The United Nations Human Rights Council
Forum on Minority Issues, Second Session
November 13, 2009
Palais des Nations
Statement of Laura W. Murphy
Senior Advisor, Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda and President, Laura Murphy & Associates
Thank you Madam Chair, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and Madam Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall, for convening this extraordinary second session of the Forum on Minority Issues that has as its focus minorities and effective political participation.
I am here representing my decades of activism on voting rights issues in the United States and to also represent the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda, a U.S. based national, international and grassroots coalition composed of over 50 organizations dedicated to the promotion and respect of human rights and the implementation of human rights obligations in U.S. domestic policy. Despite the fact that the U.S. is, in many respects, a model democratic nation – democracy is elusive to key sectors of our society – and those sectors are disproportionately minority and involve millions of people.
In certain sections of the United States, the descendants of slaves, African Americans, are routinely purged from voting rolls for specious reasons, have difficulty getting electoral districts fairly drawn and face onerous identification problems interfering with the right to vote.
- Predominately minority citizens who reside in American territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands cannot vote in presidential elections.
- In addition, the approximately 600,000 predominately African
American residents of the nation’s capitol, Washington, DC (the District of Columbia) have no full voting representation in the United States Congress.
- Indigenous peoples – American Indians and language minorities, including Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders, continue to face severe discriminatory policies and actions such as onerous identification requirements, lack of minority language assistance and lack of accessible polling places, to name a few.
- Lastly, the U.S. has incomparably harsh treatment for those who have been convicted of crimes but who have completed their prison sentences and debts to society. They are subjected to an arbitrary state-by-state system that largely works to disallow the franchise. Because criminal punishment has been meted out more harshly and more discriminatorily against people of color, there is a disproportionately high rate of felon disenfranchisement in the U.S. in minority communities.
So what needs to be done? We invite international organizations to work with groups like the Campaign to encourage and insist that the Obama Administration give greater attention and resources to the following actions:
1) The Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice needs to be rebuilt so that the Voting Rights Act, especially the pre-clearance provisions, is properly enforced. When properly enforced, the pre-clearance provisions, in particular, can be a model to the world for effective enforcement of electoral rights for minority populations.
2) The U.S. should be encouraged to revitalize and strengthen the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights so that its domestic agencies are clearly charged with upholding not only U.S. laws, but implementing international treaties to which the U.S. is a party – treaties that robustly embrace the obligation of all nations to acknowledge and protect the voting rights of minorities. Relevant treaties that have been ratified by the U.S. include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
3) We must urge the U.S. Congress to rebuild a fair and effective U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that will hold hearings and engage in rigorous fact finding in order to shine a bright light on the severe electoral problems that are in the U.S., especially with respect to the voting rights of minority groups. That Commission should be renamed the United States Commission on Civil and Human Rights so that there is an independent agency that can monitor treaty compliance and implementation.
I want to thank the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights and Human Rights projects for providing much of the evidentiary material that served as the basis for this statement. The ACLU prepared a special report for this forum that provides extensive documentation of U.S. voting issues entitled: Voting Rights of Minority and Indigenous Communities in the United States: American Civil Liberties Union Submission to the UN Forum on Minority Issues Human Rights Council, Second Session. See: www.aclu.org.
Having been active on voting rights and electoral issues throughout most of my career, it is an honor to participate in this august forum, and to also share the views of the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda.
Laura W. Murphy
If we want to carve out a new and inclusive future for the civil rights movement, we need to look no further than the legacy of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Senator Kennedy was deeply engaged in all of the major civil rights laws that were signed into law during his more than forty year tenure such as the Voting Rights Act extensions of 1982 and 2006, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988. He also thought that the nation had to do more than enact civil rights laws banning outright discrimination in fields such as employment, voting housing and education. He realized that if we were to achieve equality and realize the full potential of human beings, that economic issues such as access to affordable health care, minimum wage, welfare reform, student loans, home heating assistance and child care were integral to the advancement of the entire nation.
That makes him a civil right leader and a human rights trailblazer. He was not merely interested in enforcement of the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and the civil rights statutes that were a necessary outgrowth of that foundational document. Kennedy also knew that poverty often kept people from voting, going to school, going on a job interview, showing up for work and getting the health care that they need. It was not a simple matter of banning discriminatory practices based on race, gender, disability, national origin or sexual orientation. He wanted the United States to have the best researchers and scientists, a cutting edge workforce and a strong tax base to improve our chances of having a robust and stable economy. So, much to the dismay of some of my libertarian colleagues, Kennedy did not think America should only be concerned about the enforcement of civil and constitutional rights. He took a broader view of our national obligation invest in human capital, by becoming a champion for economic, social and civil rights.
Kennedy knew viscerally what human rights meant. Human rights are internationally recognized and accepted norms and values that promote dignity, fairness and opportunity. They are a consensus among governments of the world about what rights must be guaranteed to all people simply because they are. These rights include: freedom from discrimination; freedom of religion; voting and participation; due process; housing, health, food, and water; fair wages; and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
If you study Senator Kennedy’s legislative achievements he has helped the United States become a world leader in each of these areas. Recent polling from the Opportunity Agenda shows that eighty percent of Americans believe that “every person should have basic rights regardless of whether their government recognizes those rights or not.” But Senator Kennedy did not need polling to work from that premise – he saw impoverished communities long before Katrina, he met with people who had been tortured, or who had been degraded because of immutable physical characteristics or virtually enslaved because of their migrant worker status. And he was a fighter for religious liberty when he said in 1983, “I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society.”
Senator Kennedy was committed to creating mechanisms in our laws so that basic human rights were addressed. We are all familiar with Senator Kennedy’s advocacy for health care reform, but he also was a leader in the passage of laws offering food and nutrition, counseling and health services to low income women WIC and Meals on Wheels to provide food to the elderly. He fought in 1981 for home heating assistance for low income and working poor families. He fought for increases in the minimum wage in both 1996 and 2007 and throughout the end of the last century and continuing through the 21st Century he fought for due process in the treatment of immigrants and those wrongfully incarcerated. These are the elements of a growing world wide consensus on a human rights framework that morally obligates us to create conditions under which individuals’ basic needs can be met. Kennedy’s leadership will rightly stand out for its civil rights heroism, but it is his commitment to the broader human rights framework that catapults him into a global legacy.
Laura W. Murphy is the Senior Consultant to the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda and was the Director of the ACLU Washington Office from 1993-2005.
August 30, 2009 -Washington, DC) – One of my most treasured mementos from my 30 years in politics, (over half of that time spent as a lobbyist in Washington) is a note from Senator Kennedy from 1982 a few days after the Voting Rights Act Extension was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
In it the Senator thanks me for “a splendid job” lobbying for the Act. The legislation is an enormously potent civil rights law that fueled the growth of African American and Latino political power in the last five decades.
It was wonderful to be a 20-something neophyte civil rights lobbyist — and a rare black and female one at that– and to receive such an affirming note from a powerful and famous Senator. But that’s the kind of man he was — one who cared enough to make sure that a young person embarking upon her advocacy career felt his appreciation.
There are dozens of stories like mine floating around Washington, DC from civil rights and civil liberties advocates, but there are not dozens of legislators like Senator Kennedy.
During our meetings on the Voting Rights Act in 1982 Kennedy knew that the situation was dire – if we did not make a case for the Act it would have expired that year, and that would be a huge civil rights setback. Sen. Kennedy latched on to the Voting Rights battle and he kicked around ideas, he internalized it, he looked at the provisions and he figured out how he would sell it to his colleagues in Congress and to the President. He knew how to count his votes.
As a young black woman in a largely white, male dominated profession, I made it my business to know where each Senator stood so that he could rely on my vote representations.
One of the things that made working with his office easier for many of us was that Kennedy was one of the few Senators – Democratic or Republican – who hired black professionals. He probably holds the Senate record for his early and consistent commitment to a racially integrated staff. Notable individuals who were his senior advisors include the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, Robert Bates who became a successful corporate lobbyist, John Minor in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Charlotte Burrows who is at the Department of Justice and Melody Barnes, now head of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.
These individuals made it easier for us to convey our concerns, because people who had felt racial discrimination were in his midst on a daily basis not only as secretaries and interns, but also as policy leaders who could whisper in his ear.
I am grateful for his commitment to civil rights and social justice issues, but also for his ability to ensure that racial minorities had a seat at the table. It made for a more effective and inclusive advocacy effort.
Kennedy never thought the civil rights movement was over or out of vogue; he did not waver from talking about race. He kept the issue of racial disparities on the table and constantly reminded everyone that Dr. King’s dream had not been realized.
He was not afraid to use the terms “black” and “brown.” He was willing to look at legislation and assess them through a prism of their possible impact on race or civil liberties. He was also very aware that economic issues such as access to and the cost of health care, minimum wage, welfare reform, student loans and child care were as integral to the advancement of people of color as civil rights statutes.
We will miss this tireless and optimistic ally who came to us in the form of Edward Moore Kennedy. We should regain some of that optimism, and like him, refuse to make assumptions about the limits of our ability to win the hearts and minds of the American people and their legislators – regardless of party affiliation.
That does not mean we will win every effort or persuade every opponent. But in dozens of legislative battles, Sen. Kennedy fueled an energetic and integrated level of civil discourse and political advocacy that serves as a model for us all.
I wish Gov. Sarah Palin’s family the best in light of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. But Bristol’s impending marriage and childbirth brings up an interesting question about “abstinence only” programs embraced by conservatives and Palin and McCain in particular. Essentially, the message to teens should be “don’t have sex” and the back up position; even if you know that your teen is engaged in sexual activity is “don’t have sex.” As a former teenager and the mother of a teenage son, it is unrealistic to me that such “guidance” will work.
Sex is everywhere. It is in popular music, videos, television, video games, on the web and in our popular magazines and novels. Sex is so prominent in media that it is not even controversial anymore; it is just digested or ignored, rarely now is it the subject of well-organized debates. Call me a prude, but I am even surprised how much cleavage and skin-tight clothes abound in the workplace. Our free speech allows us to use subliminal and overt sexual cues to sell products, get hired and find dates, but our cultural conservatism and religious beliefs make most of our leaders uncomfortable talking about birth control. And we think teens are not affected?
Teenage pregnancy is not just a consequence of poverty or race; it is a consequence of biology, a big push from our over-sexualized culture and adults who wish it would go away. We have the power in this country to educate and engage our children about using proper sexual precautions (in addition to “just say no”) but we CHOOSE not to. With the HIV/AIDS rate still too high, with the number of sexually transmitted diseases that lead to permanent, life-long health conditions –- failing to tell kids how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies, how to protect their health, how to protect their future educational and financial options –- is dangerous. Adults cannot continue to be ostriches and stick our heads in the sand.
Please – even if you think that I am overstating the birth control/pregnancy issue — just read these three paragraphs copied directly from the March of Dimes website…
What are other consequences of teenage pregnancy?
Life may be difficult for a teenage mother and her child. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school than girls who delay childbearing. Only 40 percent of teenagers who have children before age 18 go on to graduate from high school, compared to 75 percent of teens from similar social and economic backgrounds who do not give birth until ages 20 or 21.
With her education cut short, a teenage mother may lack job skills, making it hard for her to find and keep a job. A teenage mother may become financially dependent on her family or on public assistance. Teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty than women who delay childbearing, and more than 75 percent of all unmarried teen mothers go on welfare within five years of the birth of their first child.
About 78 percent of children born to an unmarried teenage high-school dropout live in poverty, compared to 9 percent of children born to women over age 20 who are married and high school graduates. A child born to a teenage mother is 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade in school and is more likely to perform poorly on standardized tests and drop out before finishing high school.
As Colbert King recently stated in his Washington Post column, “Children of adolescent mothers, research shows, are more likely to have learning disabilities and more likely to be unprepared for school, and to have vocabulary and attention deficits. Sadly, too, children of teenage parents are more likely to become teenage parents themselves…And so the intergenerational cycle of dysfunction goes on. And the community’s foundation weakens further. All before our eyes.” See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/18/AR2008071802386.html
What else do we need to know?
The late Shirley Chisholm taught me a lot about being a woman. At the impressionable age of 22 I had the opportunity to work for her as one of her legislative assistants from 1977 to 1979 while she was a member of the United States House of Representatives. During her 14 years in Congress, Shirley Chisholm gave dozens of women the opportunity to hold professional positions on Capitol Hill when most of her male colleagues in Congress would only give secretarial or clerk positions to women like me. People would stare at her when she walked down the hall, because invariably a large entourage of professional staff women followed her wherever she went.
The women who passed through her office called themselves The Chis-ettes.” And we referred to Mrs. Chisholm fondly as “Miss C.” We loved her because she embraced us and encouraged us and she dared to tell men and all Americans that women were in the halls of power and were here to stay. But if you read her obituaries from the major newspapers around the country you get the impression that she was an “in your face” firebrand feminist. Those of us who knew her well also knew that she had class and manners. While she could raise her voice with passion and conviction, she did so in a way that never undermined her appealing femininity.
It enraged me that during his lifetime comedian Red Foxx would call “Miss C” ugly. Yes, she had a broad nose. Yes, she wore oversized glasses topped off by a toothy grin. Yes, she wore a wig that gave her big hair. No, she did not have the shape of Pamela Anderson or Halle Berry. Notwithstanding the American standard of attractiveness, when you were in the presence of this woman you felt something else: beauty. She had a personality that just sparkled and the wits and brains to match. She was charismatic. She always did her homework before she spoke and rarely spoke in anger. She respected her listeners even if they were the most racist or sexist men on the planet.
And what really surprised me as I followed her around was that she was quite flirtatious. She could whisper things in men’s ears that would put them at such ease that she could find out what made every one of her colleagues tick. She laughed at their jokes, even the ribald ones. She touched their arms when she spoke, but never doing so in a way that was sexually suggestive. She moved with grace when she walked and, she was one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen. She was a femme fatale, but not a hussy.
Shirley Chisholm was a very smart, endearing, classy outspoken and determined lady who taught me two pivotal life lessons: 1) I could be a “feminine feminist” in a man’s world and still earn the power I needed to get the job done and, 2) beauty comes in many forms and when we limit our concept of beauty to appearance, we are really missing the boat.
Thank you, Shirley Chisholm, you will always be beautiful to me.
In addition to working for Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), Laura W. Murphy worked for Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-MD), California Speaker Willie L. Brown, DC Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and was Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office from 1993 to 2005. She is now President of Laura Murphy & Associates, a government relations and public affairs consulting firm. www.lwmurphy.com
My cousin Jake sent me this photo of Afro American Newspaper paperboys in Baltimore taken in 1931. The guy who is third from the right is my father, the late Maryland Judge William H. Murphy, Sr. (1917-2003). This picture shows him when he was 14 years old and at that time he had one very prosperous Afro newspaper route in Baltimore.
These young men were expected to be well-dressed as they represented the Afro and they went door-to-door delivering papers in upper, middle class and working class black neighborhoods. They were pretty sharp with their argyle socks, shirts, ties, vests, jackets and knickers, weren’t they? The guys toward the left who look like they are holding pitchforks are actually holding an instrument used to get bundles of wrapped newspapers off of trucks. Once the papers were unbundled, the paperboys used knapsacks to carry the papers and delivered them on bicycles, scooters, roller skates or on foot and shouted “AFRO!” when they knocked on doors or stood on busy street corners selling papers.
My father had a wonderful perspective on life and much of it he developed from his vantage point as a former Afro paperboy. Here was my dad; the son of George B. Murphy, Sr., one of the first black public school principals in Baltimore and his mother, Grace Hughes, the daughter of a prosperous black caterer. Dad grew up in a family that had a butler, a driver and a full time housekeeper during the height of the Great Depression. So why did Dad have a paper route?
It was expected that all of the Murphy boys would work for the family newspaper at some point in their lives. Dad took to selling newspapers like a fish to water. Dad also loved earning his own money. He knew how to market papers and how to collect his fees. At an early age, the paper route afforded him tremendous freedom to go anywhere in Baltimore that his bicycle and feet would take him. He got a picture of life that he never would have had without the ability to have a paper route. While selling papers he saw the great wealth of some and the extreme poverty of others. He knew people who were cheaters, tippers, scholars, hustlers, leaders, role models and lovers.
Daddy told memorable stories about the people of Baltimore, most of whom were decent and hardworking folk, who somehow advanced and kept families together despite the barriers imposed by rigid racial segregation. From first-hand observation Dad learned that wealth does not determine character and that our collective obsession with skin color is a mind-trap that is a stubborn residual effect of the horrific institution of slavery. Every truism of life played out on his beloved paper route and he savored his paperboy experiences as long as he lived.
Even though I was the only one of his five children never to have a paper-route, Dad made me promise to stay involved in supporting the Afro no matter where I lived or what career I chose. He wanted to make sure that the paper survived so that there was a vehicle for telling the stories of African Americans whom he often referred to as “A Remarkable People!” His belief was that white-owned newspapers would never cover the richness black life especially our leaders, the politicians, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, civil rights advocates, ambassadors, athletes, scholars, heads of state from African Diaspora nations, heads of Greek organizations, service groups and social clubs. And what about our events? What other institution cared about our weddings, funerals, parties, cultural and artistic events, political rallies, religious gatherings, trials, fires, riots and lynchings. In his view, neither our angels nor our reprobates could get a fair shake in the majority-owned media.
Because of my dad, I am proud to serve on the Afro- American Newspapers board of directors, even as I am its sometime critic. It has been a challenge for me keep a steady engagement with an institution that is controlled by my extended family (try DOZENS of relatives) and one that is also a business enterprise that is of enormous historic significance. But, the Afro holds a solid place in my heart. Founded in 1892 by John H. Murphy, (my great grandfather) and once having several editions in Baltimore, Washington, DC , Newark, Philadelphia and Richmond, the Afro is still alive (in Baltimore and Washington), even if not as big and as grand as Daddy and I would want it to be. Notwithstanding it challenges, the Afro is one of the longest continuously published newspapers in American history. That says a WHOLE lot.
We need the Afro to be even stronger so that it can continue to chronicle the living conditions of African Americans up and down the economic ladder, to voice our concerns, to share our problems, to hold our leaders accountable and most importantly to share our triumphs and our achievements. My cousin, John “Jake” Oliver , Jr. has been the publisher for over a decade and he has had an especially challenging job because many of us have abandoned newspapers in general, and black newspapers in particular.
I can hear my father’s concerns ringing in my ears. We don’t buy subscriptions or advertising in the Afro — things that are an essential source of income. It is amazing that the Afro has survived and stayed in print – especially as many major newspapers across the country are downsizing or are going out of business. The Afro has produced opportunities for many talented minority journalists, even as journalism is an increasing under appreciated profession. Jake was ahead of the curve in bringing Afro news content to the Internet. He made sure that the Afro’s election coverage of the Obama campaign was comprehensive and insightful. Now he is giving the same treatment to the Obama administration. Dad would appreciate all of these things, even as he would urge us all to do more.
Looking into Dad’s bright young face, I don’t think he would have ever imagined that his family paper would someday have to print special editions that featured the first black President of the United States of America. Dad did his part as a judge, a father and husband, a civil rights leaders and as a paperboy, to make sure that this day would come. He passed the baton – or should I say, the paper route — to us. It is our collective responsibility to continue to make and to chronicle our remarkable history. Cousin Jake, thank you for sharing this picture and leading this venerable family institution.
Dad, I can still hear you shout, “AFRO!”
Bill Clinton: rich and thin
Really it does not get any richer than this — to see a Bill Clinton transform from a snarling, red faced, finger pointing, angry adversary of Barack Obama to a convincing persuasive Obamafile. This is a site to behold… He looked great in a blue tie, all the hairs on his head finally under control, and he looked leaner and younger than he has in a long time. He could be confused for an elegant, wealthy and confident mogul. The man who has outsized appetites for attention, for women, for control of his legacy, for the fate of his wife’s political future and for ending the world AIDS crisis — is in rare form. The Democratic convention crowd within the Pepsi Center is going absolutely crazy. This is the Bill Clinton they wanted back – the exuberant, smart and gregarious leader they once knew. They also so desperately needed him to be gracious, compelling and well-behaved. As for the party – he delivered. As for the entire electorate – we will see.
August 27, 2008
You have to respect a woman who wears a shiny orange pantsuit to give one of the most important speeches of her career. Now that is confidence. Hillary wore orange last night, and like an orange, she proved herself to have a thick skin. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention before a packed Pepsi Center in Denver. She endorsed Barack Obama over and over again. However, about two thirds of the way through the speech I was still asking myself does she mean it? I heard her words. I saw the smiles of her husband, former President Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, but I cannot believe they could be as happy as they seem. Proud yes, but happy? Hard to imagine. When you are so certain of your ability to win, the pain of loss is hard to shake.
But for most of the high level elected officials and party leaders who were in the arena last night, it did not matter what was in Hillary’s heart. What mattered is that she did her job as the most visible challenger to the Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama. According to them, her job was to speak to her constituents and tell them they must get on the Obama train leaving the station. Some of the newer party activists were disappointed that she did not contradict her earlier criticism of Barack’s so-called lack of experience. Others said that it would be too hypocritical for her to do so.
Like the Michelle, speech, most of the people I spoke with sounded relieved. But the question remains: who is going to convincingly shoot down the “lack of qualifications issue.” Former Mayor of New Orleans and current CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial is fighting to put this discussion in context. He is saying that Bill Clinton was a two term small state governor whose national experience was limited to participation in a few organizations like the National Governors Association. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and a former governor of Georgia with little national and no international experience. George Bush was a two term governor of Texas. None of them had Barack’s national credentials or even held an appointed position in the federal government. I have not independently checked all of these assertions but they ring true to me. Obama supporters are arguing that he has different credentials but is no less qualified. To them, all new presidents must — and do — learn while on the job how to govern this huge and unruly nation.
For days throughout the convention rumors have been swirling that the Clinton camp has been in tough negotiations with Obama camp to settle the score. Some are saying that the Clinton people wanted to get assurances from Obama that he would vigorously campaign for her re-election for U.S. Senate, appear at at least two major fundraisers, help her reduce her presidential campaign debt of over $20 million, and hire more of her staff people. It is rumored that Vernon Jordan has been at the heart of these discussions on behalf of Hillary.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because there is so much more than the mere appearances of our political processes. We only see the surface – the skin – of the process. Much goes on beneath the surface. Whether we know how Hillary really feels, much goes on beneath her thick skin. She is a strong, intelligent and complex woman. Orange you glad you’ve seen her in action?
August 25, 2008
Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention was a home run. I was in the Pepsi arena when she gave it and watched it again late in the evening on CNN. There was no comparison between seeing it in person and watching on TV. Television has a way of flattening the emotional impact of all the evening’s speeches, and hers in particular. The arena was packed and there were almost as many people in the halls outside then seated inside. The audience looked very sophisticated and prosperous, mostly white and middle class but very well-integrated with Latinos, African Americans, Asian and Native Americans. The mood going into the speech was anxious anticipation – the audience was wired. It seemed as though there was a shared desire that Michelle quiet all of the critics, for the sake of enhancing Barack Obama’s winning potential.
Once I was seated I went from objective observer to having my stomach in my throat because I wanted her to do well — to fully demonstrate that she was capable of being a First Lady just as elegant, cool and composed as Laura Bush, to show that she was not some angry caricature, to show how worldly and “regular” she is. I felt like I was watching Olympic gold medalist Nastia Lukin try to achieve a perfect score on the uneven bars. My heart was beating fast. I was transfixed on everything that I could take in – the noisy crowd, the television monitors and the media packed into the arena, the camera flashes all over the place, the loud music in the background… I was TENSE.
After a moving video on her life narrated by her mother, Marian Robinson, entitled South Side Girl, and after a very lovely introduction by her 6’6” basketball coach brother, Craig Robinson, Michelle emerged from behind the stage dressed in a simple green long sleeved dress. It had a starburst pin where the neckline of her dress ended in a “V.” Her hair looked flawless and she sported a gigantic, confident and warm small.
As far as the substance of her speech – the themes were very evocative of average American aspirations. But the way that she handled the pressure of giving a speech before the world, the way her voice catched with emotion when she talked about her father, the way she used her hands gracefully when she made certain points, and the earnest way she made her case well, IT MADE ME CRY.
When the girls came onto the stage after she finished her remarks, I really started sniffling and choking back the tears. And then when, her husband, Barack Obama was on the live video screen complimenting Michelle and talking lovingly to his daughters, the waterworks continued. Many people seemed moved, but most of all the entire room seemed reassured. Were there haters in the room? – undoubtedly — but the conversation afterwards seemed pretty darn giddy to me.
As a black woman – I’ve never seen a “Kodak moment” like this. And Michelle, given all of the pressure you have been under, you won the gold medal.