Going High: Soaring Like Michelle Obama - Higher Education
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Going High: Soaring Like Michelle Obama


by Chinwe O. Okeke

I own a magenta-colored suit that makes me feel majestic. The first time I stepped out in public in this outfit, a group of my students exclaimed, “You look like Michelle Obama.” Perhaps it was the material of the suit, or the two and one-half inch, black pumps, or the below-knee-length of the skirt, or perhaps because we were in the midst of midterm exams and the students wanted to flatter me (it almost worked); I wholeheartedly embraced the remark. Secretly, I was going for the “Michelle Obama look”: elegance, grace, beauty, and intricacy that displayed a synergy of sophistication sprinkled with femininity.

First Lady Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama

Once the student fan club delivered this unsolicited brown-noising, I did walk with my shoulders pushed further back and my chin thrust a little higher toward the sky. I was internally beaming. I was proud. Being compared to the first lady of the United States was an honor. Today was a good day. In fact, the last eight years have been “good days.”

From the moment that she pounded her husband’s fist before he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, I have been fist-bumping my way through the Obama presidency, giving a pound for each win: the Let’s Move Campaign, the support of military families, the fight against childhood obesity, and the slaying of her dresses for the White House state dinners. The transfer of power from her hand to her husband’s represented the strength of a Black woman providing continued greatness.

Michelle Obama stepped to the side, not behind, to support, appreciate, praise, encourage, and complement her husband. The nation watched every moment of their special bond, a bond that signified not just endearing love, but endearing Black love.  True to that love, Michelle Obama spoke about her husband’s legacy in an Oprah Winfrey special called “The First Lady Says Farewell to the White House.” I was teary-eyed watching the first lady speak of her impending exit.

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No, I am not ready for her to go. No, I am not ready for her to leave me. Not just looking at her hair, makeup, clothing, or heel-height, but watching her interaction with her daughters, and the re-play of that fist bump will always be cemented in my mind. This is not just a first lady but the first lady; her place in history is forever carved with an ebony chisel that cannot be diminished by low-brow insults and partisan opposition.

While the Secret Service appropriately assigned the first lady a codename of “Renaissance,” I simply call her magic. The word “magic” has a multifunctional role in language; magic is a noun, adjective and verb. Michelle Obama displayed her magic of hugging our nation in times of triumph and despair. Mrs. Obama had magic ability to dole out intelligent “shade” to the blissfully ignorant. She magicked her way out of the “angry Black woman” label to portray a cogent, benign helpmate for our entire nation.

Michelle Obama is a hero. She joins the likes of the Gayla Okekes (my mom), the Oprah Winfreys, the Beyoncés, the Shonda Rhimes, and the Olivia Popes in the elite sorority of fearless fighters of equality, and the epitome of Black feminine strength. Michelle Obama’s collaboration with other magnificent women, shows a solidarity that inspires Black girls to rock with each other everywhere. Although I feel insecure and unprotected as Michelle Obama leaves the White House, perhaps Michelle Obama’s true magic lies in her ability to urge us to “go high.”

Dr. Chinwe O. Okeke is the honors program director and assistant professor of biology at Concordia College Alabama.

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