First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a breakout session at the Young African Youth Leaders Forum in Johannesburg. (Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)
First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a passionate keynote address at the U.S.-sponsored Young African Women Leaders Forum in Soweto today, in which she urged the group of women to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to tackle the tough issues that will help their communities and their nations move forward.
She made her remarks to a packed audience in the historic Regina Mundi Church, which served as a safe haven during an apartheid-era uprising that led to the loss of hundreds of young lives and served as a headquarters for political activism during that civil rights struggle.
That is the legacy of the independence generation, the freedom generation. And all of you-–the young people of this continent-–you are the heirs of that blood, sweat, sacrifice, and love,” she said. “So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance? What legacy will you leave for your children and your grandchildren? What generation will you be?”
Obama said that there are still many causes worth fighting for, such as banishing government corruption hunger, discrimination and the stigma of HIV/AIDS.
“You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption and protects the rights of every citizen to speak freely, to worship openly, to love whomever they choose,” the first lady said. “You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools.”
Obama pointed to her own experience and the decision that led her to pack in a high-paying position as a corporate attorney to begin training young adults to work in public service. To this day, she said, she continues to feel inspired watching young people gain the skills and confidence that enable them to go on to mentor and inspire others.
The first lady warned that taking on the continent’s problems won’t be easy, and their sacrifices will likely not be rewarded with fame, fortune or their names in history books, but they must not be bystanders as others suffer.
“You may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once,” she counseled. “But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”
Obama recalled her husband’s 2008 campaign mantra and told the group that if anyone ever doubts their ability to help build the future or tries to discourage them from doing so, “I want you to say with one voice—the voice of a generation—you tell them, ‘Yes, we can!’”
Check out BET.com for daily updates from the first lady's trip. Twitter users will be able to track updates about the first lady's experiences and interact with others who are following the trip with the hashtag #youngafrica.