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‘Uncrowned Queens’ project taps wellspring of goodwill for Michelle Obama
Story by Sue Wuetcher, Photo by Cheryl Gorski
Hometowns Baltimore, MD (Peggy) and Alexandria, LA (Barbara); Current writing projects Book on her maternal family (Barbara); biography of Drusilla Dunjee Houston (Peggy); Reflections from both on Go, Tell Michelle “One of the most pleasant surprises was the diversity of individuals who responded to the book, from various ethnic groups, men as well as women.”
A week after the 2008 presidential election, Barbara Seals Nevergold, PhD ’86 & EdM ’74, and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, PhD ’02, used the Internet—specifically the Uncrowned Queens listserv they maintain—to send out a call for people to express their hopes and advice for Michelle Obama through letters, poetry and recipes.
Their request spread across the country and around the world. Hundreds of letters poured in—from professors and poets, playwrights and religious leaders, musicians, retirees, and ordinary women.
Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady (SUNY Press, 2009), a book edited by Brooks-Bertram and Nevergold (pictured above from left), compiles a selection of these letters offering messages of hope and advice for the new First Lady. An accompanying audiobook read by the editors is expanded and unabridged.
“What is most fascinating,” says Brooks-Bertram, “is the fact that so many people from different parts of the country and from the African continent and the Caribbean also responded.”
The project had its genesis, Nevergold explains, during the presidential campaign as she watched Barack Obama’s journey to the White House gather momentum and Michelle Obama come into her own as a presidential candidate’s wife.
“Throughout the election, it became apparent that African Americans were becoming emotionally invested,” she says. “I felt such a sisterhood with Michelle Obama and a kinship.
“At the end of the election, I started to think, how can we as African American women share with her our feelings about the new role she’s going to take?”
For their efforts, Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram, both senior educational specialists and cofounders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at UB, were interviewed by numerous news outlets, among them the Associated Press, Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer, Chicago Tribune and NPR’s All Things Considered. In July, they were honored by New York governor David A. Paterson as New York State Women of Excellence.
While the messages Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram collected were as diverse as the senders, the sentiments overwhelmingly were of love and the desire to let Michelle Obama know she is not alone in her new role.
“There were so many messages that said, ‘We never thought we’d live to see the day that a black man was elected president,’” recalls Nevergold. “Many letters said their ancestors were smiling down on this event.”
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