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The third Obama Foundation Summit was held in Chicago this week. Ava Duvernay, Dolores Huerta, and Billy Porter were some of the speakers, along with President and Mrs. Obama. Attendees got a look at the designs for the Obama Presidential Center.
The theme this year was “Places Reveal Our Purpose” and Michelle and her brother, Craig Robinson, spoke with Isabel Wilkerson in a session titled “There’s no place like home,” about growing up in Chicago. Michelle didn’t mince words for the white people in attendance, reminding them that they are still participating in white flight:
Former first lady Michelle Obama shared painful memories of growing up in Chicago’s South Side and gave a reminder to white people in attendance at the Obama Foundation Summit on Tuesday: “Y’all were running from us, and you’re still running,” she said.
Obama was talking about the white flight she experienced growing up in a South Side neighborhood. “White flight” is when white people leave increasingly diverse areas in large numbers.
Obama, whose mission was all about fitness during her time in the White House, said she noticed white families packing up their bags and heading for other parts of the city and state of Illinois to be away from black people.
With her brother, New York Knicks executive Craig Robinson, by her side, Obama said their family was doing everything they were supposed to do and sometimes better. “As we moved in, white folks moved out, because they were afraid of what our families represented,” she said during the Chicago event.
Michelle described the shift that happened in her neighborhood as white flight became common:
White flight reduced the city’s capital for schools, infrastructure and other community resources, something Obama noticed when she was growing up. She said she felt a sense of injustice as a child because she could see and feel that people were running from families like hers. She noted that she and her brother had friends of all races when they first moved in.
“There were no gang fights; there were no territorial battles. Yet one by one, they packed their bags, and they ran from us. And they left communities in shambles,” she said during her time of plugging the Obama Presidential Center to be built in Jackson Park, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The BBC has some video here. I love that Michelle brought up white flight and made a connection to the reaction by many white people to today’s immigrants. I admit that I hadn’t thought about the parallel, but it’s accurate and worth pointing out, especially to anybody who says that problems that happened “a long time ago” are no longer relevant and can’t teach us anything. They are, they are still happening, and the past is a great teacher.
In the video, you can tell that Michelle is upset by both the memories of this from her childhood and the fact that white flight is still occurring. She’s no-nonsense and doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat this horrendous reality for her audience. Her implicit message, or one of them is, “Get your sh-t together, white people.” In the video, she says, “Artificial things that don’t even touch on the values that people bring to life” are the things that “‘divide countries.” I know people say this all the time, but I really miss having a thoughtful first couple who want to talk seriously about the problems that we are facing as a nation and what we can possibly do about them.
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Yesterday at the #ObamaSummit, I was thrilled to spend time with leaders from the @girlsopportunityalliance community. From Ethiopia to Guatemala to Vietnam, these women and men face different challenges, but they share the same dream: a world where every girl has the chance to pursue her education and fulfill her potential. That’s why they’re working so hard to break boundaries, start new conversations in their communities, and provide crucial support and resources to adolescent girls. I know that it’s difficult, sometimes isolating work, but these remarkable leaders are showing up each day, hoping to make a difference for girls who deserve so much. And after our time together yesterday, I can tell that they’re doing just that. I’m so proud of each of them.