In 2009, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama became the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Since the day she set foot in the White House, she became a beacon of hope for women of color all over America.
Michelle Obama was raised on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Barack and her first met when she worked at the Sidley Austin law firm. Obama had done work in nonprofits and even served as the associate dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago. Barack and Michelle got married in 1992 and went on to have two daughters, Sasha and Malia.
Obama campaigned for her husband’s presidential run throughout 2007 and 2008. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, she gave an impactful speech, telling her own story as the daughter of a working class family and impressing upon the American public the Obamas’ commitment to working class families. She returned to speak again in 2012 at the same event, with equally powerful words.
It's been nearly four years since she left the White House but she’s still largely recognized and celebrated. On November 13, 2018, she published an autobiography, Becoming, in which talks about her journey from a kid of color in Chicago to the first African-American First Lady. Her autobiography sold 1.4 million copies in the first week itself. After 15 days, the book became the most sold book in the U.S in 2018. The book and the tour following the release made significant changes in the lives of young African-American girls.
As First Lady, Obama served as a role model for young girls and women all over the country. She worked as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, and good mental and physical health. Through her classic outfits and constant support for American designers, she even became a fashion icon.
Here are some of the ways Michelle Obama impacted the United States:
Let’s Move Program
The United States is notorious for its high obesity rates. Probably the most famous of all Obama’s programs was the Let’s Move! Initiative. It was launched in 2010 to bring together national leaders, educators, doctors, and parents to address the issue of childhood obesity. This program had quite an ambitious goal: to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation! Thanks to her initiative, schools, and companies all over the country started to provide healthier food to children.
Soon after its release, the Let’s Move! Program bagged success; however, a close look at the statistics shows some mixed results.
In 2014, a study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the Journal of American Medical Association, showed that between 2011 and 2012, obesity rates between children of the ages of 2 and 19 hadn’t changed at all.
Meanwhile, another study in the journal Obesity reported an increase in the number of overweight children in the 2-19-year-old range since 1999. Their research suggested that obesity rates in children have been climbing rapidly, from 27.5% in 1999 to 33.2% in 2014.
Looking back at the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), obesity rates in children between the ages of 2 and five had decreased! Only 8% of 2 to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, a significant drop from 14% in 2004.
So, does it really count? The answer is obviously yes!
Cynthia L. Ogden, a researcher for the CDC, said, “This is the first we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group.”
Let's Move! didn’t magically eradicate the issue of obesity in America, but it did raise awareness. It brought attention to a problem that was looking over for so long. Michelle Obama’s effort was the only effort on this issue for a long time, and it should be recognized!
Obama’s methods were validated by the authors of the New England Journal of Medicine. They suggest that the best way to create a significant change is to focus on younger populations. The issue of obesity in America continues, but Obama’s efforts combined with the moves of public health experts have won one battle in the war against childhood obesity.
Good Food for a Good Childhood
In order to focus on the healthy food part of her Let’s Move! initiative, Obama launched the School Lunch program with bipartisan support. This program funded child nutrition programs in schools for five years, with 4.5 billion dollars of funding from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The program worked to provide free/lower-price lunches to more than twenty-one million students in low-income families. It also required districts to serve more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products.
For the first time in thirty years, the USDA could make real reforms to school lunch programs by improving the hunger safety net for millions of children. This program created opportunities for students from rural areas to eat good food, but like any other program, not everything went well. For example, a group of high-school students from Kansas drew national attention on their video complaining about students being left hungry due to reduced portion sizes.
A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that 60% of vegetables and 40% of fruits were being thrown away due to lack of interest. Overall, the amount of food wastage increased by 56%.
This brings up the question of whether or not this program was useful. This program increased wood wastage made students angry, and for some schools decreased revenue because students dropped out. Though this program was heavily criticized, at the end of the day, it still benefitted many students.
Kids always complain about eating vegetables. However, just because they don’t like to eat vegetables, doesn’t mean they should stop. Just because some students rebel against healthy lunches, doesn’t mean healthy eating programs like Obama’s should be stopped.
Work hard, play hard
Constant exercise is just as important as a balanced diet. Michelle Obama worked with the US Tennis Association to construct more than six thousand tennis courts around the country and got more than 250,000 kids and 12,000 coaches to learn the sport of tennis.
Physical exercise often relates to mental health. People who exercise are often mentally healthier. By encouraging sports, Obama promoted both physical and mental health.
In 2011, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces. The nationwide project called for Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families to ensure they had the tools to live well. Joining Forces collaborates with the public and private sector to ensure veterans, and their families, have support through wellness, education, and job opportunities.
At the 5 year anniversary of Joining Forces, the White House revealed the statistics. More than 1.2 million veterans and spouses have been provided with jobs since the launch. They had organized 111,000 new hiring commitments and 60,000 new training commitments for veterans and their families over the next five years.
In 2016, Amazon pledged to hire 25,000 veterans. The Aerospace-Defense sector (comprising BAE Systems, The Boeing Company, General Dynamics. Lockheed Martin Corporations, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon) pledged to hire a combined total of 30,000 veterans. The Telecommunications sector (comprising AT & T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) pledged to hire a total of 25,000 veterans.
Michelle Obama united the country to respect veterans. Together, she and Dr. Biden created job opportunities for veterans and their families. Obama gave some powerful speeches regarding the excellent work of veterans and others protecting our countries.
The Sky isn’t the Limit
Another huge problem in America is student debt. Most students never go to college because they don’t have the funds and they’re afraid to be in debt for the rest of their lives. In 2014, Michelle Obama launched the Reach Higher Initiative, a project to inspire the youth across America to continue their education past high school. It encouraged people to enroll in professional training programs, community colleges, four-year colleges, or universities.
Reach Higher aims to ensure that every student has the opportunity to complete their education by exposing them to college and career options, helping them understand financial aid eligibility, and encouraging academic planning. It also supports high school counselors who work hard to help students to go into college.
Since Reach Higher’s start in 2014, hundreds of thousands of students have been supported to achieve their goals through the initiative’s signature, including College Signing Day, Better Make Room, the Beating the Odds Summit.
Eric Waldon, executive director of Reach Higher, reports,
“The idea that Reach Higher is still around and building a college-going culture five years later means that we’ve made tremendous progress, but there’s still so much more work to do. We know that in today’s global knowledge-based economy, some education past the high school has to be the goal for every young person. It’s not a secret that college is worth it. It is worth it and we know that’s the thing that will help students achieve their dreams, will help them enter the middle class, will help them live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.”
In 2015, President Obama and Mrs.Obama launched Let Girls Learn, an international initiative to help girls around the globe to stay in school. It didn’t only call on Americans but people all over the world to educate and empower young women.
More than 62 million girls never get the chance to go to school. The Obamas brought back stories from abroad to encourage American women, who have higher access to education than in many countries, to stay in school.
Michelle Obama stole the public’s heart the day she walked into the White House. She has been an inspiration to many people all over the world. She promoted mental, and physical health to people of all color, gender, religion, and class. In other words, she united the United States.
Written by Sarah Masih