Michelle Obama - American lawyer and author

Michelle Obama - American lawyer and author

Michelle Obama is an American lawyer and author. She is best known for serving as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017, and was the first African-American woman to hold the position.

Michelle entered Princeton University in 1981. She graduated with a degree in Sociology and African American Studies. In 1985, she earned an Arts degree after writing a sociology thesis entitled "Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community". Yet, her first year was rough. Michelle testifies that she was overwhelmed, attributing this to the fact that neither of her parents had earned a college degree.

It was during her time at Princeton that Michelle became aware of her ethnicity and of social class differences. She recounts how a white roommate's mother allegedly tried to get her daughter reassigned because of her race and how some of her high school teachers tried to talk her out of applying and warned her not to "aim too high". She remembers being shocked by students driving BMWs and thought her brother's alumni status might have helped her get into Princeton.

Regardless, she was determined to prove her own worth. She became involved with the Third World Center (now known as the Carl A. Fields Center), an academic and cultural group that supported minority students, and ran their daycare, which also offered after-school tutoring for older children.

She also graduated with a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. When she applied, her biographer Bond testifies that "this time around, there was no doubt in her mind that she had earned her place". For her faculty mentor, Charles Ogletree, in arriving at Harvard, she had finally answered the question that had plagued her throughout her Princeton education: would she remain the product of her parents or would she retain the identity she had acquired at Princeton? Michelle had concluded that she could be "both brilliant and black".

While at Harvard, Michelle participated in protests for the hiring of minority faculty. She also worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Office, helping low-income tenants with their housing problems.

Today, she is the third First Lady with a graduate degree, along with her predecessors, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. She later said that her education gave her opportunities beyond what she had imagined.

After graduation, she was hired at the law firm Sidley Austin and worked in marketing and intellectual property law. It was there that she began her legal career and met Barack Obama. In 1991, Michelle took on public sector positions in Chicago city government as an assistant to the mayor and deputy commissioner for planning and development.

She married Barack the following year, in 1992, and later gave birth to two daughters, Malia, in 1998, and Natasha, in 2001.

In 1993, she became the executive director of the Chicago office of Public Allies, a nonprofit organization encouraging youth to work on social issues in nonprofit groups and government agencies. She worked there for nearly four years and set fundraising records for the organization.

In 1996, she became associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the community service center. She began working for the University’s Hospitals in 2002 as executive director of community affairs, and later as vice president of community and external affairs, a position she continued to hold during the 2008 primary on a part-time basis so she could also work on her husband's campaign and spend time with her daughters.

In her first months as First Lady, Michelle visits homeless shelters and soup kitchens, sends representatives to schools and advocates for public service. She defends her husband's policy priorities by promoting bills that support them, and hosts a White House reception for women's rights advocates to celebrate the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009. That same year, she was named the most fascinating person of the year by Barbara Walters.

She also carries on the initiatives of her predecessors, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, by supporting the organic movement and the importance of healthy food. She planted an organic vegetable garden in the White House (the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s, 1933-1945), had beehives installed on the South Lawn, and instructed the White House kitchens to use organic foods, some of which were provided by the vegetable garden.

In April 2010, Michelle traveled to Mexico, her first solo international visit, to speak to students and encourage them to take responsibility for their future. Referring to underprivileged children, she argues that "potential can be found in some of the most unlikely places".

That same year, Michelle led an initiative she called "Let's Move!" to fight childhood obesity. Her husband and President, Barack Obama, supported her by creating a national plan for change and a task force on childhood obesity that reviewed all current programs.

This initiative is very dear to her heart; she wants to make it her legacy. "I want to leave something behind that we can say, 'because of this time that this person spent here, this thing has changed.' And my hope is that that's going to be in the area of childhood obesity."

In 2011, along with Dr. Jill Biden, she launches Joining Forces, a national initiative calling on all Americans to rally around and support military members, veterans and their families through wellness, education and employment opportunities. Joining Forces works hand-in-hand with the public and private sectors to ensure that military members, veterans and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives.

Michelle makes supporting military families and their spouses a personal mission and is awarded, along with her husband, of the Jerald Washington Memorial Founders' Award from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) in 2012. This award is the highest honor given to advocates for homeless veterans.

In 2012, she publishes her first book entitled "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America". The book promotes healthy eating and documents the White House kitchen garden through the seasons.

Proceeds from the book's sales benefit the National Park Foundation, a charitable organization whose mission is "further the conservation of natural, scenic, historic, scientific, educational, inspirational, or recreational resources for future generations of Americans."

In 2016, during a speech in Austin, Texas, when many wondered if she would run for president in the next election, she explained that she would never run for office because she wanted her actions to be able to "impact as many people as possible in an unbiased way". She also writes in the epilogue of her memoir that she has "no intention of running for office, ever. […] Politics can be a means for positive change, but this arena is just not for me".

Michelle, like her husband, is an activ lgbtqia+ rights activist. In their first term, the Obamas supported several bills of legislation supporting human rights, marriage for all, and the revival of the fight against HIV and AIDS ; laws against gender-based violence, employment discrimination, and sexual orientation and gender identity hate crimes.

"Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it ... and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love."– Michelle Obama, Democratic National Convention, 2012.

They also supported the repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" law, a discriminatory policy in the nation's armed forces against gay and bisexual people.

Following the repeal of this law in 2010, Michelle included openly gay service members in her National Military Family Initiative.

"This is an important issue for millions of Americans, and for Barack and me, it really comes down to the values of fairness and equality we want to pass down to our girls. These are basic values that kids learn at a very young age and that we encourage them to apply in all areas of their lives. And in a country where we teach our children that everyone is equal under the law, discriminating against same-sex couples just isn't right. It's as simple as that." – Michelle Obama, Washington Wire, 2012

In May 2014, she joins the campaign for the return of schoolgirls who had been abducted in Nigeria. In June 2015, she travels to London where she speaks with students about international education for adolescent girls. In November 2015, she speaks at the Global Education Innovation Summit, in Qatar, to carry on and promote her "Let Girls Learn" initiative to open the doors of education to girls and women around the world.

In 2017, while attending the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in California, Michelle Obama calls on tech companies to add women to diversify their ranks. That same year, she appears in a video for the Global Citizens Festival, advocating for more attention to the education of young girls.

In 2018, she publishes her memoir, "Becoming." Described by Michelle herself as a deeply personal experience, the book talks about her roots and how she found her voice, as well as her time in the White House, her public health campaign and her role as a mother. Published in 24 languages, it was the best-selling book published in the U.S. in 2018, setting the record just 15 days after its release with more than two million copies sold.

As of November 2019, they had sold 11.5 million copies. A self-titled documentary recounting her promotional tour was released on Netflix on May 6, 2020.

One million copies were donated to First Book, a U.S. nonprofit organization that provides books for children.

In July 2020, she launches her podcast, "The Michelle Obama Podcast", in which she explores the relationships that make people who they are, through frank conversations with friends, family members and former colleagues.

"What I love about these conversations is that they're issues we’re all dealing with every day – and they can take on new meaning when we’re going through a global pandemic or seeking out long-overdue racial justice in our communities. I hope this podcast will help you open up new conversations – and hard conversations – with the people who matter most to you. That’s how we can build more understanding and empathy for one another – especially during times like this."

In February 2021, she is announced as the executive producer and host of a children's cooking show, Waffles + Mochi. The show, which aired on Netflix in March 2021, follows on from her healthier food initiatives. 

In November 2022, Michelle publishes her new book, "The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times", in which she attempts to deal with her own uncertainties and those of the world, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. She also describes times when she felt insecure or out of place, such as when she was one of the few African-American students at Princeton in the 1980s or when she became the first African-American First Lady of the United States.

With her husband's rise as a leading national politician, Michelle Obama has become a fixture in popular culture. Essence magazine listed her among the "25 of the World's Most Inspiring Women" (May 2006), and 02138 magazine ranked her 58th on "The Harvard 100", a list of the prior year's most influential Harvard alumni (September 2007).

Three years in row (2018, 2019, and 2020), she has topped Gallup's poll of the most admired woman in America.

She was also one of the honored guests at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball, a three-day celebration honoring twenty-five African American women in art, entertainment, and civil rights, who helped pave the way for African American women.

In 2021, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Extrait de "American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America": https://abcnews.go.com/Health/excerpt-american-grown-lady-michelle-obama/story?id=16444902#.T8r-tmaoKJM.

"Becoming" : https://www.becomingmichelleobama.com/

"The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times" : https://michelleobamabooks.com

The Michelle Obama Podcast : https://open.spotify.com/show/71mvGXupfKcmO6jlmOJQTP

Let Girls Learn : https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/letgirlslearn

Let’s Move! : https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/

Joining Forces : https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/joiningforces/about

© Photo: Tim Pierce - CC BY 2.0

© Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon