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Future US First Lady Seeks to be Role Model

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On January 20, Michelle Obama will become the nation's first African-American first lady.  As VOA's Kent Klein tells us, it will be the latest in a series of barriers she has broken.

Michelle Obama, 44, her husband Barack and their daughters Malia and Sasha, are about to move into the most prestigious home in America: The White House.  But it is not the first time Mrs. Obama has been a pioneer.

When she was a child in Chicago, her family moved into what had been an all-white neighborhood.

Liza Mundy, who has written a biography of the incoming first lady, says they were not welcome.

"So one of her first experiences as a young girl would have been experiencing greater economic opportunity for her own family, a nicer neighborhood, nicer home, but also witnessing the fact that white families were moving away from hers, even as they were moving up in the world," Mundy said.

Later, Michelle Obama was among the first African-American students to attend prestigious Princeton University, despite resistance from some students and alumni.  From there, she went on to Harvard University Law School and a career at a top Chicago law firm, where she met her future husband.

The wife of the soon-to-be first African-American U.S. president is very conscious of her status as a role model and how her family is perceived.

"What a symbol that it will show to so many young boys and girls out there, particularly kids of color, who have never seen themselves in a major way," Mrs. Obama said.

Biographer Liza Mundy says the Obama family's move to the White House will help redefine the image of African-Americans.

"Just to see such a lovely family in the White House, I think, in terms of Americans' mindsets and the images and stereotypes that people have of African-Americans, seeing them, I think, will expand everyone's sense of possibility and, hopefully, erase stereotypes," Mundy said.

During the campaign, however, Michelle Obama occasionally was the target of critics.  Some questioned her patriotism after she made this comment about her husband's success.

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country," she said.

After some in the media criticized the comment, her husband Barack Obama issued a warning.

"If they think that they're going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful.  These folks should lay off my wife," he said.

Michelle Obama is an advocate for working families, especially military families, and might make that her cause as first lady.  Mrs. Obama might also campaign for more national service on behalf of young people.

Close friend Angela Acree says Michelle Obama's true passion is raising her daughters.

"I think she defines herself by what is most important to her," she said.  "And I think at this point in her life, it's raising the girls so that they are comfortable, safe and happy."

Mrs. Obama says she wants her daughters to have as normal a childhood as possible.

"Part of it is keeping their worlds very much their own," she said.

Biographer Liza Mundy says the incoming first lady works hard to keep her children first.

"She's at every soccer game; she's at every ballet lesson, every ballet performance," Mundy noted.  "He [Barack Obama] is at every ballet performance, because she requires it.  So she is a very committed parent."

Even though she is a trailblazer, Michelle Obama seems to relish her most traditional roles: those of wife and mother.

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