Tuesday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured at podium) greeted a group of mostly Black grade school students at the White House to screen a documentary on the life of civil rights leader Whitney Young. Delivering a firm message regarding the importance of education and striving for excellence, Mrs. Obama was certain to remind the students of the sacrifices made by those before them.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 “March On Washington,” the screening of “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight For Civil Rights” was fitting. Young, a hero of labor unions and a social work trailblazer, was one of the many organizers of the historic march. A Kentucky native, Young would go on to lead the National Urban League and was later named the president of the National Association of Social Workers.
Young’s niece, Bonnie Boswell (pictured), the Emmy Award-winning director of the film, spoke of the challenges of putting the film together and shared fond memories before Mrs. Obama took the podium.
From the First Lady’s speech:
Whitney Young was one of the main organizers of that historic march, which gathered together hundreds of thousands of people of all races and all backgrounds with the important goal of making change. In fact, Mr. Young spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just a few minutes before Dr. King gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
Whitney Young drew on his decency. He drew upon his intelligence and his amazing sense of humor to face down all kinds of discrimination and challenges and all kinds of threats. But one of the things I want you guys to keep in mind, as Bonnie mentioned, is that what this documentary shows us is that there are so many unsung heroes in our history whose impact we still feel today, just regular folks. They’re not always going to be the Barack Obamas, the Dr. Kings, the Malcolm Xs.
Mrs. Obama checked the students and guests on their knowledge of Young’s achievements, which many in attendance did not know. She then posed a challenge to the students, asking them if they will assume the mantle when they grow older.
“Barack Obama at your age didn’t know he was going to be president of the United States, would have bet money that he wouldn’t,” said Mrs. Obama. “I never thought I’d be the first lady of the United States. But let me tell you something, we prepared ourselves. As Whitney Young did, as Dr. King did.”
Stressing once more the seriousness of the matter by saying education will open doors, Mrs. Obama drew laughter by saying,”It ain’t rappin’, it ain’t dancin.’ It is learning to read and write in an outstanding way.”
Watch Mrs. Obama’s speech here:
The screening and discussion event was sponsored in part by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and its executive director David J. Johns.