Monday, May 16, 2011

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!


“And I want to give a special shoutout to one of my people, one of my staff members, Ms. Kristen Jarvis of Spelman class of 2003. (Applause.) Look, ladies, you want to know what Spelman does for you? Kristen is my right-hand woman. She travels with me all across the country and around the world. I don't know what I would do without her. She has been with me from the very beginning, looking after my girls, taking care of my mom. So I want to thank Spelman for giving me Kristen.” (Applause.)

So girls, for $150,000 you can receive an education at a prestigious black women’s college so that you too can become a… nanny?

I recall a time when a black nanny was considered a demeaning stereotype. I guess HOPE and CHANGE have moved us beyond certain aspects of racism.

hattiemcdanielScarlett and Mammy, in more racist times

And boy, talk about woman power! According to WaPo:

“most of the crowd were mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters or female cousins — all filling the 10,000-seat exhibit hall to see the first lady.”

I wonder where all the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, male cousins, boyfriends and husbands were? I thought that kind of segregation was frowned upon. By everyone other than Muslims anyway, and I’m pretty sure Spelman isn’t an Islamic school.

Lady M’s much anticipated speech was met with “thunderous applause” at Spelman, a predominantly Black women’s college near Atlanta, where she told the assembled graduates:

In a time of legalized segregation, this school was establishing math and biology departments and training a generation of black women scientists. (Applause.)
At a time when many workplaces were filled with not just glass ceilings, but brick walls, this school was urging black women to become doctors, and lawyers, engineers,

And, apparently, nannies.

As she often does, Lady M personalized her message by sharing some details of her own life:

And I can tell you from my own experience just how rewarding it can be to make this kind of work the work of your careers. Back when I was sitting right where you are, I was certain that I wanted to be a lawyer. I knew it. So I did everything I was supposed to do. I got my law degree. Got a prestigious job at a fancy law firm. Had a nice big ‘ol paycheck and was finally making a dent in my student loans. My friends were
impressed. My family proud -- and relieved. (Laughter.) By all appearances, I was living the dream.

But all the while, I knew something was missing, because the truth is, I didn’t want to be up in that tall building, alone in an office writing memos. I wanted to be on the ground, working with the folks I grew up with…I wanted to be out there giving folks the same kind of chances that I had. I wanted to be mentoring young people.


red pepper flexThe Greater D.C. Cares Mentoring Matters Initiative: Painting veggies on school walls

football michelleOn the ground. Working with the folks.

chinball5Mentoring underprivileged girls in the fine art of chin ball

mi photoshoppmichelle o photomichelle.glamourmag_250x340michelle-obamas-vogue

giving folks the same kind of chances that I had”


So much to the surprise of my family and friends, I left that secure, high-paying job and eventually became the Executive Director of a non-profit, working to help young people get involved in public service.

I was making a lot less money -- a lot -- and my office was a lot smaller. But I woke up every morning with a sense of purpose and possibility.

And wow! Have we nailed our sense of purpose:

[REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT] *** []Oval Office Make over! (If you know what I mean.)

And talk about grabbing our possibilities!


In the context of everything that Lady M has come to do since, it does make getting “a prestigious job at a fancy law firm,” sound kind of selfish. And dirty, even. I guess in retrospect giving up that law license (voluntarily, you understand) was the smartest thing Lady M ever did.

Because now she can concentrate on inspiring and mentoring others to seek their own sense of purpose and possibility.

betts03 jacketPrinceton. Harvard Law. And then, finally, success

You all are the keepers of each other’s histories. And the bonds that you’ve formed here will nourish you and sustain you for the rest of your lives. Now, that is sisterhood.


movalsusanLady M with her travelin’ sisters: ValJar and Susan

They’ve traveled far, these sisters.

You might say “we’ve come a long way, baby!”