In churches or beauty shops or anyplace where groups of women gather — especially black women — it is not uncommon for them to talk about the advice they would like to pass on to the incoming first lady.
A group of women in upstate New York went one step further and decided to publish their words of wisdom for Michelle Obama in a book called Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady.
The poems and letters were compiled by two education specialists, Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, who are co-founders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at the University at Buffalo in New York.
The idea blossomed after the Obamas were portrayed as fist-thumping terrorists on a New Yorker magazine cover last July.
"The idea was growing really throughout the primary as we ... were watching Michelle coming forward and taking on a more active role and becoming a person that we could identify with and that we liked," Nevergold tells NPR's Michele Norris.
After the election, Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram decided to ask women to write letters of support, adulation and love to Michelle Obama because they thought she will "need that when she gets to the White House," Nevergold says.
Brooks-Bertram says that the themes that emerged in the book were twofold — sweet and gentle — but also those that "resonate and rise up" in a way they didn't expect.
"One of those themes has to do with the issue of the intraracial color line — and women who very clearly point out that it was very important for them that Michelle Obama was a recognizably black woman for example," Brooks-Bertram says. "That she wasn't light-skinned with blue eyes and still classified as black, but rather she was a black woman and that it gave them a whole new feeling about their own lives. I really thought that it was powerful, because that tends to be a subject that we don't go towards so readily because it has such deep pain associated with it."
Also, through the letters, many of the women seemed to be saying that the world might see them through a new lens because of Michelle Obama.
"This is particularly for women who are dark-skinned women who thought, 'Oh my goodness.' Like one woman who said: 'I now believe I can bring my black babies into this world,' " Brooks-Bertram says
Vonetta T. Rhodes
Dear Michelle, i have dreamed many times of womyn like you. i have often wondered what it was like to be partnered with a man who is your reflection and the lover of our people. Many moons ago, i watched you date the Senior Class President or the Captain of the Football Team in high school, and i admired the magnetism of your beauty. Later on in college, i witnessed you get courted by the Student Government President or the Minister of Information in the Black Student Union, i was in awe of your irrepressible strength. Then as i progressed through life, i saw you shine through your own personal achievements, and take on a mate whose "shine" you knew you could nurture beyond brilliance. i stood in amazement of your patience. i marvel over your equation of success. i ponder endlessly on your working formula for perfectly flowing love. i dig deeper into my mental recesses and ask how do you orchestrate your divine balance of motherhood, daughterhood, sisterhood, womynhood, marriage, professionalism, and faith? How do you actually achieve being a domestic goddess and a revolutionary at the same time? Then i conclude that Sister Michelle is within us all. When i behold her heights, i am witnessing the magnificent rising of my own rainbow within me . . . a wide, long, over-arching, blessing in the midst of life's illusionary ceilings and rainstorms — God's re-acquaintance with The Sun. To thank you is to acknowledge all of our history's greatest Queens: Great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, and friends. As Afrikan womyn, our heritage and pride never ends. Our legacy is to know that we never walk alone and our tradition is to defy being destroyed. We have come so far and endured so much for so long. Michelle, when your shoulders are weary and your back is resistant from the perseverance of the mission and the movement to remain standing — lean on me. i am here. The power of God is within us, and the universe awaits . . . "Ashay!" "It once was. It is so. It shall be."
Vonetta T. Rhodes is a resident of Buffalo, N.Y. She is a founding member of Malika Kambe Umfazi, a sorority that promotes academic, philanthropic, social and cultural growth for all women of Africa's Diaspora. Reprinted with permission from SUNY Press.