Women’s History Month: Why Michelle Obama deserves recognition

Being late to write about the many women I can, and would love to pay tribute to during Women’s History Month, I decided to cap off the month by writing about a woman who, like for many other women, has repeatedly earned my admiration and respect. While there are countless women who have, and continue, to break ground for future generations, there was only one bold, inspirational leader that deserved more of the spotlight this month: Michelle Obama.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Although some people may attach her to the former president, Michelle Obama is notable in her own right for many reasons. She has earned her reputation as one of the most compelling and iconic women of our era. Michelle has also used her platform as first lady with innovative, yet thoughtful decisions about how she advocates for equity and social justice initiatives, such as women’s rights, poverty awareness, mentorship, supporting military families, and more just to name a few areas where the former First Lady made an impact.

Michelle Obama has solidified herself as a rock star outside of the shadow of her husband, the self-proclaimed first Black president of the United States. That’s no small task.

Michelle has also maintained her appeal among most Americans, according to multiple U.S. polls. In 2020, she topped a Gallup poll of the most admired women in America for the third straight year in a row.

With that said, it could be easy to forget the humble beginnings of Michelle Obama — the grit and determination she would need to not only survive, but to soar. Born January 17, 1964, Michelle Lavaughn Robinson was raised on the South Side of Chicago to a working class family. Despite not coming from a privileged background, Michelle began blazing her own path when she beat the odds; she was accepted to Ivy League institutions such as Princeton University and Harvard Law School, both from which she graduated. It was at the law firm Sidley Austin where she would later meet Barack. The couple married in 1992, and had two daughters, the now-adult children Malia and Sasha. Obama later worked at a nonprofit, and as the associate dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, as well as the vice president for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Obama campaigned alongside her husband during the historic 2008 presidential election, and has given acclaimed speeches. Some would say that her speaking skills and ability to connect with audiences exceed Barack’s reputation as a great orator. Barack was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, becoming the 44th President of the United States, and together, he and Michelle made history, becoming the first Black presidential couple after Barack’s elected.

I personally admire her for many of those reasons, not to mention her advocacy, her intelligence, beauty, grace, and courage. Her ability to be transparent about her personal struggles and challenges are inspiring. During one of her podcasts in 2020, Mrs. Obama opened up about her mental health and managing low-grade depression. She again spoke about her depression in her book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” and has since talked about her depression In several speaking engagements. Her insightful, intimate, and inspiring memoir reveals her as an influential and powerful woman but clearly reflects her humanity. Michelle said, “I’ve gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don’t feel yourself, and sometimes … there has been a week or so where I had to surrender to that, and not be so hard on myself.”

You imagine the president and his family as strong as Teflon, mentally and emotionally. We think they wear an invisible, impenetrable shield that guards them, as you would expect from the First Family. But seeing someone I revere as a strong role model and influencer like Mrs. Michelle Obama come clean to the world and admit that she was dealing with her mental health made me admire her that much more.

I’ve written several articles about the importance of mental health for adults and children, and I too have dealt with my own depression. Hearing and reading Mrs. Obama’s story about her own depression gave me hope to conquer my own. I’m sure it’s not easy for the First Lady to seek out help from her community being such a high profile public figure, and it’s not easy for political figures and leaders to come out and speak about their mental health. Some may say it’s because of fears that they will be targets or treated differently. Seeing Mrs. Obama vulnerable and humbling sharing her truth about her own depression made me personally think that if someone as strong as she can feel this way, it’s okay. I’ve talked about the stigma of therapy and speaking about mental health in the Black community, and when I sought out to speaking to someone in my own community it was scarce or non-existent. I bottled it up inside feeding the depression even more. When I listened to the former First Lady explain her own experience with depression it encouraged me, and gave me a newfound respect for those who choose to openly speak about their own struggles with mental health, because by doing so they may help others.

It may seem late to highlight Mrs. Michelle Lavaughn Robinson Obama for Women’s Month, but I saved the most deserving female role model today for last. I’m not alone in how much I admire her; Mrs. Obama is a well deserving role model to many women and men across the world. Her transparency and humanity has been nothing short of captivating to me, and I am honored to have made sure Michelle Obama received the respect and recognition she deserves this month.