Continuing her trip through Africa, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured center) met with teens at Sci-Bono Discovery center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday afternoon.
Introduced by MTV Base Video Jockey, moderator Sizwe Dhlomo, Mrs. Obama took to the podium with Google Plus broadcasting students from Los Angeles; Kansas City, Kansas; New York City; and Houston.
After acknowledging former President Nelson Mandela‘s condition, the First Lady reminded students of their power, “In the coming years, all of you will be building the businesses, making the discoveries and drafting the laws and policies that will move our countries and our world forward for decades to come. So now more than ever before, we need you guys to step up as leaders; we need you to be engaged in the pressing challenges of our times.”
Mrs. Obama relayed to the audience that the freedom fighters of the anti-apartheid era and the Civil Rights Movement were the same age as they are now.
Mrs. Obama then explained that youth today should be inspired and motivated by the tenacity and perseverance of the youth who were killed during the Soweto uprising of 1976 as well as Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine, who were the first to desegregate an all-White high school amid threats and intimidation in 1957.
“See those students in Little Rock and Soweto…they came from families just like many of yours. Their parents were maids and janitors and factory workers, so they weren’t rich and they certainly weren’t powerful but these young people decided to face down bullets and beatings and abuse because they desperately wanted an education worthy of their potential. They wanted the same things that so many of you want today.
“They wanted a good education, they wanted to go to college, they wanted good jobs, they wanted to provide for families of their own and by taking a stand to change the course of their own lives, they changed the course of history.
“And today, all these years later, see so many of us are still benefiting from the sacrifices they made. I know that I stand here as First Lady of the United States of America and my husband is President because of those 9 men and women of Little Rock, Arkansas.”
After Mrs. Obama’s speech, the more than 200 students in attendance, who formerly sat in rapt attention, gave a rousing applause, appearing both moved and inspired.
The First Lady then transitioned to the conversation segment of the event, sitting down with 12th-grader Aubrey Baloyi, 10th-grader Mirriam Kgokane, 11th-grader Keamogetswe Rakgoadi, and 16-year-old Tebogo Tenyane in addition to singer John Legend who sat with students through the Google Plus broadcast in Los Angeles, and other students across the United States to discuss peer pressure, education, and success.
Unfortunately, the majority of South African youth face major hardships from the very beginning of their educational development.
In 1994, one-third of school-age children were reportedly illiterate and at least 2 million children were reportedly not enrolled in school because of high costs.
And even though school enrollment is no longer an issue, with 97 percent of school-age children currently attending school in South Africa, the low quality of the education has had a crippling effect on young people’s careers, with nearly 71 percent of the population between the ages of 14 and 34 unemployed, according to Aljazeera.
Consequently, Mrs. Obama made sure to re-emphasize the power of education, while using the sacrifices of others to propel oneself forward:
“But I want you to remember this: No one is born a rocket scientist. No one is born as President of the United States or of South Africa. No one is born being smart or successful. You become smart and successful through hard work –- by doing those math problems, writing those papers; by getting things wrong, and then trying and trying again until you finally get them right.
“And if you get discouraged, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to think about those students in Little Rock and Soweto. I want you to think about all the people throughout history who sacrificed so much for all of us.”
The First Lady’s most-recent stop in South Africa is her second country in her Africa tour. On Thursday, the First Lady met with First Lady Mariame Sall of Senegal before visiting an all-girls middle school in Dakar.
This visit is Mrs. Obama’s second time in South Africa. In 2011, she met with 76 women at the top of their fields at the Young African Leaders forum.