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Michelle Obama honors women in civil rights

By David Hudson/Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the White House
On March 9, 2015

Michelle Obama at a Black History Month panel discussion at the White House.
Amanda Lucidon/White House

( - In 1957, Carlotta Walls, a 14-year-old African-American girl living in Little Rock, Arkansas, elected to attend Little Rock Central High School. One of the nine students who desegregated the school, Carlotta was subjected to constant bullying, physical abuse, and violent attacks. Her parents’ home was bombed in February of 1960. Shortly after, she earned her high school diploma.

In 1961, Charlayne Hunter became the first African-American woman to attend the University of Georgia. Enduring everyday bigotry and racial slurs, and bottles and bricks thrown at her windows, Charlayne went on to get her degree – which has since propelled her to a successful career as a journalist with NPR, PBS, CNN, and the New York Times.

These are just two of the influential women who took part in a special panel discussion at the White House in celebration of Black History Month. Moderated by Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa De Luca, the panel brought together five women who have played critical roles in America’s progress on civil rights.

They are: Carlotta Walls LaNier, youngest member of the Little Rock Nine; Charlayne Hunter-Gault, activist and journalist; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Janaye Ingram, national executive director, National Action Network; and Chanelle Hardy, senior vice president for policy, National Urban League.

First Lady Michelle Obama said in her introductory remarks, what connects each of these panelists’ stories is a “hunger for and belief in the power of education.”

“At some point in their journeys, these women understood that if they were going to reach their potential – if they were going to make a difference not just for themselves but for this country. They would have to get a good education. Every woman on this stage graduated from college. And some of them did it at tremendous risk to themselves and to their families.” She continued, “Thanks to their sacrifice, there are no angry mobs gathering outside our schools. Nobody needs a military escort to get to class.”

But the First Lady also explained that too many of our children still face struggles related to education, and detailed the work that remains: too many of our young people attend crumbling schools that don’t have the technology, or the college prep classes, or the college counseling they need to complete their education past high school. And too many of our young people can’t even envision a better future for themselves – or if they do, they aren’t connecting their dreams to the education they’ll need. “If we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person,” said Obama. “We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks.”

David Hudson is associate director of content for the White House Office of Digital Strategy.

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