Mrs. Obama. Michelle. May I call you Michelle? I feel like we’d be friends in real life.
You and I have many things in common, Michelle. We have the same maiden name, we are strong, driven women who were attracted to charming, determined, brilliant men. We care about our communities, we graduated from public high schools, and have a soft spot for children—especially children who aren’t afforded the same chances to succeed as many of their peers.
We are from beautiful cities with troubled pasts. Rich with a painful history, but full of so much promise.
You gave a beautiful and touching speech this week that could stir even the most staunch of Republicans. You shared the story of the young Hadiya Pendleton.
“We all know Hadiya’s story. She was 15 years old, an honor student at King College Prep. And she came from a good family -– two devoted parents, plenty of cousins, solid godparents and grandparents, an adoring little brother. The Pendletons are hardworking people. They’re churchgoing folks. And Hadiya’s mother did everything she could for her daughter. She enrolled her in every activity you could imagine -– cheerleading, majorettes, the praise dance ministry -– anything to keep her off the streets and keep her busy..
And as I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya’s funeral, I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya’s family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up, and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School, and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine.
And Hadiya? Oh, we know that story. Just a week after she performed at my husband’s inauguration, she went to a park with some friends and got shot in the back because some kid thought she was in a gang. Hadiya’s family did everything right, but she still didn’t have a chance. And that story -– the story of Hadiya’s life and death –- we read that story day after day, month after month, year after year in this city and around this country.”
Michelle, a very similar incident happened in my city last month, just a few blocks from the apartment I will soon share with my new husband. Like you, I mourn that young life, so full of potential, stolen away by a gang member in a nonsensical shooting.
But here is where we differ: while you call for strengthening laws and government programs in the name of keeping these children safe, I recognize that it is many of those laws and government programs that turn the young men and women in our communities into criminals and victims.
It is, after all, the laws of The Man that make criminals; much more so than the vices of young men.
Only 33% of black men aged 16-24 are currently employed, compared to 54% of white men of the same age, which certainly isn’t helped by mandating that the minimum wage employers must pay keeps rising, yet the economy has been slow in improving. There are more than 2 million Americans behind bars, many of them for nonviolent drug crimes. We are not a nation that teaches our children to be caring and productive adults, instead we throw them into prison at a rate higher than any society in history.
We are way behind the curve in Alabama, especially when it comes to school choice. Chicago has made huge strides there. But instead of giving our kids the best chances to succeed, we are telling them that they must stay in the schools that, even with their low academic standards, are graduating less than half of their kids.
This government is also supposed to be the answer?
In my city of Birmingham this year we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement. A movement that abolished laws. A movement that finally bestowed negative rights on an entire group of people who had previously been treated as second-class.
Michelle, you have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. You come under criticism everyday—for being the first black First Lady, for being a progressive Democrat, for promoting policies with which millions of people disagree. I am frequently one of those voices decrying the government intervention you promote, but please understand; I really, truly believe we have the same heart for these young children. Please, Michelle, look at the history of the Civil Rights movement, look at what government has legislated into being, and consider what could happen if we allowed families to remain whole, young men to be employed, and these precious children to pursue educational opportunities outside of the failing schools their zip codes have placed them in.