Michelle Obama’s Reassuring Calm During the Storm

Photography by Daniel Arthur Jacobson

Winter is coming.

Not the endless season of 100-foot snows, white walkers and zombie hordes, so ominously forecasted by the brooding Jon Snow of Game of Thrones fame.

A political, nuclear winter that first swept into Washington D.C. a year ago, lead by another night king and his rabid followers, injecting division, distrust and a nationalist fanaticism unseen for a thousand years.

Okay. I admit, it’s a little over the top – maybe.

Yet, for slightly over an hour, 12,000 Hoosiers found shelter and comfort from the partisan storm at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Tuesday. There former first lady Michelle Obama sat down to chat about life, race, business, politics and the critical role women play in each.

Presented by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, Alecia DeCoudreux, a founding board member, hosted what was billed as “A Moderated Conversation with former first lady Michelle Obama.”

Mrs. Obama began by reminiscing about her own south side Chicago childhood, where families and extended families lived close by, forming the early support systems that were important in her success.

“A lot of young kids think that a role model has to be someone far away, it has to be the former first lady, or someone important, Obama said. “The truth is, the most important role models you have are right in front of you.”

The former first lady is a formidable presence in person. She is comfortable in her own skin and efficiently balances an honest, personable demeanor with the responsibility knowing every word she utters can and will be used against her in the court of public opinion.

The issue of race was addressed with the 300 Indianapolis Public Schools high school girls, who attended courtesy of the Women’s Fund, in mind.

“There are people out there that are afraid of you because of the color of your skin,” Obama said. “You grow up knowing that people don’t like you just because they’ve been told something about you because you are brown.”

Acknowledging that race is still very much a factor in opportunities for people of color she concluded that it is necessary to practice achieving through other people’s low expectations of people of color.

The audience, made up of an estimated 90% women, also found inspiration in Michelle Obama the businesswoman.

She emphasized that women in business and those women who will soon enter the workforce must make sure their voices are heard. Women must also believe they deserve to be at the table.

“I had to learn to not be afraid to disagree or assert my opinion,” Obama said.

Listening to the former First Lady it was impossible to not hit the rewind button on what once was at the White House not so long ago. The former first lady’s thoughtfulness and respect for everyone who may be in the audience was a longing reminder how high the decency bar had been set at the Obama White House.

Students, staff and family of the Simon Youth Academy, Indianapolis Public Schools. Photo by Ron Hanson

What was most appreciated by this journalism major, that is also a high school teacher for at risk kids, was Mrs. Obama’s honesty. Her “realness” as my students would say, was noted when it came to offering advice to those young adults who don’t have the support systems she had as a child.

“There’s only so much you can say to those you know whose opportunities are at zero,” Obama said. “The better use of my time is trying to fix those problems that they’re facing.”

The subject of public service offered the opportunity to slight the current public servant in chief. It was a chance not passed upon to the audience’s approval.

“First you have to have knowledge,” Obama encouraged. “Please have knowledge of something.”

Mrs. Obama also offered encouragement for women to jump in if they feel they have the desire to engage, in what she believes is the very tough world of public service – no matter their party affiliation.

“We need diversity. We need strong female voices. We need different perspectives to the problems were trying to solve,” Obama said.

The evening was intended to bring awareness to the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana and act as a fundraiser. One million dollars was raised to help invest in women and girls lives through the Women’s Fund.

But, you could sense that crowd was hoping for more.

A hint.

A nod that would indicate Mrs. Obama was willing to return to public office at the highest level.

If she does, the cards were never revealed.

No one could blame her, either. Mrs. Obama and her family have already served two grueling tours in D.C.

And, if anything were revealed from the evening’s conversation, the lust for power would never be a motivating factor for Michelle Obama.

She’s too caring, too in control, too real.

Her vow to the night’s watch is not lifelong.

If order is to be restored to the realm, a new generation of women must be willing to engage, and serve, and make their voices heard.

Until then – winter is here.

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