On Tuesday night, Barack Obama gave his final address as President of the United States. It was emotional and powerful, and it bears noting that his thank you to his wife of 25 years was the “not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house” moment.
As many Americans begin the long tearful goodbye to the Obamas, a new book of essays puts what the First Lady has meant to so many over the last eight years into words.
The book, The Meaning of Michelle seems to be just what the doctor ordered for those who want to bask in her Black Girl Magic a little while longer. NBCBLK spoke to the editor, award-winning journalist and author Veronica Chambers, who brought 15 writers to the page to weigh in on the impact of Michelle Obama.
How did the book come about?
Elisabeth Dyssegaard, who is an old friend suggested it one day when we were having lunch. It has kind of been our thing over the last 8 years. We have lunch and at some point in the lunch, we have a Michelle Obama appreciation moment. Then about a year ago, she suggested we channel all this admiration and appreciation into a book project.
How hard or easy was it to find writers who wanted to weigh in on this project?
It wasn't hard to find great writers to write about our First Lady. I was amazed by the people who did. Writers like Brittney Cooper, Sarah Lewis, Rebecca Carroll, Ava DuVernay, Damon Young, Roxane Gay wrote essays. These people blow me away.
Why do you think that Mrs. O has engaged the interest of writers and the public in a way that no other First Lady including Jackie O. has?
The other day my daughter was trying to find a movie for us to watch on family movie night and she picked up the phone and said, "Siri, give me the names of movies with smart, brave and funny girls."
I think Michelle Obama has become iconic because here was this woman, living in the White House, literally, our First Lady and she was at every turn, not just stylish like Jackie O, but smart, brave and funny. For eight years, this was the incredible woman that we got to watch. What a gift.
How many of the essays in the anthology were focused on her style?
Dr. Tanisha C. Forde who is this incredibly smart professor wrote an essay called, "She Slays: Michelle Obama and the Power of Dressing Like You Mean It." Just the title alone captures the sentiment of so many in the book.
Were there any essays that really surprised you or gave you a new lens on her legacy?
Broadway star Alicia Hall Moran and her husband, award-winning composer and musician Jason Moran, who wrote the musical score to Selma, among many other things, wrote a lovely essay on creativity, marriage and partnership. Their essay was very special to me because it's about community, about service and connection. But it's also about how you build and inhabit a grown-up love.
I don’t think we talk enough about black love and what it takes for people to work together to achieve their dreams. I don’t think we can have enough of those conversations. That was very powerful and important to me to have in this book.
What do you think Michelle Obama’s real legacy will be in the months and years to come?
If I had to sum up her legacy in one word, I would say it would be the authenticity. The power of authenticity. Like author Brené Brown has written, "If I get to be myself, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in." This question of belonging versus fitting in continues to be a real challenge, for women and especially for women of color. But belonging, and being ourselves, is where our power is at.
Michelle Obama modeled that in this really unique and exemplary way. It's a legacy that will be remembered, studied and treasured not just by our daughters, but our daughters' daughters. I'm confident of that.