Dear Michelle Obama ...

December 18, 2008

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, 2009.

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 Brooks-Bertram.

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 this event."

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 "Go, Tell Michelle" will be available through the SUNY Press at

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 or two."

And the letters continue to pour in.
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