By Kenneth Miller, Sentinel Managing Editor
Jennifer Bihm, Sentinel Staff Writer
She is Bold, Beautiful, Brilliant and the Woman at the Side of the Most Powerful Man in the World
The first African American First Lady is a stark contrast to many women who have followed their husbands to the White House mansion, but for President-Elect Barack Obama who calls Michelle Obama “his rock” his wife is an elegant study in grace, confidence, intellect and doting mother.
Mr. Obama told Ebony magazine that he could not have run for the highest office in the land without the approval of his lovely wife Michelle and chances are he would not implement any policy with which she didn’t agree.
That speaks volumes of his wife of the past 16 years whom the President-Elect also calls his confidant, but as Mrs. Obama stated,” My first job, in all honesty, is going to continue to be mom-in-chief.”
“You have to make sure that home base is strong and that you’re solid in your [family] relationships,” she told the Sentinel in an earlier interview.
“If you’re not solid then it makes it more difficult to impact the rest of the world.”
Michelle’s interests also lie in helping working mothers deal with the complexities of balancing career and family, the well being of military wives and of course volunteerism.
“I think one of the things we have to do as a country is that we’ve got to have a vision for the kind of world that we want to live in and that we want to pass on to our kids,” she said.
Michelle said she “has no interest in having a seat at the table and being a co-President.” That’s not to say she wouldn’t be suited for it. In fact, if she wanted to, she could serve in that capacity very well. The 1981 Whitney Young High School graduate went on to study sociology and minor in African American studies at Princeton University, where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985. From there, she attended Harvard Law receiving a Juris Doctor degree in 1988.
Michelle has held a position as an assistant to the mayor in Chicago, and as assistant commissioner of planning and development. In 1993, she became executive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit organization encouraging young people to work on social issues in nonprofit groups and government agencies. In 1996, she served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the University’s Community Service Center. In 2002, she began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals, first as executive director for community affairs and, beginning May, 2005, as Vice President for Community and External Affairs.
During two grueling presidential campaigns that began 22 months ago, Michelle made rare campaign speeches, most notably when Mr. Obama was in Hawaii visiting his dying grandmother. Michelle said she has also met thousands of Americans, hearing their concerns and hopes for the future.
She has held roundtables with working women to hear about their struggle to “do it all,” particularly in a failing economy. In these discussions, Michelle said she heard the unique stories of military spouses, who work hard to keep their families together while their loved ones are away.
“We all agonize about that work- family balance,” she told the Sentinel.
“We always feel like whatever we decide to do [may not] be the right thing to do, whether it’s working part time or staying home. I think at every level women are racked with guilt and feel like they’re not doing enough. I’m no exception…”
However, while her effervescent smile has graced the cover of many leading newspapers and magazines, she has remained in the background tending to daughters Malia (10) and Sasha (7).
While touring the White House this week, she was more concerned with where her daughters would be attending school, visiting two private schools in the Washington D.C. region, and “making sure that in this transition, which will be more of a transition for the girls…that they are settled and they know they will continue to be the center of our universe.”
Her humble roots are grounded in urban Chicago where she was born and raised. It’s where she gained her strong sense of family, in a household that valued the comfort of eating meals together and bonding through talking and playing games. She and her older brother Craig were both academics, both skipping the second grade and both receiving high school honors.
She met Barack Obama at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she had been an associate after law school. They married in October 1992. She and her husband have reflected their most unyielding bond for each other for the world to see.
Frequently they bump fist, like while greeting on a national stage where her husband was nominated at the Democratic Convention and during other moments they have softly embraced and kissed to demonstrate their love to each other.
Their journey to history was not planned, but it has been a seamless transition. Frequently, the Obamas are compared to “Camelot” referring to the legacy of former President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, but that is a comparison that only ends with their ages.
Mrs. Obama is 44 and her husband is 47 and their two young girls will be the youngest children since 1977 when Amy Carter moved in with President Jimmy Carter.