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In South Africa, First Lady asks: ‘What generation will you be?’

First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday noted the achievements of 76 young women leaders from South Africa and across the continent of Africa during her address to the Young African Women Leader’s Forum. First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday noted the achievements of 76 young women leaders from South Africa and across the continent of Africa during her address to the Young African Women Leader’s Forum.

First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, reads “The Cat In The Hat” to children at the Zandspruit Township Daycare Center during an event at the Emthonjeni Community Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday (June 21). (White House photo by Samantha Appleton)

Members of the Young Women Leader’s Forum listen as First Lady Michelle Obama address them at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday (June 21). (White House photo by Samantha Appleton)

Speaking at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa, Mrs. Obama noted the bullet holes in the ceiling and a broken altar and called the church “sacred space.”

Thirty-five years ago this month, a group of students planned a peaceful protest to express their outrage over a new law requiring them to take courses in Afrikaans. Thousands of them took to the streets, intending to march to Orlando Stadium. When security forces opened fire, some fled to the church. The police followed, first with tear gas, and then with bullets.

No one was killed within the sanctuary, but hundreds lost their lives that day.

Mrs. Obama said that wasn’t the first, or the last, time that the church stood in the crosscurrents of history. She linked its history to young people “20 years ago, 50 years ago, who marched until their feet were raw, who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked, and sacrificed, everything they had for the freedom they deserved.”

The deeds of earlier generations of young people made it possible for many of the young women leaders at the forum to pursue their dreams, said Mrs. Obama, adding that the deeds of a freedom generation before her in America had made it possible for her to be the First Lady.

“So the question today is, ‘What will you make of that inheritance? What legacy will you leave for your children and your grandchildren? What generation will you be?’”

While she could ask the questions of young people in any country, on any continent, Mrs. Obama said there was a reason why she wanted to come to South Africa to speak with them.

Africa, she said, reflecting President Obama’s view, is “a fundamental part of our interconnected world. And when it comes to the defining challenges of our times – creating jobs in our global economy, promoting democracy and development, confronting climate change, extremism, poverty and disease – for all this, the world is looking to Africa as a vital partner.”

More than ever before, “We will be looking to all of you, our young people, to lead the way,” she said.

In Africa, people under 25 make up 60 percent of the population. And in South Africa, nearly two-thirds of citizens are under the age of 30.

“Our future will be shaped by your leadership. When it comes to the challenges we face, we simply don’t have time to sit back and wait. I’m here because I believe that each of you is ready, right here and right now, to start meeting these challenges,” said Mrs. Obama.

True leadership that lifts families, sustains communities and transforms rarely starts in palaces or parliaments, she said, and is not limited to those of a certain age or status.

“Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals.”

And while today’s challenges might not always inspire the lofty rhetoric or the high drama of struggles past, the injustices at hand are no less glaring, the human suffering no less acute, she said.

“You can be the generation that makes the discoveries and builds the industries that will transform our economies. You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time…,” said Mrs. Obama.

“You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level…You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens...You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place…especially the home…isn’t just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation.”

The First Lady told her audience members that their lives might not always be comfortable and that they would not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once.

“But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have,” she said, “because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Source: WhiteHouse.gov

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