and I felt like I was in the teaklan bubble.
    It is a terrific story. She comes from a middle class family with a father who was ill and still went to work every morning. She and our President paid off their student loans and lived within their means and struggled. Their daughters are two intelligent well behaved young girls.
    Too bad that the haters won't understand that and never will.

    July 31, 2014 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    “My ancestors came here in chains,” Mrs. Obama said.
    ... and they probably came here in the 1600s, well over 300 years ago, generations before many of the "patriots' that we see today laying claim to "our country." Next year will mark the 400th anniversary of the opening of the first slave major market in the New World, Jamestown.

    July 31, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |