First Lady Michelle Obama turns 50 on Friday and President Barack Obama is throwing her a birthday party at the White House on Saturday. Word on the street is that guests have been told to come ready to dance.

She deserves to celebrate.

Michelle Obama has a passion for encouraging people in need, and black students in particular; she is an effective surrogate for the president, and she’s one of the most popular first lady’s in history.

Last month, as I stood next to Michelle Obama during a White House reception, we chatted briefly, and I was struck, as always, by her regal aura, her elegance, her humor — and the historic knowledge that a gifted black woman from the South Side of Chicago is overseeing the White House.

And as a national role model for young people and adults, Michelle Obama practices what she preaches: She eats healthy and exercises regularly.

“She’s at the top of her game,” Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend of the Obamas and a Senior White House adviser, told People magazine. “She’s fabulous at 50.”

Michelle Obama isn’t just all about parties leading up to her birthday: The first lady is also about uplifting black students and empowering black youth through health and education – the hallmark of her tenure in the White House. The first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign for healthy eating and her efforts to end childhood obesity within a generation has led to healthier school lunches for public school students.

This week, Michelle Obama hosted two White House events designed to support black students. Since President Obama took office in 2009, African American students have been regular guests for White House gatherings at the first lady’s direction.

On Thursday, the president and first lady hosted a workshop at the White House while announcing a new White House report entitled: “Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.”

The Obamas are leading an effort to urge more than 100 colleges to commit to expand college opportunities for low-income students, many of whom are African American. Several educators from historically black colleges attended the White House workshop Thursday, including administrators from Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Cheyney University, and Morgan State University.

“So my hope is that with this new effort, that instead of talking about our kids, we talk with our kids,” Michelle Obama said Thursday at the White House. “I want to hear what’s going on in their lives.  I want to inspire them to step up and commit to their education so they can have opportunities they never even dreamed of.  I’m doing this because that story of opportunity through education is the story of my life, and I want them to know that it can be their story, too, but only if they devote themselves to continuing their education past high school.”

“And for many students, that might mean attending a college or university like the ones many of you represent.  For others, it might mean choosing a community college,” Obama said. “It might mean pursuing short-term professional training.  But no matter what they do, I want to make sure that students believe that they have what it takes to succeed beyond high school.  That’s going to be my message to young people.

“But let’s be clear, all of that isn’t just a challenge for them,” she added. “It’s a challenge for folks like us, who are committed to helping them succeed.  And make no mistake about it, that is our mission — not simply giving speeches or raising money or hosting conferences, but to take real, meaningful action that will help our young people get into college, and more importantly, actually get their degree.”

On Wednesday, Michelle Obama led a discussion with educators, high school teachers and counselors, and college students after a White House screening of “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” a coming of age story about two inner-city youngsters who are left to fend for themselves in the Bronx.  The film stars Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks, and newcomers Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon. The film, produced by Alicia Keys, was released on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 in limited release.

The event on Wednesday, according to the White House, was part of the first lady’s ongoing efforts to speak directly to young people about committing to their education so that they can create a better future for themselves and their country.

Meanwhile, as Michelle Obama prepares to turn 50 on Friday, she told People Magazine that she is re-tooling her workout regimen so she stays in shape well into her 70s and 80s.

“I’m seeing myself shift from weight-bearing stuff – even though that continues to be important – and the heavy cardio and running, to things like yoga that will keep me flexible,” she said, “…so that I’m not falling and breaking a hip one day.”

Now that’s leading by example.

(AP Photo: In this Jan. 21, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama bows as he and first lady Michelle Obama, wearing a ruby-colored chiffon and velvet Jason Wu gown, gets ready to dance at the Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center.)

6 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Michelle Obama Celebrates 50 By Exercising, Empowering Black Students and Dancing at the White House

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