BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The voices of women whose stories are rarely
told have been gathered by two scholars at the University at
Buffalo to offer Michelle Obama messages of love, hope, admiration
and support as she becomes the United States' first African
American First Lady.
The women's words are being compiled into a book, "Go, Tell
Michelle: African American Women's Letters to the New First Lady,"
by Barbara Seals Nevergold, Ph.D., and Peggy Brooks-Bertram,
Dr.P.H., Ph.D., UB senior educational specialists and co-founders
of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on
Women at UB.
The book will be published in January 2009 by SUNY
Press/Excelsior Editions (Albany, N.Y.). The goal is to have the
book in Michelle Obama's hands by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20,
The project had its genesis, Nevergold explains, in the 2008
presidential campaign as she watched President-elect Barack Obama's
journey to the White House gather momentum and his wife, Michelle,
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?"
A week after the election, Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram used the
Internet to send out a call for people to express their hopes and
advice for Michelle Obama through letters, poetry and recipes.
Starting with an Uncrowned Queens listserv they maintain, their
request spread across the country and around the world.
"We were interested in ordinary women who've fallen into
historical obscurity and who have never imagined themselves writing
a letter like this to the next First Lady," says
The response was enormous. Hundreds and hundreds of letters poured in, from
professors and poets, playwrights and religious leaders, musicians,
retirees and ordinary women. Eighth-grade students from Buffalo
Prep sent letters. Residents of Kenya, Cameroon, Liberia and
countries in the Caribbean sent letters. African Americans from
around the country as well as Native Americans sent letters.
The messages were as diverse as the senders, but overwhelmingly
the sentiments were of love and the desire to let Michelle Obama
know she is not alone in her trip to the White House.
"There were so many messages that said 'we never thought we'd
live to see the day that a black man was elected president,'" says
Nevergold. "Many letters said their ancestors were smiling down on
While only 100 letters will be published as part of "Go, Tell
Michelle," Nevergold says all the letters they receive will be
included in an online digital repository available at the Uncrowned
Queens Web site at http://wings.buffalo.edu/uncrownedqueens/.
"Go, Tell Michelle" will be available through the SUNY Press at http://www.sunypress.edu.
Nevergold and Brooke-Bertram call the book an "excellent example
of digital literacy."
"Technology is the way to reach people," says Brooks-Bertram.
"Every letter we received came via email, with the exception of one
And the letters continue to pour in.
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