In a week where much attention was focused on maids and domestic workers, I had the unique opportunity of participating in a gathering at the White House that highlighted the ability and possibility of women – even maids in the 1960s – to transform societal norms.
At the invitation of First Lady Michelle Obama, I attended a screening for the acclaimed film, ‘The Help,’ on Wednesday at the White House. As the First Lady showcased this movie centered on ideas of unity and progress, I couldn’t help but take pride in the notion that this young Black woman who works tirelessly to overcome her own battles and uplift her generation, was among those blessed to be in attendance.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi, ‘The Help’ (based on the best-selling novel) focuses on three distinct women – two Black, one white – and their intertwining lives around the ideas of race, class, gender and power. The film, much like the theme at the White House’s screening, was that despite one’s racial background, we can unite and transform society. Perhaps if I was alive in the ‘60s, I would be able to comment more on what we went through as a people – and specifically as Black women. But as a child of the ‘80s, I found myself watching this film and focusing more on the tremendous accomplishments we have achieved.
It is absolutely remarkable that within a few decades since the setting of ‘The Help,’ we were able to gather at the nation’s capital, at the White House for that matter, and sit with the First Lady to analyze and discuss our progress. At the screening, Mrs. Obama said something that stuck with me: “What if Barack had given up …. What if Nelson Mandela had given up … ?” I even began thinking: “What if I had given up?”
We all have our struggles in life, and though we have obviously made gains, we have much work that remains. But what we cannot do is allow our challenges to hold us back from the greater good. I lost someone very close to me to senseless violence years ago, but today I use that tragedy to advocate for methods of eliminating guns from our streets. Out of every calamity comes hope and choices – you can either wallow in the grief or you can do something to prevent others from experiencing it.
The women from ‘The Help’ united and risked their lives to change the course of history. All it takes is one good person, no matter the color. And you never know who you may inspire – just as the First Lady once again inspired us all this week.