“I love your wife,” I said. “I do too,” he said.
And so went my one and only exchange with our President, then candidate, Barack Obama. At the time I was certainly fascinated by the electrifying young senator but I wasn't sold on his readiness to be the President of the United States.
I came to my endorsement for Barack Obama through the image of Michelle.
Like many modern feminists, I was completely impressed by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s preparedness for the White House. Finally, here was a woman who had a legit shot at winning. My first American hero was Shirley Chisholm. I saw her on TV as a little girl in the most spectacular embroidered coatdress campaigning for President and from that moment on, the idea of a woman President was seared in my imagination.
I had seen Hillary in action. She was a guest speaker at The Essence Music Festival in New Orleans the first year back after the horror of Katrina. Hundreds of still shell-shocked New Orleanian women packed the auditorium. Clinton sat in conversation with activist Reverend Marcia L. Dyson for well over an hour. She was engaged, she was thoughtful, and she was prepared. Hillary did her homework; she knew the history of Essence and had a vision for the future of New Orleans. Though she didn't have the color and style of Shirley, Hillary Clinton was indeed a Presidential possibility and I was psyched.
Then I met her.
My friend, filmmaker Shola Lynch, who I coincidentally met at a White House Project awards dinner (the White House Project is committed to the advancement of leadership of women in business and government, with the ultimate goal of getting a woman as President) made the incredible introduction. I was presenting Shola with an honor for her terrific documentary about my shero, Unbought and Unbossed: Chisholm 72. Shola and her Chicago-born, Harlem-based politician husband Vincent Morgan, were early and fervent Obama enthusiasts. One now unforgettable Sunday afternoon, Shola took me to a "Women of Harlem Present Michelle Obama" program. It was in a simple and a bit worn, low lit, uneventful room. About 60 upwardly mobile uptown women of all ages and interests filled it up. Michelle stepped to the small platform, grabbed the mic and then it began. She lit the space and our hearts on fire.
Michelle O, of course, is a striking statuesque figure. Her presence has power, yet she is so easy in it. Michelle wears power like an Isabel Toledo pantsuit, exquisitely, elegantly and effortlessly. She didn't give a pre-packaged speech. She talked to us like we were her fierce sisters; and in an instant, we were. She was authoritative without a trace of arrogance. She stood on her long sturdy legs like a beautiful and brave woman warrior who had fought and won all her bloody battles. She had a specific message for us as Black woman without the baggage of the “Black woman's burden”. Ms. Obama presented herself like a free woman, for real. She was free to be smart, free to be stylish, free to be funny, free to be fierce, free to be successful, free to be dignified, free to be compassionate and passionate, free to own her happiness and love her man, the next President of the United States, with a mighty, mighty love.
Ms. Obama presented herself like a free woman, for real.
Michelle Obama was nice with hers and I knew any man who had the intelligence, courage and the vision to choose her had what the next President desperately needed— intelligence, courage and vision. I looked at his most personal choice first, who he chose as his partner that says everything about a man’s character. Then I looked into his policies and after that great day in Harlem, Barack Obama became my candidate and ultimately America’s President.
For me, President and Ms. Obama were always a package deal. And as we survive this anxiety-ridden election, with all that's at stake for Black folks and all Americans, I really can't stomach the thought of losing the first fly First Lady. America and especially Black women need four more years of the image of Michelle Obama. We need another full term of seeing a self-actualized, educated, executive, beautiful, bold, brilliant "Black from a distance" (a term I learned via Melissa Harris-Perry via her bestie Professor Blair L.M. Kelley) woman who is in a loving equal relationship with the most powerful man in the free world. We need more time to absorb what it looks like for a woman to not only not lose her identity, but also flourish and evolve in a marriage with an incredibly ambitious, competitive and attractive black man. We need four more years of seeing Barack's hand nestle in the small of her back and four more years of secret sexy smiles exchanged in stadiums of strangers. We crave four