By Annika McGinnis
WASHINGTON, July 30 –
(Reuters) – First lady Michelle Obama embraced her family’s African roots in a speech on Wednesday, telling a group of young Africans that the “blood of Africa” runs through her veins as she urged changing traditional beliefs on the worth of educating women.
Her husband had shied away from discussing his African heritage in his own remarks to the 500 Africans finishing a six-week Washington leadership fellowship on Monday, referencing his Kenyan father only once and in the question-and-answer session. But Michelle Obama said as an African American woman, her discussion with the African youth was “deeply personal.”
“The roots of my family tree are in Africa,” the first lady told the cheering crowd. “My husband’s father was born and raised in Kenya. Members of our extended family still live there. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Africa many times over the years, including four trips as first lady, and I have brought my mother and my daughters along whenever I can.”
“The blood of Africa runs through my veins, and I care deeply,” Obama said, addressing her listeners as her “brothers” and “sisters.”
Three months before congressional elections that could determine the fate of much of President Obama’s platform, Michelle Obama’s popularity remains high while her husband’s has sunk.
The White House is making women’s empowerment a theme in a Washington African leaders summit next week. Michelle Obama said problems with girls’ education often stemmed from traditional “attitudes and beliefs” that exist even in the United States and lead to issues such as the gender pay gap and an underrepresentation of women in leadership.
She said men worldwide needed to “look into their hearts and souls and ask if they truly view women as their equals.”
“I am who I am today because of the people in my family, particularly the men in my family, who valued me and invested in me from the day I was born,” Obama said.
“And as I grew up, the men who raised me set a high bar for the type of men I’d allow into my life – which is why I went on to marry a man who had the good sense to fall in love with a woman who was his equal, to treat me as such – a man who supports and reveres me, and who supports and reveres our daughters as well,” Obama said.
(Reporting by Annika McGinnis; editing by Andrew Hay)