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Representation as motivation

Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy

I’ve never cried from happiness before. I’ve cried for anger, for grief, for frustration, for reasons of being overwhelmed. But “happy tears” has only ever been an expression I knew of and never needed to use. These big ol’ crocodile tears you’d only expect when the world is falling apart suddenly had new meaning in this moment of joy where my chest expanded to make room for all of the happiness, validation and excitement that I felt.

On Wednesday night, March 28, Michelle Obama walked on to the Oracle Arena stage and every inch of my body cried out to her in gratitude.

I’ve been struggling this year with so many questions about being in impact space: How can I drive change when then organizations that claim to do that work will not hire people who look like me? Why should I bother?

I’ve struggled with how to relay the experience that, for me, was so deeply moving and validating of all of the insecurities I’ve had as a Woman of Color not only pursuing an advanced degree, but at the barest, what it means to be a Black woman in a world that was never created to nurture my magic.

Michelle nurtured all our magic that night.

She brought truth and value to work so many of us do to create access to opportunities for the most vulnerable of us. I wasn’t sure how to tell this story. I want to be able to tell you all the concrete and tangible points of conversation and advice that occurred Wednesday night. So, in an effort to capture that technical and adaptive pieces of this experience, this enlightenment, I thought I’d share a list of the lessons and “Aha” moments that came from hearing Michelle Obama speak:

  1. “It’s hard to aspire to something you can’t see; To see what can be achieved.” I began my professional career working with young people, wanting to help cultivate relationships and support I never felt like existed for me when I began navigating the world. My approach to education was always from a supplemental perspective. National programs like Let’s Move and Let Girls Learn and Reach Higher influenced the curriculum that I developed for the young women I worked with. The young girls I worked with, some as young as fourth grade almost exclusively grew up (are growing up) in a world where Michelle Obama has always existed. There were times I envied them and others, I appreciated them for growing up in a time where I could point out women who looked like them that were changing the world.  I didn’t have idols growing up. I had role models, folks I knew in attainable places and for that, I have always been thankful. But there were no idols. No Black women in positions to drive impact on national and international scales, and specifically to cast light on the beauty and the challenges that come with being that person.
  2. The name of the place doesn’t matter if it’s not for you.
  3. Passion is a journey. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard and it taken time and again to reach it. This semester has been one of the most difficult of my life. Overworked, overcommitted and not financially stable, I was ready to go home to New York. I ached for it. And I had planned on it — a much needed treat to re-center myself on getting through the rest of this year to graduation.  My trip was booked for Wednesday March 28, 2019. On a Monday night, 36 hours before I was to board a plane, I received news that my essay had been selected to hear Michelle Obama speak and that I would be attending the talk at Oracle Arena with the very mentor who has helped me shape my passion into a viable future. What are the odds?
  4. We’re constantly evolving. There are dips and we come up. Don’t lose heart too soon. Disappointment has to exist if you’re ever going to experience that victory. You have to know what they low point is. 
  5. Don’t get too comfortable in the seats given to you. Take risks.
  6. Develop your bench!
  7. What didn’t we do? What were the fights that we didn’t take on? What are we ignoring to stay where we area? What work didn’t we do for our daughters?

Examples of accomplished Black women in the public eye are few and far between (though, thankfully we are now in a space where that list is ever-growing and receiving mainstream attention); I relish the opportunity I had to hear Michelle Obama speak to her innovative work and the process and experiences she endured to bring them to fruition; and the fight that exists to keep her work in existence. 

Michelle Obama is a beacon — and has always been a beacon from the second we were introduced to her. For many of us, we didn’t see ourselves in the greater tapestry of America and the Global economy until she gracefully and forcefully entered our lives. For many of us, her continued fight is why we continue to push forward.

I would like to thank Mills for providing me the opportunity to share a space where my spirit was fed, my intellect validated and encouraged and my heart was full not only with my mentor and professor, Darcelle Lahr, but with a community of fellow Millsies that are now part of my Mills family.

This is experience was elevated because it brought us all together in a way that reinforced what I think is all of our commitments to the communities that shaped us and the world which may not always provide us opportunities for success but through one another and Mills, we create together, for one another.