As I planned to attend the Democratic National Convention this week, one of the motivating factors was not only the unique opportunity to serve as a Hillary Clinton appointee to the Rules Committee, but I was also persuaded by the fact that my Harvard Law school classmate, and our First Lady Michelle Obama, would be one of the prime time speakers.
I had the honor of working closely with Michelle while at Harvard Law on a number of projects including a popular law journal and a school reunion for African-American graduates. While students, no one knew that she would ultimately become one of the most popular and accomplished first ladies of our era. The reality is that so many of our classmates have achieved unthinkable levels of success in politics and just about every other sector of our society. But after all, most are descendants of second and third generation Ivy League graduates.
Michelle’s background though is different and in many ways much more aligned with mine, and a handful of the other students that attended Harvard with us. Michelle grew up in a black working-class community on the southside of Chicago that wasn’t too different then the North St. Louis community where I grew up. In these neighborhoods you learned a unique way to communicate and move about the world. You develop what some call a certain “sassiness” or swag.
That’s why when Michelle took the stage on the opening night of the Democratic convention and gave a speech that pundits say ranks in the top three best speeches of all time, I wholeheartedly agree, but for different reasons.
The pundits are evaluating the speech based on her superb delivery, her perfect timing and her mastery of invoking emotion through storytelling. I, however, saw the speech through the eyes of a black woman that grew up in a tough neighborhood and achieved the pinnacle of success, but yet still has to fight each and every day for respect. I saw a Michelle from the Southside of Chicago who learned early on that sometimes you have “to check” those they fail to recognize, even if you are the First Lady.
When Michelle talked about how she has to tell her daughters to ignore the venom spewed by Trump and others who dare question his birthplace, ethnicity and religious beliefs, she was settling the score. Without ever mentioning Trump or any of the names of the hundreds of folks who comprise the “birther movement,” she surgically and unequivocally silenced them. Yes, her words were eloquent, but as someone who sat in the room and had a bird’s eye view, her body language, stares and glances were equally as powerful.
As we hung on every word, we experienced her intense love for her family and her willingness to stand up to bullies that dare harm them. We felt how challenging it has been for her as a mother to protect her daughters from the constant insults from Trump and others. We also saw her strength and resolve to stand firm and to not miss a golden opportunity to send a loud message that as long as she “wakes up in a house built by slaves” and watches her beautiful and intelligent young daughters play on the White House’s front lawn with their dog, she is not afraid to stand up and fight back.
Michelle ended her epic speech by giving a resounding endorsement of Hillary Clinton. She even let the detractors in the audience know she was prepared to go to battle for her. This should be reassuring for every Democrat in America. With Michelle on our team, it’s hard to imagine anything but victory in November.
Thank yo Michelle for setting the record straight and settling the score.