First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a simple yet profound message about America during her visit to China this week.
In her speech, which was delivered by satellite to 12,000 children participating in China’s distant learning program, Mrs. Obama spoke of the virtues of our country’s bedrock principles.
“We believe that no matter where you live or how much money your parents have, or what race or religion or ethnicity you are, if you work hard enough and believe in yourself, then you should have a chance to succeed,” the First Lady told the children.
Mrs. Obama is uniquely qualified to deliver the message. She was raised in a working class home in Chicago, went to Princeton and became a lawyer. And everyone knows her husband’s story -- a mixed race child raised by a single mother who is elected the nation’s first black president.
Michelle Obama’s maternal and paternal ancestors were slaves, and she referenced our country’s troubling history of slavery and racial discrimination in a very personal way.
“There have been times in our history where we have fallen short,” Mrs. Obama said.
“Many decades ago, there were actually laws in America that allowed discrimination against black people like me, who are a minority in the United States. But over time, ordinary citizens decided those laws were unfair.
“So they held peaceful protests and marches. They called on government officials to change those laws, and they voted to elect new officials who shared their views,” she said. “And slowly but surely, America changed.”
That is a core strength of America; we eventually get it right.
We are able to self-correct because the Founders were wise enough to establish that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were the God-given rights of individuals.
No, those concepts, which were revolutionary at the time, did not apply to all at first. For some, particularly blacks, it would take nearly 200 years to eradicate slavery and Jim Crow laws. But the fundamental truths of freedom and equality prevailed.
Mrs. Obama told the children, “That is the story of America.”
It’s a story those children need to hear.
A Human Rights Watch 2013 report said China remains “an authoritarian one-party system that placed arbitrary curbs on freedom of expression, association, religion, prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations.
The government censors the press, Internet and publishing industry, and enforces highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas.”
We know America is not perfect—far from it. We are a nation of people and people make mistakes. But that is why the Founders and the wise men and women who have followed them always return to the non-negotiable self-evident truths of individual freedom and equality that are our compass points.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast statewide by the Metronews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. Listen locally on WCHS 580 AM.