Obama Video Clips > 2007-09-30 - Michelle Obama National Congress of Black Women
Michelle Obama: National
Congress of Black Women
National Congress of Black Women's Brunch 2007
NCBW’s 23rd Annual Awards Brunch was held on Sunday September 30th, 2007 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC with Michelle Obama’s State of Black Woman Address; Honorees Bishop Carolyn Guidry, Anna Maria Horsford, Nicole Duncan, Suzanne de Passe, Judge Greg Mathis plus Laura Richardson and Yvette Clarke, newest Congresswomen.
Michelle Obama's speech is available at this
I am honored to be here. Thank you, Dr. Williams, for that warm introduction. Thank you for the invitation to join you here today, and thank you for your leadership of this great organization.
I am truly humbled and honored to be here with you this morning to celebrate the achievements of so many amazing women; women like C. Delores Tucker—who before her passing served as one of the driving forces behind the work of NCBW and whose distinguished and dedication and persistence led to the success on the Sojourner Truth Project…
And today’s honorees—women of great achievement man of whom are with us today and others who have passed on; women like Effi Barry. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. We can all rejoice in her life and the lives of so many women who are trying to make sure that our daughters grow up in a nation where things are possible for them.
I am deeply moved to be here to issue the “State of the Black Woman” message that for so many years was delivered by one of my heroines, Mrs. Coretta Scott King. I had the privilege of meeting her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where can you believe this, she told me that she was proud of me.
I never imagined I would hear those words from a woman of such grace and dignity; a woman who had sacrificed so much of herself for me and others like me, and to hear those words I thought, God is good. She told me that she expected great things from us – from Barack and me – and the one thing I would remember that she told me is to not be afraid because God was with us and she would always keep us in her prayers.
So, as Barack and I move through this amazing journey together; a journey that requires great sacrifice and faith, I hold tight to the words of Coretta Scott King. You see Barack and I know that we are truly blessed and to whom much is given, much is expected. I know that I stand on the shoulders of so many black women who have come before me. Women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hammer, Shirley Chisolm, C. Delores Tucker, and Dr. Dorothy Height.
Women who I grew up reading about and watching and listening to; women who I have tried to shape my life after; women who do not appear in the history books but who have mentored me; women who told me to work hard, to dream big and to bring those skills and gifts back to my community. I did everything you asked me to do. So, I stand before you today as one of the products of your struggle, your labor, your sacrifice.
Mrs. King once said that, “…if the soul of the nation is to be saved, [we as women] must become its soul”. So, for me, this endeavor that Barack and I have undertaken is not just about winning an election, it is about inspiring and engaging souls. See, we will never fundamentally change the fate of black women and families or the fate of our country for that matter if we cannot change souls. If we don’t change the way we look at ourselves and one another, we will always struggle.
Barack always says that one of our greatest challenges as a nation is not a deficit of resources – for we are one of the riches countries in the world; and it’s not deficit of policies, because we have some of the greatest minds working on these issues. Instead, our greatest challenge is that we are living in a time when we are suffering from a deep empathy deficit.
You see, Barack believes in the greatness of America. He’s seen it in his own life’s journey. But he also knows that the politics of Washington today does not match our ideals as a country and that’s what’s holding us back.
Until we can restore that sense of mutual obligation that we have to have for one another; until we can remind people that we are only as strong as the weakest among us; that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers; that there is more that connects us than divides us in this country; if we cannot see ourselves in one another regardless of gender, race, class or religion, then we will continue to struggle.
The fact that I am standing before you today, perhaps to become the next First Lady, is an amazing idea. Me, a little black girl from the south side of Chicago; the product of a working class momma and daddy; the product of a public school education; the thought that I could be part of making history and potentially changing the way this country is viewed around the world is unbelievable – and it speaks to the progress that we have made.
But, we cannot lose sight of the fact that my story is too rare. Today, my story is very much an impossibility for too many young black girls. We live in a nation where I am not supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to go to Princeton and Harvard because my scores were too low. I wasn’t supposed to have successful careers in law and government and public service; I wasn’t good enough. We live in a nation were I am not supposed to be here. And I am certainly not supposed to be the First Lady of the United States. Statistically speaking, I am beating the odds.
Society tells girls like me that we shouldn’t reach too high or dream too big because our skin is the wrong color; or maybe because our communities are broken; our parents may be a little too uneducated, being poor, ill-equipped to provide us with the guidance that we need to thrive.
Again and again, society tells girls like me, “No.” “Not yet.” “Wait.” “You’re not quite ready.” “You’re not quite good enough”, “It’s not your turn.” Often the only difference between our success and utter failure is the presence of people in our lives who dare to believe in us; people like Mrs. King and Dr, Height who are so confident in who we might be that they pump us up so big and so strong – that when others begin the inevitable process of slowly tearing us down, we can never be completely deflated by their doubts, by their ignorance, by their fear.
You so see in 2007, black women still have not come far enough.
For starters, Black Women are struggling every day to keep our collective heads above water and this is true regardless of our socioeconomic status. We are told by our communities to dream big, but see society tell us that essentially we are on our own. Society says, you figure out how you’re going to successfully support and raise a family without a job that pays a living wage; You figure it out.
We know that women are paid less than men – 77 cents on the dollar on average – but pay discrimination is even worse for us [black women]: 67 cents for every dollar a man makes. Not to mention the millions of women over the past several decades, who have been pulled from the welfare rolls, left to fend for themselves without adequate childcare. No, black women have not come far enough because the vast majority of us are struggling to survive without the support we need from our society.
Today, Black Women are also faced with the challenge of keeping ourselves and our families healthy without access to quality and affordable health care. We are dying too young, too needlessly. In 2007, compared to every other racial or ethnic group, Black Women have the highest death rate due to heart disease. We have the highest infant mortality rate, we are more likely than white women to die of breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS. No, we have not come far enough.
And sadly, the saddest reality is that we as black women still don’t love ourselves enough. When do we take time to take care of ourselves as we should? Too often we are the last ones on our own priority lists. We don’t eat right ladies. We don’t exercise. We don’t demand healthy relationships. We don’t have access to primary and preventative care, and if we do have access, we don’t have the time to go or the means to get there. So, we wait too long before we address our health problems. Illnesses that should be preventable and curable become death sentences for us. And we are often emotionally and spiritually depleted. You know what I mean.
Finally, Black Women are still left out of positions of power in this society. You see for us, the glass ceiling still exist. And we haven’t fully integrated into the halls of power and government and the board room. Only one black woman has ever served in the United States Senate; today there are none. Glad my husband is there. A black woman has never been a governor of a state or a Supreme Court Justice. Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Sheila Dixon of Baltimore are currently the only two black women serving as mayors in our nation’s major cities.
In the United States Congress, which is filled with 535 members, there are 14 black women. Only 6 black women sit on the powerful federal appeals courts. That’s a problem with just 6--they resolve most of our most pressing legal issues.
The picture in corporate America is not much better. Of the CEOs of all of the Fortune 500 companies, not a single one is a black woman and not too many and not too many are brothers (black men). I’ve been privileged enough to sit on a boards; and I haven’t had much company in those boardrooms. Black women hold less than 2% of the board seats for the nation’s major companies.
The truth is that, even for those of us in this room who have made it, who have risen to high levels in our government, our courts, our law firms, our board rooms – still our story is far too rare. So we have not come far enough.
So, as we reflect on the State of The Black Woman, I believe that the answers to our challenges we face still lie within US; within OUR SOULS – and we have to engage and inspire each other. We have to understand what we are up against.
You see for so long we have been asked to compete in a game where we are given few of the rules and none of the resources to win. And when we do the impossible; when we beat the odds and we play the game better than those who made up the rules, then what do they do, they change the rules; they move the bar, and too many are left behind.
Today, we have the opportunity to not just change the players but to FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE THE GAME! A game that has been broken for too long, for too many of us. We have the chance to create a new game. A game that will allow the millions of little black girls like us to soar. To Soar. Do you hear me? To Soar.
So the question that we must ask ourselves as Black Women is: “Are we truly ready for fundamental change?” No, are we truly ready to allow ourselves to soar. That’s not an easy question. Maybe, just maybe we are ready. But this is the window of opportunity for us when we are really faced with that question. You see…
Maybe, just maybe we are ready to believe in the power of our own voices.
Maybe, just maybe we are ready to shed our fear and cynicism?
Maybe, just maybe we are ready to trust and believe in our own abilities?
Maybe, maybe we are ready to claim our rightful seat at the table?
If we are truly ready, then NOW IS THE TIME. We cannot afford to wait. I am not going to wait. The children in our communities cannot afford to have us wait. We cannot afford to sit by while others claim to know more about our issues than we do. While we wait for a turn that may never come.
Right now, we have this window of opportunity – we have this chance to bring about fundamental change in this country.
I ask you all here today to believe in the possibility of all of us. Now is the time for us to stand together, to pray together, to work together. And this is the thing I ask people around the country to do. I want you all to close your eyes and dream big, not small, dream big and envision the day that Barack Obama stands before the capitol of the United States of America to take the oath to become the next president of the United States of America. Just dream and think about it. Think about what that would mean for all the little black girls and in their minds not just here but around the world.
Believe in us. And if we do that, I truly believe that we will not only change the fate of black women in this nation, but we can change the world.