Michelle Obama’s stop in London was very brief, but it left a powerful impression on some of Britain’s teenage girls, particularly students from The Mulberry School for girls in Tower Hamlets.
The First Lady visited the school on Tuesday as part of her ‘Let Girls Learn’ campaign, a project aimed at empowering and encouraging girls to get into education and achieve their full potential. Her choice of school has been debated extensively in the media (as you do), with some criticizing FLOTUS for choosing a school whose students are mainly muslims of Bangladeshi origin rather than a ‘proper British’ school that reflected British society. By this we’re guessing these critics would prefer if the First Lady had visited a school with predominantly white students of course.
In case the essence of the visit was lost on some, let us break it down for you. This school is the perfect school for Michelle’s visit, why? Because it’s exactly the type of school where pupils are likely to face discrimination and low expectation because 1. They’re muslims and as the media has been telling us- all muslims are terrorists. If anyone can tell them not to listen to the negative stereotype associated with their religion or the fact that they wear headscarves, it’s Michelle Obama, because she has first hand knowledge of fighting prejudice and discrimation.
2. They’re girls. Girls (women) are less likely to hold a senior or boardroom level position in the world we live in right now and the gender pay gap is still way too wide, so we’re sure you’d agree that some much needed inspiration and empowerment is needed in this area.
Obama told the girls that despite what people (the media) were saying about their religion (Islam), they owed it to themselves to plough on and be whomever they wish to be, even if it’s just to rile the haters (she didn’t really say that bit, but you get the picture).
Doubtless that many students from Mulberry School for girls would have gone home on Tuesday having been invigorated by that speech (with the added bonus of copious amounts of hugs, jealous much). They would have looked themselves in the mirror and thought, actually, damn right I can, I can be a lawyer or a doctor or an astronaut if I work hard and give it my best shot no matter what anyone says.
Being a black girl from a working class family trying to find her way in America, The First Lady has a first hand experience of what it means to be a minority and the challenges faced to get your voice heard and achieve the same level of success of people of more privilege or a different race.
Her message is clear; don’t allow yourself to become a victim of circumstance. If society beats you down and tries to tell you that you can’t be successful, laugh in their face, pick yourself up and just go for it. That’s a message we need to keep telling our girls, so they never forget. Every girl matters, you matter, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.