Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 4 - Michelle Obama & Asma Khalid

[Click here for part 1, part 2 & part 3]

4.  Michelle Obama

After a long day and night of rehearsal, Leslie still lights up when you talk about playing Aaron Burr. “Lin is asking you to bring your complete and total self to stage—all you joy, all your rage, all your pain, your capacity for fun.” But, he says, is “arguably the best role for a male actor of color in the musical theater canon.”
“Ev-er. You get to show all of your colors. Nobody asks us to do that.”
 - Interview with Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Michelle Obama has broken the rules and surpassed the expectations for people of color, women, and the First Lady of the United States of America. As Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton fame celebrated in the character of Aaron Burr, Michelle Obama has shown all of her colors, with beauty, depth, dignity, and pride.

Mrs. Obama continued the tradition of capturing an feeling of Presidential royalty carrying herself with exemplary hospitality and grace in formal state dinners and other important Presidential events. She was never hesitated to humanize the highest office in with fun, humor, often poking fun at herself. This trip to CVS with Ellen DeGeneres is one example of many of her humility and sense of humor.

In the greatest date movie of the year “Southside With You,” we saw the First Lady’s younger self. In this film, we saw her struggle with her identity and her aspirations. Through the film, we saw her insecurities, and her flaws. Not many people would be willing to let others show the world their origin story.

The most powerful moment of Mrs. Obama’s incredible year, wasn’t just an expression of one part of herself, it was a speech that showed the world the whole spectrum within herself.  It was a speech that brought together her grace, dignity and insecurities. It was courageous, powerful, and humanizing. It was the speech where she spoke out against him.

After that guy's most offensive words were leaked, the reactions from our society were disheartening. While many were outraged, far too many were slow to criticize him and we watched in confusion as people who defended him, revealed their own sexism.

In all of the confusion, one voice rose above them all, Michelle Obama. She transformed a campaign speech in support of Secretary Clinton into a remarkable display of her intelligence, her thoughtfulness and her empathy. This speech in New Hampshire in October was unforgettable.

Mrs. Obama started talking about her pride she had in her colleagues, but as she reflected on her feeling about his words, her voice changed. We could hear in her voice how she was “shaken to the core,” and she uncharacteristically hesitated as she opened up. She fought through her fear, and discomfort and kept it together.

Mrs. Obama’s initial description of sexual harassment on paper is not disturbing, but with the emotion in her words, it was devastating. When she went further to describe the horror of sexual assault, the helplessness of the glass ceiling, the shared pain across generations of women and the dignity robbed of countless woman, it all painfully came to life. The crowd, filled with woman, cheered the First Lady on, for making sense of these feelings, for saying words others were too afraid to speak, and for showing us all a path to a better future.

His apology displayed no reflection, and no understanding of the his true sins. He made no atonement by speaking out against sexual harassment or quelling the constant sexist chants during his rallies or forbidding the selling of sexist merchandise. He proposed no policy changes to help women’s issues and didn’t meet with women’s groups to build bridges. His apology was meaningless.

Michelle Obama ensured that millions will never forget what this guy said. She is right, “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” And the measure of a man is how he treats women.  By this measure, that guy fall shockingly short of being considered even a man. “Guy,” or “boy” is a sufficient label for him.

Mrs. Obama, as I write this, I feel myself tearing up. I don’t know how to thank you. I just know that you have made me so proud to be an American and to call you my First Lady. I will never forget your words and I will never forget you. I promise to take your inspiration and pass it on to my students and my son.  Even though I'm not sure how I'm  say goodbye to you as our First Lady, I am comforted knowing that I will not have to say goodbye to you.

[Fist bump]

3. Asma Khalid 

I am blessed to have friends who are Muslim.

I wasn’t looking for Muslim friends and when I met them, I didn’t think about this facet of their identity until they brought it up in passing.  Their identity as Muslims has opened up a beautiful culture and history to me.  Most importantly, their friendship put a face and a connection to an essential part of our society that experienced shameful discrimination and hate in the past year. Many in our country are not blessed to have people who are Muslim in their lives.  So for many, including myself, a Muslim voice came into our lives, over the radio and the internet and brought us knowledge, perspective and hope. That voice was Asma Khalid.

National Public Radio (NPR) has one of the finest political journalism team in America. These professionals are a counter to every single criticism of reporters, the news and the media. They report without bias, their work is well-researched and fact checked, they do deep and meaningful reporting and include a wide variety of perspectives in their work.

The NPR political team, worked tirelessly through the election to present a view of the events that was absent of sensationalism (and yelling). They set a high standard of journalism and one of the important people on their team was Asma Khalid.

Week after week Khalid talked to people all over America.  Whenever attacked with hate or prejudice, she responded with as a reporter with patience, letting these people tell their story. She took words of hate, did not retaliate and embraced her subjects as people.  Khalid did what so few seemed to be able to do during this election: listen to each other with respect and dignity. After the dust settled, she made her most courageously move, presenting this unforgettable story about what it meant to be a Muslim reporting on the campaign trail.

This column and accompanying podcast presented an revealing and powerful reflection on her struggles as a reporter and the beautiful bond between the reporters of NPR.  This story revealed her unbelievable bravery, incredible acceptance of those who would not tolerate her and a exemplary level of journalist integrity, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While so many succumbed to their baser emotions and fears, Khalid stood tall and refused to give in.

We are blessed to have great journalist play an essential role in our democracy and it is diverse voices of people like Khalid that bring relevance and strength of journalism in America. We may not all be blessed to have friends who are Muslim, but we are all blessed to have Asma Khalid reporting for all of us.

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