Former First Lady Michelle Obama visited Motown Museum in Detroit and spoke with Black male students from Wayne State University, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college. Obama’s message of encouragement is poignant in a time when the viewpoint of Black males in this country is so negatively skewed.
At the event hosted by her brother, Craig Robinson, along with Keegan Michael Key, Obama was asked questions by students that dealt with feelings of sometimes not belonging, and having to prove themselves to others. They also mentioned dealing with the speculation that they attend the university because of affirmative action.
Cedric Mutebi, a junior public health major, asked Obama:
“Through my journey so far, I’ve found that in a lot of circles I’ve been entering, I’ve had to justify, prove why I deserve to be in those circles kind of like your experiences as you fight those mental and psychological struggles what would you say when you have to continuously justify why you deserve to be where you are”
She gave him advice on how to respond.
“There’s all kinds of affirmative action in this world, especially in colleges,” Obama said.
She explained that colleges have the “responsibility and right” to admit students for different reasons.
“They admit because they’re athletes,” she explained. “They admit people because they’re scholars. They admit people because they’re musicians. They admit students because they’re wealthy, and their parents will donate. They admit students because there’s an alumni connection, so the question you should ask people who approach you is: Why is your status questioned versus anyone else’s”
Michelle Obama surprises college students at museum in Detroit
Obama emphasized that diversity in terms of experience meant more conversations where people didn’t just always agree with each other.
She also encouraged them to remember that schools want you to succeed because failure looks bad for them.
“You’re the person that has to get out of your headThere were people who questioned whether Barack could be president. People who questioned if I could be a good First Lady You have to practice knowing who you are and just doing the work day by day. That’s your proof to the naysayers.”
Robinson echoed his sister’s message, recalling some of his trials in his years in college with not so great grades. “As long as you’re trying, you will not fail,” he said.
The young men, after their shock of being in a room with the former first lady, opened up with their concerns and viewpoints on how to succeed in the face of people that didn’t expect them to do well. Michael Key spoke about the importance of students revealing their feelings, and shutting down the stereotypes that men face.
“That emotional component is essential for us to be full human beings,” he said.
Obama, who is on her book tour with over 20 more stops nationally and globally, has been candid about both her personal life and her life in the White House. She revealed that when she first attended college she asked herself: “Am I good enough”
In a letter to her younger self, she said, “You only see what you lack, and not everything that your story has given you,” and that lessons you learn will become helpful in the future.
Watch the full video here.
Reader Question: What kinds of support do you think young Black males in college would benefit from