Remarks by the First Lady in a Keynote Discussion at South by Southwest
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
IN A KEYNOTE DISCUSSION
AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST
FEATURING MISSY ELLIOTT, QUEEN LATIFAH,
SOPHIA BUSH, AND DIANE WARREN
Austin Convention Center
11:20 A.M. CDT
MS. LATIFAH: Wow. This is amazing. Well, to kick things off today, the first question is one that a lot of folks here in the audience are asking, so I’m going to throw it out to each one of you on the panel: What is the pivotal moment in your life that inspired your passion in you, either about a cause, an issue, whatever might have been on your mind? Anyone can take it. I mean, I can set it off if you need me to.
MS. ELLIOTT: You take it. Cleo, set it off. (Laughter.)
MS. LATIFAH: Secret Service, I don’t need it like that. (Laughter.) Not like that. It was a movie. I can tell you from me -- and I’ll just start off just to let everybody relax for a second.
For me, one of the most pivotal times in my life that I can remember something hitting me in such a strong way is in the ‘80s, when I was a teenager growing up in New Jersey, running around New York, hanging out, loving hip hop and music, and a high school -- crack was one of the biggest things that impacted my community, all of our communities, really. Crack and AIDS were two of the things that hit our communities so powerfully.
And maybe this wasn’t something that seemed to affect a lot of other people because the media only seemed to show it -- when you saw crack, you saw it connected to black people, primarily, in the inner cities. It was everywhere. AIDS was everywhere, and moving really fast. And I think the reason it affected me so deeply was because I saw friends who were just teenagers, kids experimenting with things, as we all do as teenagers. And you try that thing once, and someone who was just on the basketball team with me is now, like, just hooked on drugs and has no way out. That really broke my heart, and I saw it happen to a lot of my friends.
So it inspired me and a lot of my fellow students, as well as my mom, who was a teacher at my high school, to create an organization called Students Against Crack. This was our way of becoming involved in the issue and trying to put the word out there that we could -- don’t even do it, crack is whack. All of those phrases that you heard -- like, this is not cool. And it took us, kids who thought we were cool, to try to tell other kids that this is not cool, this is not what you want to do, and it will ruin your life.
Also, AIDS affected me closely because one of my -- two of -- one of my cousins had AIDS through intravenous drug use; the other one through a blood transfusion at the time, because there wasn’t a lot of protection on it at that time. And here it is -- two my big cousins, two of my favorite cousins who I loved so much, went from really virile, strong people to being withered away by this disease. And there was such a stigma around it and such fear created around it, but these are people I love, so I’m going to hug my cousin, and here you are making people afraid to even touch them, don’t even come in the hospital, don’t come -- so I knew that there was a lot of things that were being told and purported that weren’t really real.
And my only way to effect it was to try to make a record about it, or try to be involved in the things -- the AIDS dance-a-thons, and whatever we could do to raise money for research and getting the word out there that -- to get more information to people. Because it was a scary time in both of those things.
So that was something that kind of spurred me into action. It was the little action I could take as a teenager, but it was something that meant a lot to me.
So, I mean, you don’t have to go that deep with all of it, I’m just saying. (Laughter.) What was one of those things that affected you?
MRS. OBAMA: It is deep. Because there are a lot of young people here, and I think probably the common thread for us is that it was something that affected us deeply, something we felt passionately about.
For me, when I was younger, it was always the doubters. And I don’t know about young people here, but growing up as a black girl on the South Side of Chicago, where the expectations of me were limited, as I was trying to make my way and do good in school and apply to good colleges, there were always people around telling me what I couldn’t do, always telling me how far I should only dream. And my reaction to that at that time was to prove the doubters wrong. That spurred me -- “I’ll show you.” They give you strength. (Applause.)
But not every young person reacts to that that way. And there are many young people whose dreams get snuffed out with that kind of negative energy. And that brings me to today, now that I’m First Lady, one of the things --
MS. LATIFAH: Yes, you are. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: But I still see the effects of that doubting on so many young people, particularly young girls. And as I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve heard some horrifying stories of young women being pushed down because they’re trying to get an education -- young girls like Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by terrorists because she was speaking out about the importance of girls getting an education.
Many of us heard about the Nigerian girls, 200 of them or so, kidnapped from their dormitory school rooms in the middle of the night by terrorists, because they were in school. You just think, grown men trying to snuff out the aspirations of little girls.
And that inspired me to launch Let Girls Learn, which all of us -- we’ve talked about that. Because today, there are 62 million young girls who are not in school around the world, adolescent girls who aren’t getting an education because there are cultural norms that keep them down. They have limited recess -- or resources. They can’t pay their school fees. The schools are too far. They don’t have bathrooms. They can’t go to school when they start to menstruate.
All of these stories generate the same kind of anger and that sense of unfairness and inequity that makes you want to move. So what I could do as a little girl, which is just try my best to control my own fate, I’m trying to carry that spirit over to these 62 million girls with the help of hopefully millions and millions of Americans here, young people like you who will be a part of that education process.
But it usually starts with something that moves you personally. And for me, 62 million girls not getting an education, that’s personal. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Definitely. Sophia?
MS. BUSH: It was interesting what you were saying about the AIDS epidemic -- really struck a chord. Because I remember being a little kid in the ‘80s in LA and not understanding what was going on. And like you said, hearing the way people would talk about people who were suffering -- and that upset me, that we could criticize someone suffering. And I think that was the beginning of turning on the awareness of why that happens, and, being a California kid, seeing what was happening to the environment -- seeing how people didn’t care about protecting our Earth, which keeps us all healthy. All of those things lit me up.
And the solution, for me, came from a lightbulb moment that had to do with education. I grew up going to summer camp, and learned how to be outspoken, and climb rocks with the boys, and do all the things that I had been told I maybe couldn’t do because I was a woman. And I became a camp counselor at the place where I had been a camper.
MS. LATIFAH: I wish I went to that camp.
MS. BUSH: I wish you were in my cabin, we would have had a really good time. I would have been like, where do you want to go today? (Laughter.) And truthfully, being a camp counselor and looking at young girls, teaching them how to do things, hearing them say, “Well, I can’t do that,” and saying, “Who told you so? Yes you can.” And watching them leave empowered women who had learned their own strength when maybe they had come in doubting themselves, that made everything make sense to me -- that if we educate girls, if we empower girls, if we say “Yes, you can” instead of “No, you can’t,” it all changes.
And now as an adult, having worked in the education space for so long, traveled the developing world, built schools -- much like you, I look at the disparity between women’s ability to get an education and men’s. And that has to change. That’s how we change the world. And it’s not just emotional, it’s supported by all the data, all the financial information -- all of the things that we need to say, this is an imperative now.
And that’s it for me -- 62 million girls. That doesn’t work. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: No, that doesn’t work for sure. Miss Demeanor?
MS. ELLIOTT: Now, you all know I don’t normally talk. I’m so shy.
MS. LATIFAH: Talk to me, Miss Demeanor. (Laughter.)
MS. ELLIOTT: I’m super shy.
MS. LATIFAH: Super fly! (Laughter.)
MS. EILLIOT: I guess the change for me happened in junior high school. My mother was in an abusive relationship. And the day that she left was probably the change for me, because I got a chance to see the strength in her. The risks that she took not knowing where would we go, financially how it was going to work out for us -- that taught me a lot, as a woman, in being strong, and supportive of other women, too. Because I watched my mother be strong, and then because weak because she was so accustomed to being in this relationship.
So when she walked away, it was scary for her, but I watched her build up so much strength. And me looking at that made me who I am. And I always said that when -- as artists, when we have a voice and when we get a chance to have a voice, we should speak. And when God blessed you with a gift it’s not just to harbor it, it’s to share that wisdom.
MS. LATIFAH: Amen. (Applause.) I don’t mean to go to church on you all. No collection. Come on, now, come on, sister! (Laughter.)
MS. ELLIOTT: Get the choir! (Laughter.) But that’s -- I’ve been told so many times “What you do won’t work, you don’t fit the mold, you don’t look like -- the way that other artists look.” I wasn’t the correct size at the time. And I sit here today -- and this is why I sit here, because I am a walking testimony. By not listening to any of those things -- it took a lot of strength, because when people are telling you that, that can be very discouraging, and you start to believe that, and you start to plant that in your mind.
But here I am. Out of all the things, I never thought that I would be sitting here beside the First Lady -- (applause) -- and beside -- and up here with all these women who are walking testimonies. Look, see now, I told you all I’m going to be scared to talk, now I’m feeling to get up and start --
MRS. OBAMA: Missy was like, “I’m shy, I don’t like to talk.” (Laughter.) Go in. Go in, Missy.
MS. ELLIOTT: But you know, all of us up here are a walking testimony, now -- I think it’s great to have that. So the women and the young girls can see that you can become something. And all hope is not gone because somebody tell you you’re not going to make it or you don’t fit the mold, because every one of us up here have a story to tell. We didn’t just roll out of our bed, and she didn’t just become the First Lady without a struggle. She didn’t become a great songwriter without a struggle. She didn’t become a great actress without a struggle. She didn’t become a great so many things without a struggle. (Applause.)
So I ain’t going to talk you all to death. I’m done. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Thank you, Missy. Thank you, Miss. Diane, you want to share a little bit?
MS. WARREN: I mean, it’s about never giving up. And all of us here, nothing was handed to us -- nothing was handed to me, nothing was handed to anybody. It’s having a dream. And when they tell you you’re not good enough and the songs aren’t good enough, or you’re not pretty enough -- don’t listen to any of that, because it’s all -- can I say bullshit? (Laughter.) I was trying --
MS. LATIFAH: I knew you wouldn’t -- the first answer without one. Keep it real. Just let off, girl.
MS. WARREN: None of it is real. Because it’s just like everybody tries to hold you down, and you can’t let them because your dreams will take you -- and I’m sounding so cliché, but I mean, for me, the power of music -- like with you, with you -- music is so powerful, and no one can stop it. And songs -- you know what I mean? (Applause.)
And I’m not being very articulate, but music saved my life. I was a kid that -- I was a messed up kid. And when I found I could write songs, it just -- it saved my life. And I just realized that the power of music, it reaches everywhere, it touches everyone. And I don’t know -- everyone had much more interesting stories than me. I’m not really good at this stuff.
But I’m so proud to be here with -- I mean, whoever thought I’d ever be up here, as well? I’m echoing your sentiments.
MS. LATIFAH: Well, I think each story is just as powerful. Because I think that may be a misconception that people have, that you have to do some amazing, world-changing thing. And I think that is a bit off -- that’s off. Because you don’t have to -- if we all each -- I think the whole purpose of this is that we all galvanize, we all use all of this energy we have a little bit at a time in our own way to move the needle.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, it’s true, that’s how change happens. I mean, people think that you’ve got to be the President of the United States, and you look to the President and he’s got to do everything. But the truth is, the change that happens happens on the ground. It happens from the bottom up. (Applause.) It happens because, in particular, young people find their power and their voice, and they use it every single day.
All of these unfairnesses and inequities, you all experience that every day in your life -- the bully, that loudmouth, that person who’s saying -- they’re there all around you. All that stuff just follows you into adulthood. They’re there no matter what.
So now, you’re practicing that strength. You’re practicing understanding your passion. You’re practicing utilizing your power. And that starts right at home -- mentoring your young brothers and sisters, your cousins, being a role model to the people in your community. That’s where change happens. And then it trickles up to the leaders -- they follow where the country wants to go in so many ways. And sometimes you’ve got to push a little bit to get them to go the right way. (Laughter.) But the change really happens right here on the ground. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Excellent. Well, next we have a question for Diane and Sophia from one of our viewers at home. Charlotte asks, “We all have passions, but what can we do as individuals on a daily basis to make change happen?” That’s for Diane over there, and that’s also for Sophia. (Laughter.)
MS. BUSH: Okay. Well, thanks, girl. So something that I think is interesting is you were mentioning -- incremental change is what does it. And one of the favorite notes I got about a chance I suggested to the amazing and motivated and incredibly just excited young people who follow the things I talk about on social media, was from someone’s mom.
And I’ll rewind a bit -- when I turned 30, I watched all these women freaking out -- friends of mine, women I don’t know, being like, “I’m 30, my life is over.” And I thought, why? Your entering into what I hear is one of the best decades of your life. I feel smarter, more powerful, more true to myself. I’ve exercised my passion and I’ve learned how to trust myself. I’m confident. I want 30 to be amazing.
So I decided to build a school in Guatemala for my 30th birthday, and I asked fans to do it with me. (Applause.) I said, listen, fine, I could do this and it could just be a person thing, but if I motivate young people to take part in this, it will also feel like their school. So I said, what if we got -- if a school is going to be $30,000, what if we could raise, in $30 increments, that money, how can you help with that, how can you do that? And I started trying to suggest tangible ways to do it, because not everybody wants to wait until they’re the President or a CEO or successful enough that they think they can donate money, but $30 can make a difference.
And I suggested all of these things, and one day I said, listen, for any of the kids out there who live at home, your parents probably are just like me, have a serious coffee habit. What if you offer to your parents that every morning you will make coffee, get up and hang out with them, get up 10 minutes earlier, and for every day you make coffee they give you that $3, $4, $5 latte money they’re not spending at Starbucks. Raise $25, that educates a kid for a year in the developing world.
And a mom wrote to me and said, “I’ve spent every morning for the last two weeks with my daughter. This has changed our communication. I gave her 25 bucks, build that school. And I was like, yeah! (Applause.) And that’s small. That’s a small way to start having a global impact.
MS. WARREN: That was great. And I forgot the question that was so great. (Laughter.) Sorry.
MS. LATIFAH: You want to add on to -- go ahead. You want to follow up? Jump in.
MS. WARREN: I thought you were asking -- I don’t have to, I’m happy to --
MS. LATIFAH: Oh, the question was how you can make changes in your own way, individually, yourself, small changes.
MS. WARREN: I think just being the kindest person you can be and being the best person you can be. And by kind, I’m -- for my own personal thing it means being kind to all creatures, and that’s animals, and that’s not eating them. Okay. (Applause.) See, I was really brief.
MS. LATIFAH: Simple. Makes sense to me, you know what I mean? (Laughter.) But you know what, this is a clear difference. And this to me is how you show the differences. So to be kind every day in some small way, to be compassionate, to show that sort of love is -- can be your way. She thought of an idea and thought of all these different ways to attack a grand idea, if you will. But simple ways to attack it and make it happen.
You can do the same thing by simply showing love, showing love every day. And sometimes that in itself can be a challenge, because generally, you have to start with yourself, show yourself some love so that you can kind of put that out there into the world and be compassionate to others. (Applause.)
Now, we have a related audience question for Mrs. Obama about her time in the White House, which you all have had -- I’ve had a good time in your house.
MRS. OBAMA: Time is almost up.
MS. LATIFAH: No, no, no! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: (Singing.) “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.” (Laughter.)
MS. WARREN: We should have put you on the song. You can sing.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, no.
MS. WARREN: She can sing! Why wasn’t she on the song?
MS. LATIFAH: This question is from Rachel McGruder (ph). Rachel, where are you? Okay, there’s Rachel over here. What’s your question, Rachel?
Q Hello, ladies.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wait, Rachel is behind you.
MS. LATIFAH: Which one is Rachel?
MRS. OBAMA: Who’s Rachel? (Laughter.) All right, that’s Rachel -- hey, Rachel. Rachel is going to come up on stage.
Q I really want to. (Laughter.) All right, great.
MRS. OBAMA: There we go.
Q Hi, ladies. So I was really interested to know, Mrs. Obama, what passions did you feel like you needed to give up when you learned you were going to the White House? And second, while you were in the White House, what things have inspired you to new passions when you leave? Thank you. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Great questions. You know what, Rachel, I have to say, the platform of First Lady is so vast and so powerful and so unique that I have to say that -- I can’t say that I missed anything by being here and having this platform. This is a unique spotlight, and my goal has been to make sure I don’t waste it. That’s really been the thing. I mean, every day I wake up, it’s like, good lord, please make sure that I’m being relevant, that I’m having impact, that I’m making the difference, particularly in the lives of young people.
And I’ve tried to do that every day with every initiative that we started -- whether it’s making sure that our kids eat healthy and get good exercise -- you all eat your vegetables. (Laughter.) Making sure our kids here in the United States know that getting an education past high school is an absolute necessity to compete in a global economy. You guys have got to take your education seriously. To help in our military families, our men and women in uniform, to make sure everyone in this nation honors their service and doesn’t take it for granted. And know that when we got to war and we talk that kind of defense stuff, that there’s a family behind every big word we utter, and if we’re going to go to war, we’ve got to take care of the men and women who are serving them and honor them. (Applause.) To the work that we’re doing to educate girls around the world -- that impacts us. I mean, you think of the world problems, and we know from the statistics that girls who are educated, they raise healthier kids; lower HIV rates. It can boost an entire country’s GDP, having more educated women.
So I will tell you that I’m going to take all of that with me. Because while there’s this platform, and it’s very unique, what you realize just from the people on stage and everybody out here, there’s always a platform. And when I leave here, there will be another platform. I don’t know what that will feel like, but I will still have that same sense of obligation and responsibility that my parents taught me growing up -- that to whom much is given, much is expected.
So we’ve got to keep working on these issues. These are not issues that go away in a presidential term. They don’t go away in a lifetime. And why I work so much with young people is that you all are going to be the ones who take on these issues. You’re going to be the one that carries these things over the finish line -- whether it’s climate change, or global education, or health and fitness, you all are the ones who are going to have to do that work. And I want you all to feel good about yourselves, and be empowered, and feel prepared to take on the leadership roles that we’re going to need to have you -- we’re going to hand this stuff over to you, and we’re going to have your backs while you’re doing it.
And we’re not through yet. There’s a lifetime after the White House. So we will keep pushing. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Absolutely. Well, we got to talk a little bit of music, since we have such acclaimed musicians on this stage. We got to talk music. Our first music question is from Sarah Overdyer (ph). Sarah? There’s Sarah.
Q Hi, my name is Sarah Overdyer. And my question is, what album has influenced you the most? And now, I know that’s almost an impossible question, so one in your top five is okay. (Laughter.)
MS. ELLIOTT: What album influenced me the most? That’s hard for me to say. Yeah, that’s hard for me -- you know what, I would say -- geez. (Laughter.) I don’t want to say necessarily album. I know -- don’t have the Secret Service come with -- fighting me because I’m changing it up. (Laughter.)
There’s so many albums, but I want to say people like Queen Latifah, who is sitting on this stage. (Applause.) Her album, MC Lyte album, Salt-N-Pepa album. And the reason I say these women is because these women are the reason that I am an MC. I became an artist because of their music.
And Miss Queen Latifah taught us “U.N.I.T.Y” (Applause.) She taught us ladies first. (Applause.) So I have to say, their albums -- and I didn’t want to say one because they all impacted me for various reasons -- and I’m not just -- like I said, I’m not just saying that because I’ve known Latifah for how many years?
MS. LATIFAH: Many, many. I can’t even count. At least 20.
MS. ELLIOTT: But I still -- as close of friends that we are, I still look up to her because her music has done so much for me and taught me strength once again -- coming up behind her. And Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa, I would have to say those albums influenced me the most. But then I got some gospel albums, I got some R&B albums. I got some Michael Jackson, some -- no, I’m just playing. I got so many people.
But I want to say those three albums of those three artists. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Diane, come on, you’ve got to jump in on that.
MS. WARREN: I mean, there’s so many albums. I mean, from when I was a kid, I have to say the Beatles and Motown. That just defined -- that was songwriting at its finest, fine-tuned genius. That influenced me so much growing up. But there’s so many other things.
And I want to say one thing to you, Missy -- think about how many people are looking up to you like you look up to Queen Latifah. How cool is that? (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Yes. I look up to her.
MS. WARREN: A lot of people.
MRS. OBAMA: For me, oh -- and people, I -- Stevie Wonder. Anything Stevie Wonder. (Applause.) The very first album of my whole life was “Talking Book.” And this bonded me to my grandfather -- we called him South Side, because he lived on the South Side. We weren’t very creative. (Laughter.)
But South Side loved music. And he was a carpenter, and he collected jazz, loved jazz. Had two turntables, reel-to-reel up in his little house. Had speakers everywhere. And I’d go over to South Side’s on Saturday, I’d play with his dog who I named Rex -- not very original. (Laughter.) And I would just play music with him. And for my birthday, he bought me “Talking Book,” and it had the Braille on it, Stevie Wonder’s Braille. And I played that album over and over and over again, until “Songs in the Key of Life.” And then I played that over and over and over again.
So Stevie Wonder. And for -- as Missy said, because he talked about unity. He talked about love and peace, and all of his songs were empowering. They were impactful. They were ones that would push you to look at change, to look at how you could affect the world. And he’s just one of the greatest songwriters on the planet. (Applause.) Stevie all the way.
MS. BUSH: Missy took my answer. I was going to say --
MS. LATIFAH: FLOTUS took my answer! (Laughter.)
MS. BUSH: Guys, great minds. Really, when you came out with U.N.I.T.Y, I remember just being like, yeah! She’s right! You just came in -- up on the scene with so much personality and presence. And to talk about the way that women deserved to be respected, and that people needed to look at each other like people. We were talking about it backstage and I was like, oh, man, I listened on my Walkman to you, and to Lauryn Hill. And my dad got me hooked on the Eagles, and people thought those were really weird CDs to all be in my backpack at the same time, but I was into it. (Laughter.)
It’s like this notion that you could, especially for you guys, be women on the forefront of your industry, on your own, not in somebody else’s band, just killing the game and saying things that mattered so much. It set such an example for me. And I know whoever is yelling out there for you and probably for everyone else in the audience -- and it was a really powerful thing to be taught by an artist who I loved. (Applause.) You’re a big deal.
MRS. OBAMA: Now, Queen, you’ve got to answer that question. You can’t moderate around that one. We want to know.
MS. LATIFAH: I was just going to slide on over. (Laughter.) Oh, I, like you all and Missy, have the most difficult time. We’ve been trying to pin something down, but Stevie Wonder would be one of my -- probably my all-time favorite because he’s had a song for every point and purpose in my life and everything I’ve gone through.
And, yes, “Songs in the Key of Life” is one of those records. But I think he influenced me in a way because I could talk -- he kind of let me know I could talk about -- he talked about things that were going on around my life, but he also talked about love, and then he also made a song for his daughter. (Singing) “Isn’t she lovely?” You know what I mean? Yeah, and he named her -- okay. And then he named his -- and then he said his --
MS. WARREN: We’re going to have a performance. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Oh, we’re going to have a performance.
MRS. OBAMA: That’s my bad, my bad. That wasn’t on the --
MS. LATIFAH: We’re going to have a -- for my girls’ performance. (Laughter.)
But, yeah, I think artists like that. Artists like Teena Marie were important to me because -- God bless her -- but I would read the credits on the albums -- and I loved the artist, her name was Teena Marie, you all should check her out if you’re not familiar with her. But she wrote and she produced all of her music. And to see -- to read all these credits -- and I would always read the credits from all the Motown stuff and the Jackson Five, and everybody -- even Stevie, to see how he wrote and produced all of this stuff. But then I saw Teena Marie, and I’m like, she wrote this and she produced it. It struck something in me. It said, I can write and I can create my own music. I know what I’m hearing in my head. I may not know how to work these things, but I can tell someone, hey, play this note or try this, or here’s -- play it on my two strings on the guitar and let the real guitarist take over.
But even that little thing was a lesson in empowerment, of how we could use our own voices. And of course later one, through all of the hip hop that came along. But even it was guys in hip hop that inspired me, like KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions and Salt-N-Pepa and (inaudible) but -- Public Enemy. Because they were talking about things that were happening in real life.
So we all knew how to party. I mean, party was just -- you’ve got a party gene in you, and the party gene kicks in at some point. You don’t have to really do much to manage it, it just goes. Then you’ve got to hold it back. (Laughter.) But to actually see something going on and to actually be able to talk about it knowing that we’ve got this music called hip hop, we can -- it’s almost like poetry to me. It all started as writing poetry for me. But to able to speak about something that’s happening in the world was -- that felt very powerful to me. It felt like something that I could use my voice in.
And so it’s kind of weird to write “Ladies First,” but then to be sitting with the First Lady is kind of -- it’s surreal. It is surreal. (Applause.) Ultimate album: Prince, “Purple Rain.” Okay, moving on. (Applause.) Taught me all about love.
But, Diane, I’ve got to -- and Missy, I’ve got to quickly jump to this because you all wrote a -- you wrote a song, Diane, about girl power, and you all got to sing it. And it’s called “This Is For My Girls,” and you just released it. I want you to talk a little bit about “This Is For My Girls.” What made you want to write it? What was it about it? Talk to us about it.
MS. WARREN: I wanted just to write a song -- I wanted to write the best female-empowerment song I knew how to write. And I’m so honored that -- come on, Missy Elliott is on it. She wrote the best rap ever. Like, it’s so cool. I just wanted to write a song that’s -- this is for my girls all around the world, stand up, hold your head up. Well, I’ll talk -- the clean version -- don’t take nothing from nobody. (Laughter.) It’s just about -- if you look at the lyrics to the song and listen to it, it encompasses about what we’re talking about here.
MS. ELLIOTT: Amazing record and amazing singers on it. And the message is important. And I wanted to be a part of it, too. When asked, I heard it and I was like --
MS. WARREN: I was so excited when you agreed to do it. It’s so cool.
MS. ELLIOTT: So for those records like that that is uplifting and encouraging to people and to young girls --
MS. WARREN: You can do anything. You listen to that song, you can do anything.
MS. ELLIOTT: Yes, I mean, like I said, we had the -- “Ladies First.” We had “Ladies Night.” (Laughter.) We had “Where My Girls At?” We had -- what was the -- we had so many of those records, but those records made us feel empowered. And I think we need more records like that. (Applause.)
MS. WARREN: Now we got one.
MS. LATIFAH: Definitely. And this one is out, so you can download it right now.
MS. ELLIOTT: We need a balance of music out here.
MRS. OBAMA: And I just want to thank all the artists who participated; Diane, obviously, for writing such a phenomenal anthem. (Applause.) And this is going to help -- as we were saying backstage, this is going to -- the proceeds -- if everyone that downloads this, the proceeds -- 100 percent of the proceeds are going to go to our Let Girls Learn Peace Corps fund to help these young women get the education that they need. (Applause.) And it’s just a sign of what a group of women can do together.
And we can change the world. We can have an impact on these girls. And they don’t even know we’re doing it. They don’t know that here in the United States, at South By Southwest, sitting on this stage are a group of women who care so deeply that they have put their talents to good use on behalf of a group of young women that we know need our support and our love. And I’m just proud to be a part of it. I didn’t have to do much but show up. So thank you, Diane. (Laughter.) Thank you for that.
And I want everybody to download that song, and I want you all singing that anthem. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about how to harness our girl power. Kyle in our audience has a question for Sophia. Is Kyle around? Hey, Kyle!
Q Hi, I’m Kyle from Ohio University. (Applause.) Yeah! God Bobcats. So my question is, what advice do you have for men in regards to being better, more supportive allies for women and women’s equality? (Applause.)
MS. BUSH: Yes. Thank you for asking that question. It’s so important. And I must say, shout-out to all the guys here in the audience today for showing up, for caring, for loving the women in your life. (Applause.) It’s an important thing.
You know, we care so much about the girls around the world who don’t have education access because we know that they deserve equal rights. But we can’t get there alone. We can’t just be sitting here saying we need this -- we need men like you and the men in this room and the men out there who are aware to say, my friend, my sister, my neighbor, my coworker, my mother -- they deserve what I have.
And I think that it’s really important first to just say, your empathy is beautiful. The first thing first, listen. Listen to a women you care about tell her story so that you can hear what it’s like on our end, and then ask that person what it is they might need. For me, I would ask everyone in this room to get involved with the First Lady’s initiative. I would ask everyone in this room to look up the Girl Project, it’s what I’m working on every day to make sure that the out of 62 million girls who don’t have education access, the 50 million who can’t get to secondary school get it. You referenced it -- GDPs go up in countries where women go to school. And for every year of education, a women’s earning power goes up 10 percent. Every year of secondary school education, it goes up 25 percent. Those women invest 90 percent of those earnings back into their families and their communities.
So it’s an emotional thing for us, and it’s also, as I said earlier, a global imperative. And whether you want to get involved and jump on social media with us, and use these hashtags, and post your #ManForWoman, #62MillionGirls selfie -- I want to see it. I expect it after this is over.
MS. LATIFAH: That sounds sexy to me. (Laughter.) Sounds sexy.
MS. BUSH: I’m into it. Yeah. Selfies for education are very sexy to us. Or you want to motivate your friends, maybe your guy’s sports team to go out there and volunteer for a cause that supports women. There’s so much that you can do. I think asking the question first and then listening to the answer of the women you care about second is a great place to start. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: And we have another audience question for Mrs. Obama regarding the Let Girls Learn project, the initiative she started -- she and President Obama launched last year.
MRS. OBAMA: He did something, too. (Laughter.) Let’s not forget about him, the President. He was involved, too.
MS. LATIFAH: We never forget about President Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: He’s one of those guys out there -- the involved.
MS. LATIFAH: But he launched that last year. Sally House (ph). Sally? Hi, Sally.
Q What is the one easy thing that all of us as Americans can do to help women get education equality around the world?
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you for that. I mean, we’ve tried to make it easy. You can go on social media. You can go to #62MillionGirls. We’re working with a number of organizations -- you can go there, take the pledge. You have examples of many, many things that people can do. Host a car wash. Buy your mom some coffee and donate the money. There are so many things you can do. But you can just go to #62MillionGirls or 62MillionGirls.com and find out how to help.
But one of the things I want to say in response to what men can do is when you have a seat at the table and you have access to power -- whether you are an employer or a CEO or on a board, or whether you are a professor in a classroom, whether you’re sitting around a table -- the question you can ask yourselves is, is there diversity around the table? (Applause.) Are there voices and opinions who don’t sound like yours?
Because I’m always of the mindset that we reach better answers when we have a broad array of voices, when there are women at the table, when there are minorities, when there are folks who have different experiences. We’re better able to empathize, to get a better handle on things. So if you’re a man at the table, and you look around and there are only men at the table, then you should ask yourselves, how can I do better? Because there are a lot of men-only tables going on in this country and around the world. And the only people who can change that are the men at the table. (Applause.)
So I urge you, particularly young people, as you grow up and you marry and you have a wife and you raise a daughter, these are the women who are going to be impacted by the things that we aren’t doing today. And you may not feel it now as a single man, but to know that you could raise a daughter that could live in a part of the world where she couldn’t go to school, that you could have a wife that could be taken advantage of, beaten, that she wouldn’t be given her just due -- in this country today, women still earn 70 cents on the dollar to every dollar a man makes.
There’s a lot of work that men can do right here in this country and around the world, but you’ve got to have an understanding. You’ve got to have empathy. It can’t just be about what’s good for you, it’s got to be what’s good for all of us. And I hope we’re all raising young men who are coming to these positions of power with a different level of sensitivity and understanding, and, as I said -- I can’t say it more -- with empathy to create inclusion. And that’s how we start to fix this problem.
So we need you, men. Get it together. (Applause.)
MS. LATIFAH: We need you, men. And if I could add onto that, when you see me, you probably don’t see the men around me who impacted my life in such a huge way, starting with my father.
My father was a police officer, SWAT, tactical, Mel Gibson, “Lethal Weapon” guy running up the -- that guy. And my mother, thank god, smoothed me out, because I would have been as crazy as him. But he encouraged me. He encouraged the things that my brother was allowed to do -- if he was taking my brother camping, I got to go camping. If it was learning how to shoot -- which is something normal in a cop family -- I was part of it. I was included in everything, and encouraged along the way.
The group of rappers that I grew up around, the Flavor Unit, I met a crew full of boys, a crew full of guys, dudes, but who didn’t block me from expressing those things. If anything, “No, La, you can make that line better, you can change that.” It pushed me. They pushed me further. They didn’t exclude me. And so it made me better.
My partner of 20-plus years who I’ve known since 10th grade in high school -- Shakim Compere is around here somewhere. (Applause.) But without him, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. So my partner in my company is a man, a man who respected my mind. And I could sit around -- we would sit around and talk about how to come up with things, how we could do this, how -- just to prove to each other we could do it, or prove it to the world. But had he not respected me, had he kind of run with the boy pack and said, oh, no, girls should just stay here -- we wouldn’t have done half the things we’ve done.
And it makes us so much more rich, so much more great. And Missy can attest to this because we sit on the phone and talk about it for hours. When we talk about what’s missing in hip hop, we -- women is what’s missing in hip hop. Women is why you’re not getting as rich a diverse sound in the music as you should, because I’m sorry, whenever you remove a woman’s voice from anything, you are lacking. There’s no possible way you could be at your best if you remove women from the equation. (Applause.)
And for men, I don’t ever want it to be that sort of thing where we’re afraid to talk to one another, or it becomes “I have to be less in order to make you feel like more” on either side. I think that communication is so important, that we both has so much to offer, that there are things that guys can do that girls can’t do and we have to be realistic about that. There’s so many things that women can do that guys can’t do, but there’s so many more things we can do together. (Applause.) And I think that is a very important things for us to recognize. It only makes our entire world stronger and greater and better, and richer future.
So keep up the good work, guys, especially you guy feminists out there. Yeah, you, that guy! That guy right there! Keep up the good work. (Applause.)
Well, to wrap things up, I received two questions over and over and over for the First Lady. And I thought they would be the best to close on. Well, the question that the people want to know is what is the one thing you will miss the most about being First Lady? And will you run for President? (Applause.)
MS. BUSH: I told you.
MS. LATIFAH: The people want to know, not me! The people! (Applause.)
MS. BUSH: We want you.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay, the people. People want to know. What will I miss most about being First Lady? You all. It’s the young people -- you’re going to make me cry -- that I interact with every day. The young people in this country keep me inspired, because I see myself in them, in you all. I see that little girl on the South Side who was told she couldn’t. I see the scared kid, I see the kid with doubts. And I just know that if I can do this and be here -- I’ve gone to great colleges and have all these wonderful experiences -- you can do it, too.
So spending that time with you all, touching you all, laughing with you, just experiencing this journey with our young people of all ages -- I will miss that as First Lady, but I’m going to keep doing it for the rest of my life. (Applause.) So it’s the people. You can’t be in public life and not love people. It’s a hard thing to do. And there’s some people who do it and they don’t love people. You’ve got to love people, and I do. And I’m going to continue to work with our young people all over the world.
Not as President. I will not run for President. No, nope, not going to do it. Hey, and here’s one of the reasons why -- because I’ve got these two young people at home. And being the kids -- the daughters of a President, just think about it. Come on, young people -- not so easy. They’ve handled it with grace and with poise, but enough is enough. (Applause.)
And also, what did we say earlier? There are so many ways to impact the world. I mean, you don’t have to be President of the United States to do wonderful, marvelous things. And I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. You talk about your thirties being good? Your fifties, woo! Phenomenal. (Applause.) And I expect to go into my sixties blazing! Blazing -- (applause) -- and trying to be as fly and as healthy as I can be. Remember that 106-year-old woman, Ms. McLaurin, who was dancing with us? I told her, I want to be just like you -- 106 and moving and grooving.
So there is so much that I can do outside of the White House. And sometimes there’s much more that you can do outside of the White House, without the constraints and the lights and the cameras and the partisanship. There’s a potential that my voice could be heard by many people who can’t hear me now because I’m Michelle Obama, the First Lady. And I want to be able to impact as many people as possible in an unbiased way, and to try to keep reaching people. And I think I can do that just as well by not being President of the United States. And you can -- you all can, too.
Now, I hope there are some people in the audience who want to be President of the United States, because we need you. We need you out there. We need good, smart, decent people with strong values and strong morals who want to go into politics. (Applause.) So I would encourage all of you to consider a life in public service. Even if you want to make money, find a way to help somebody. Find a way to turn your blessings into something powerful that affects the lives of others. Because that’s how we keep this country strong. So I hope you all will consider public service. (Applause.)
So with that, I will go off into the sunset. (Laughter.)
MS. LATIFAH: Not just yet. Spend a little more time with us, won’t you?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes.
MS. LATIFAH: We love you. South By Southwest, please join me in thanking Mrs. Obama and our panel one more time. (Applause.)
12:18 P.M. CDT