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June, 2013 Archives

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, stand in former South African President Nelson Mandela's cell as they listen to former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada during their tour of Robben Island Prison on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Leslie Robinson is pictured at left.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, stand in former South African President Nelson Mandela’s cell as they listen to former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada during their tour of Robben Island Prison on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Leslie Robinson is pictured at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, stand in former South African President Nelson Mandela’s cell as they listen to former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada during their tour of Robben Island Prison on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Leslie Robinson is pictured at left.:

June 30, 2013
"A quiet moment inside Nelson Mandela's former prison cell as the President embraced Sasha while the Obama family was listening to Ahmed Kathrada recount his years spent imprisoned here on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, initially in this prison cell. Kathrada was imprisoned at Robben Island for 18 years."

June 30, 2013
"A quiet moment inside Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell as the President embraced Sasha while the Obama family was listening to Ahmed Kathrada recount his years spent imprisoned here on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, initially in this prison cell. Kathrada was imprisoned at Robben Island for 18 years."
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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June 30, 2013 "A quiet moment inside Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell as the President embraced Sasha while the Obama family was listening to Ahmed Kathrada recount his years spent imprisoned here on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, initially in this prison cell. Kathrada was imprisoned at Robben Island for 18 years.":
First Lady Michelle Obama talks with two children while visiting the cultural center on Gorée Island

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with two children while visiting the cultural center on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

After our visit to the Martin Luther King School, we boarded a ferry to Goree Island, a small island off Senegal’s coast. For roughly three hundred years until the mid-1840s, countless men, women and children from Africa were kidnapped from their homes and communities and brought to this island to be sold as slaves. 

On our tour of the island, we saw the dark, cramped cells where dozens of people were packed together for months on end, with heavy chains around their necks and arms.  We saw the courtyard where they were forced to stand naked while buyers examined them, negotiated a price, and bought them as if they were nothing but property. And we saw what is known as “The Door of No Return,” a small stone doorway through which these men, women and children passed on their way to massive wooden ships that carried them across the ocean to a life of slavery in the United States and elsewhere – a brutal journey known as the “Middle Passage”. 

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Today, we arrived in South Africa, and I couldn’t be more excited, because two years ago, I visited this country for the first time with my mother and daughters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

On that visit, I met with young women leaders from across the continent who were serving their countries and their communities – educating young people, providing job training for women, working to combat poverty and violence and disease – often in the face of impossible odds.  I also had the chance to spend time with young people from here in South Africa: I danced with children at a daycare center, visited the University of Cape Town with local high school students, and took part in a children’s soccer clinic at one of the stadiums used in the 2010 World Cup.

I also had the chance to meet President Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, an experience that I will never forget.  Mandela – or “Madiba” as he’s referred to in South Africa – is truly a giant in world history.  As a young man, he led a movement against Apartheid – the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color, forcing them to live in separate neighborhoods and attend separate schools and prohibiting them from even voting in national elections.  For his defiance, Mandela was jailed for 27 years, and his struggle became a source of inspiration for people all around the world.

Mrs. Obama Meets With Former South African President Nelson Mandela
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at his home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. Mrs. Obama viewed items from President Mandela's archives earlier during a tour of the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

After he was finally released from prison in 1990, Mandela worked to dismantle the Apartheid state and replace it with a full democracy – and in 1994, four years after he was released from prison, he became the South Africa’s first black President. Today, Mandela is 94 years old. As I mentioned in my first post, he’s currently in the hospital, and he is very much in my thoughts and prayers right now. He has been such a source of hope for so many people for so long, and when I reflect on Mandela’s life and legacy, I think about his courage and determination – enduring nearly three decades in jail without ever giving up on his dream of a more just and equal South Africa. It’s amazing to think about everything he’s seen during his lifetime: the horrors of Apartheid, the quiet desolation of a jail cell, but also the realization of a vibrant South African democracy. I’m so glad that he lived to see the fruits of his struggle and sacrifice – and I’m so glad that he never gave up on his dream of a better country and a better world for future generations. As President Mandela once said, “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built.”

That’s exactly how I feel as well. And that’s why, during my time in South Africa, I’m going to once again reach out to as many young people as I can – and I’m going to try to connect these young people with young people back home in America as well. Because I know that if young people like you all can share your stories and learn from each other’s experiences, then we’ll all be able to keep moving forward, and together, we’ll be able to build upon Nelson Mandela’s legacy for years to come.

First Lady Michelle Obama hands a diploma to a graduating senior during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet High School for Health Sciences and Engineering at Historic Pearl High commencement ceremony, at the Howard C. Gentry Complex in Nashville, Tenn., May 18, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First Lady Michelle Obama hands a diploma to a graduating senior during the Martin...

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First Lady Michelle Obama hands a diploma to a graduating senior during the Martin…:

After having a lovely tea with Mrs. Sall, the First Lady of Senegal, we headed to the Martin Luther King (MLK) school, an all-girls middle school in Dakar, which is Senegal’s capital city. I had a chance to speak to about 150 members of the ninth grade class and their teachers. The girls put on a wonderful dance performance and delivered presentations they had prepared – in excellent English (they normally speak French). One of them even performed Etta James' "At Last," and she absolutely blew me away – let me tell you, that young woman could sing. 

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks in Senegal

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks as she and First Lady Marème Sall visit Martin Luther King Middle School, an all-girls school, in Dakar, Senegal.

June 27, 2013.

(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The First Lady talks with students

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with students in their classroom during a visit to Martin Luther King Middle School, an all-girls school, in Dakar, Senegal.

June 27, 2013.

(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The more time I spent with these extraordinary young women – girls living halfway across the world from where I was born in raised – the more I saw how similar their stories are to my own. Like my own parents, many of these girls’ parents never had the chance to get the kind of education they hoped for. And like the family I grew up in, many of their families don’t have much money. 

But no matter what challenges these girls are facing in their lives, they come to school every day eager to learn, and they spend hours each night studying and doing their homework. They also work hard to develop themselves as leaders, running their own student government and meeting with distinguished women leaders, including a number of CEOs and high-ranking government officials. And their hard work is paying off – students from MLK perform very well on their exams, and girls who graduate from this school go on to become accomplished businesswomen, scientists, artists, athletes and more. 

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for an official dinner at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for an official dinner at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for an official dinner at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013.:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet residents as they walk towards the dock on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet residents as they walk towards the dock on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet residents as they walk towards the dock on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.:

First Lady Michelle Obama looks out a window at local children during her visit to a cultural center on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.

First Lady Michelle Obama looks out a window at local children during her visit to a cultural center on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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First Lady Michelle Obama looks out a window at local children during her visit to a cultural center on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama look out the "Door of No Return" during their tour of the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama look out the "Door of No Return" during their tour of the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama look out the "Door of No Return" during their tour of the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.: