Three weeks after Inauguration Day in 2009 and still a long way from crafting an agenda, Michelle Obama climbed into her motorcade and paid a visit to Mary’s Center, a Latino community services agency a few miles north of the White House. She read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” to the young children and met with teenagers who asked why she had come.
The first reason, she said, was that Washington was now the Obamas’ home and they had always been taught to listen and not just pass on by. The second reason identified the audience and framed the approach that would define this most uncommon first lady’s agenda for the next eight years.
“I think it’s real important for young kids, particularly kids who come from communities without resources, to see me, not the first lady,” she said. “To see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles that happen. There is no magic dust.”
With the 13 teenagers seated in a semicircle, Obama shared the setbacks and self-doubt she faced as the daughter of black working-class parents in Chicago. When people told her she couldn’t achieve something, she set out to prove them wrong. One step at a time, she climbed, and now she felt an obligation to share.
“When you get, you give back,” she said.