Michelle Obama Opens the White House to Kids

Feb 18, 2009 6:32pm

ABC NEWS’ Yunji de Nies reports:

First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed 180 children to the White House today to listen to a performance by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all female African American a capella ensemble, as part of a celebration of African American History Month. The children were mostly sixth and seventh graders from local Washington DC schools. Children of the White House staff and residence staff were invited as well.

"We were all very much kids like you guys," Mrs. Obama told the children, "We just figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents, our teachers, and work very, very hard for everything in life. And then we worked even harder anytime anyone doubted us."

Dressed in a crisp white shirt, green sweater with blue patent leather belt and tweed skirt, Mrs. Obama gave the kids a short history lesson – touching on several Black history milestones at the White House. She explained that the White House had been built by in part by slaves, that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the Lincoln bedroom upstairs, and that Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and other civil rights leaders had come to the White House to meet with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Then she asked, "And of course, who lives here now?"
"President Obama!" the kids answered in unison

"President Obama. And he’s making history every single day. Why?" she asked.

One girl’s voice rose above the crowd, and the First Lady asked her to stand and speak up.

"He’s the first African American president of the United States," the girl said.

"The next chapter in history is written by you," Mrs. Obama said. "That’s not just a story that Barack Obama is writing…Those are the stories that we’re all writing together, and you’re an important part of that."

Mrs. Obama then introduced Sweet Honey in the Rock, a D.C. based a cappella ensemble, founded in 1973. The group, sang several songs – including "This Little Light of Mine," "The Ballad of Harry T. Moore," and "Young and Positive." They stopped periodically to speak about African American history and involved the children in call and response songs. Mrs. Obama watched the performance with daughters Sasha and Malia, along with their grandmother Marian Robinson.

After the performance, Mrs. Obama stood by the door and shook the hands of the children as they left. Over the last two weeks, the First Lady has spoken repeatedly about her desire to open the White House and become more involved in the Washington community. Her staff says this is just the first of many events for children at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

– Yunji de Nies

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