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'Go, Tell Michelle': Wisdom For The Future First Lady

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

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.