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L.A. Watts Times - Michelle Obama: First Lady, Health Advocate, Role Model

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Location: Washington, DC

By Michael Brown

As Barack Obama took the oath as the 44th U.S. president, standing by his side and holding the Bible he swore on was Michelle Obama.

Not only did millions of people across the world watch history unfold in 2009 as the United States' first African American ascended to the presidency, but those same eyes witnessed the nation's First Lady, a direct descendant of slaves, take center stage as well.

Michelle's impact on America has taken on even more of a special meaning for some during March, which is Women's History Month.

"Michelle's place with regards to the month is especially relevant, due to the fact that Women's History Month speaks directly to Black women," said Ange-Marie Hancock, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern California. "We use the struggles of the past to fight and get through the problems we're facing now. Michelle Obama is the epitome of Women's History Month."

Michelle Obama's role in the administration

Similar to first ladies of the past, Michelle Obama's role during her husband's presidency has been in the background.

However, during presidential administrations the first lady typically takes on a cause, usually centered on charities.

Nancy Reagan's cause became D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Michelle has also taken on a cause: fighting childhood obesity through her initiative, Let's Move!

The initiative also encourages healthy eating habits and increased physical activity.

"One of the reasons Michelle has a high approval rating among people, even when the administration's is down, is due to initiatives like Let's Move!," Hancock said. "The work she does with military families along with Move is non-controversial and things everyone can stand behind."

Hancock added that Michelle coming under fire by some critics for comments made during the campaign "probably has something to do with her now focusing on non-controversial issues."

"That's no surprise," said Hancock, who followed the 2008 presidential election closely. "Part of Barack's success has been her keeping a healthy distance from the partisan side of things. Politics is his job. None of us go to our spouse's place of business and try to make decisions."

Changing Perceptions

"The most important thing Michelle Obama has done to change America's perceptions of Black women is to offer a counter balance," said Hancock. "Of course, one woman can't possibly change an entire nation's viewpoint, but I think she's done an admirable job."

Hancock mentioned the images of Black women on reality shows as an example of what professional Black women like Michelle battle against daily.

Congresswoman Karen Bass noted Michelle's accomplishments, potential to reach young people, and her status as a role model as some of her attributes.

"First Lady Obama is in so many ways, a woman that young girls across America can aspire to be like," Bass told the L.A. Watts times in an e-mail. "She is intellectually and professionally accomplished, and she has proven to be a leader in her own right with her "Let's Move' campaign to combat childhood obesity."

Michelle's knack for fashion flair routinely causes a media frenzy among the tabloids, entertainment shows and bloggers.

Her attire and style has not only garnered her attention from fashion critics, but others as well who have compared her to a former First Lady.

"She has become a fashion icon on the world stage the likes of which we haven't seen since Jacqueline Kennedy, and I greatly admire her championing of up and coming designers," said Bass.

The Future

Prior to being the nation's First Lady, Michelle was an accomplished professional. Armed with a bachelor's degree in sociology from Princeton, and later on obtaining a degree from Harvard Law, the Ivy Leaguer from the South Side of Chicago worked in both the private and public sector.

Michelle founded a nonprofit organization, Public Allies Chicago, which helps young adults foster leadership skills.

During her time in the private sector, the First Lady served as the University of Chicago Hospitals' executive director of community and external affairs.

Whether Michelle pursues politics after her husband's presidency or leaves the spotlight is anyone's guess.

"I don't see her being a person that's that interested in pursuing politics," Hancock said. "People would like her to go into politics because she's a likable person, but I think she'll probably concentrate on seeing her daughters grow up and possibly continue with charitable events and causes."


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