Michelle Obama: For the black community, 'change doesn't happen without risk taking'

In honor of Black History Month, Know Your Value and “Morning Joe” released never-before-seen footage from 2007 of the former first lady paying homage to leaders who paved the way for civil rights.
Image: Michelle Obama appears on NBC's "TODAY" show in New York on Oct. 11, 2018.
Michelle Obama appears on TODAY in New York on Oct. 11, 2018.Nathan Congleton / NBC

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By Erin Delmore

Back when Michelle Obama was campaigning alongside her husband, Barack Obama, in his quest to become the nation’s first African-American president, she spoke to Mika Brzezinski about the importance of leaders in the black community taking enormous risks to benefit the next generation.

“I think that for the black community, we have to shake off our fear because change doesn't happen without risk taking,” Michelle Obama told Brzezinski during a 2007 interview.

“You know, Rosa Parks wasn't supposed to stay on, sit on that bus. Martin Luther King wasn't supposed to speak out. I mean, we have a whole history of people who have taken risks far greater than anything that we're doing,” Obama said in the never-before-seen footage, which Know Your Value and "Morning Joe" released this week in honor of Black History Month.

Then, referencing her husband’s campaign, Obama went on to tell Brzezinski, “This is nothing compared to the history we come from. So our view is, we're doing exactly what we were told to do by our leaders, by our elders ⁠— that you get the best education you can get, that you work hard, that you bring that education back and that you give back and that you push, you push the next generation to be better. That's what we're doing.”

Brzezinski and Obama were discussing Barack Obama’s historic bid for the White House, at a moment when polls showed him trailing his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, among African-Americans.

“That's not gonna hold,” Obama predicted. “I'm completely confident.” She was right: Barack Obama ultimately won the support of 96 percent of black voters on Election Day, and black voter turnout rose two percentage points nationally over the last presidential election. But during Brzezinski’s interview, they discussed the factors that were at that moment holding black voters back from getting behind the then-candidate.

“You know, the stuff that we see in these polls has played out my whole life and I've always been told by someone that I'm not ready, that I can't do something, my scores weren't high enough,” Obama said. In her memoir “Becoming”, Obama detailed her childhood growing up in Chicago’s South Side, her college years at Princeton University and her time at Harvard Law School. She also describes her experience as one of the only black attorneys at the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, where she met Barack Obama when she was 25 years old.

“There's always that doubt in the back of the minds of people of color, people who have been oppressed, who have never been given the real opportunities [so] that you believe somehow, that somehow, someone is better than you.”

Just the day before, Brzezinski had interviewed a 52-year-old African American woman and asked her whether she would vote for Barack Obama in the presidential election. Brzezinski told Michelle Obama that the woman said she probably would not cast her vote for Barack because “he probably can't win because he's black.”

“[That’s] the psychology that's going on in our souls and our heads, and I understand it, I know where it's coming from, you know, and I think it's one of the horrible legacies of racism and discrimination and oppression,” Obama told Brzezinski. “But the truth of the matter is that that's something we're gonna have to get over as a community and you do it by forging ahead fearlessly. I would not be where I am, I wouldn't have gone to Princeton, I wouldn't have gone to Harvard I certainly wouldn't be a practicing attorney, neither would Barack, if we listened to that doubt.”