Michelle Obama to Black Students: How Will You Contribute to America?

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  • First Lady Michelle Obama commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by inviting a group of predominantly black grade school students to the White House on Tuesday and showing them a documentary that chronicles the life of civil rights activist Whitney Young – who was raised in segregated Kentucky and became head of the National Urban League.

    The documentary “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” is narrated by actress Alfre Woodard and is special to the first lady because she graduated from the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago in 1981. The documentary was produced by Bonnie Boswell, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and Whitney Young’s niece.

    “And as you’ll see in this documentary, Whitney Young was one of the main organizers of that historic march, which gathered together hundreds of thousands of people of all races and all backgrounds with the important goal of making change,” Obama told the diverse group of students from Maryland and Virginia, including the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Southeast, D.C. “In fact, Mr. Young spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just a few minutes before Dr. King gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.”

    “But what we learned from this documentary is that Whitney Young drew on his decency,” the first lady said.  “He drew upon his intelligence and his amazing sense of humor to face down all kinds of discrimination and challenges and all kinds of threats.  But one of the things I want you guys to keep in mind, as Bonnie mentioned, is that what this documentary shows us is that there are so many unsung heroes in our history whose impact we still feel today, just regular folks.  They’re not always going to be the Barack Obamas, the Dr. Kings, the Malcolm Xs.”

    “For every Dr. King, there is a Whitney Young or a Roy Wilkins or a Dorothy Height, each of whom played a critical role in the struggle for change,” she added.  “And then there are the millions of Americans, regular folks out there, whose names will never show up in the history books.”

    Tuesday’s event at the White House auditorium was sponsored by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The goal of the initiative, according to the White House, is “Strengthening the nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages, and helping ensure that all African Americans receive an education that properly prepares them for college, productive careers, and satisfying lives.”

    The initiative was established by President Barack Obama to raise awareness about education and employment challenges facing African Americans and to close the achievement gap between black and white students.

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