WHITE HOUSE — First lady Michelle Obama said Monday the contributions of African-Americans to the United States are far too many and important to be celebrated for only a month, and instead should be studied and commemorated by the nation throughout the year.
“Let’s celebrate it for every single day of every single year–forever and ever,” Obama told spectators during a special Black History Month program at the White House. “We have contributed so much to this nation and this planet.
“We have to make sure our young people understand where they come from and how valuable they are and how valuable that history is so that they know they have a solid foundation upon which to soar.”
Obama’s comments were made after 51 young Washington students performed at a day-long dance workshop held in the White House in honor of Black History Month.
The students performed special dances signifying the history of black dance after being trained and choreographed for three hours by four of the nation’s top dancers–Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Judith Jamison, dancer, choreographer and “Different World” television director Debbie Allen, the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson and hip-hop choreographer Fatima Robinson.
The girls performed a variety of genres, including African tribal, modern, classical ballet and hip-hop.
Obama called the students the “living legacy” of the choreographers who trained them.
“Your presence here today is very much the result of the risks they took, because of the sacrifices they made and the grinding hard work they put in hour after hour, year after year, rehearsing until their body ached and their lungs burned and they never wanted to put on that leotard again,” she said.
“For nearly 50 years, the women who are gracing us with the presence here today have been a driving force in the cultural life of this nation. From tribal dance, to freedom songs, to modern dance, to hip-hop, their work has stirred our souls and ignited our imagination.”
Obama also discussed the hardships black dancers have faced in the past.
“It wasn’t that long ago that many major dance companies wouldn’t hire black dancers,” she said. “The few dancers who were hired were sometimes asked to wear white pancake makeup to hide their face from the audience. Some of the women who are with us today felt the sting of that discrimination first hand.”
As she wrapped up the event, Obama congratulated the young dancers on their performances.
“What you all just did today–showing up at the White House, learning from dancing legends, and then coming out in front of the media and performing like that,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing you all cannot do.”