Black history lesson from Michelle Obama





First Lady Michelle Obama opened the doors of the White House to 180 sixth and seventh graders on Wednesday for a Black History Month celebration that included two pep talks and a rousing musical performance.

The students, who came from three local schools here, heard from Adm. Stephen W. Rochon, the chief usher, who runs the mansion and oversees everything from state dinners to redecorating. He is the first African-American to hold that position.

They also heard from Mrs. Obama, who told the students a little bit about the black history of the White House. She talked about the slaves who helped build the executive mansion, about Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation there and about Marie Seilka, a soprano, who became the first African-American artist to perform in the White House in 1878.

She described President Kennedy’s meeting with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the White House and President Obama, who is the first African-American president to live there. Then – as her daughters, Malia and Sasha, listened along with the students — she urged the students to remember that they would write the next chapters in history.

“So you have to ask yourselves, what will you do in life to help someone else in need?” Mrs. Obama said to the young people who were gathered in the East Room. “You have to ask yourselves, what are you going to do to make your own community stronger? What are you going to do to make sure that this nation is even greater? And what are you doing right now in school and in your neighborhoods to prepare yourselves to assume a level of responsibility and to be good citizens?’’

“Think about, as the Admiral says, getting up every single day and working hard, as hard as you can; putting your best foot forward all the time, not just when somebody is looking, but every single moment; and supporting your family, the folks in your own households; making your beds, putting the dishes up, cleaning your rooms,’’ she said.

“That’s not just a story that Barack Obama is writing, or Admiral Rochon is writing,’’ the first lady said. “Those are the stories that we’re all writing together. And you’re an important part of that.’’
And after that, the five members of the all-female, African American a cappella ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock, sang their hearts out.

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