First Lady Michelle Obama Challenges Chicago Leaders to Create Opportunity for all Children

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks on youth empowerment in Chicago, Ill., April 10, 2013.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks on youth empowerment at a “Joint Luncheon Meeting: Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago,” hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Ill., April 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First Lady Michelle Obama today brought a room filled with Chicago business and community leaders to tears as she challenged them to commit to the most important unfinished work of our lifetime -- widening the circle of opportunity for every last one of our children.

Mrs. Obama was in Chicago to address the Public Safety Action Committee, a new private-sector effort launched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to address the violent crime that is taking a terrible toll on the youth of the great city she and I both call home.

As the First Lady pointed out, thousands of Chicago children are now living in neighborhoods where a funeral for a teenager is considered unfortunate, but not unusual; where wandering onto the wrong block or even just standing on your own front porch can mean putting yourself at risk.

This needs to change. In Chicago and across the country, we need to create ladders of opportunity for our young people. We need to give our children mentors who push them and nurture them. We need to teach them the life-skills they need to succeed. We need to give them alternatives to gangs and drugs – safe places where they can learn something and stay out of trouble. Every single child -- in cities like Chicago and all across America -- has boundless promise, no matter where he or she lives. 

And as Mrs. Obama told the leaders in the room today, giving our kids the chance to fulfill that promise and grow into productive adults who lead meaningful lives – that’s on us. “That’s our job,” she said.

You all are here today because you know that this is about more than just fulfilling a business obligation or a civic obligation…you know that this is a moral obligation. Because ultimately, this city and this community will be judged not just by the beauty of our parks and lakefront, or the vitality of our businesses, but by our commitment to our next generation.
I think my husband put it best when he spoke to the people of Newtown, Connecticut back in December, and he said – and this is his quote: “This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. 
If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. 
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Mrs. Obama urged the leaders of Chicago to come together and do something worthy of our children’s futures, and to show them -- not with words but with action - that they are not alone in the struggle to fulfill their potential. We need to show them that we believe in them, and we need to give them everything they need to believe in themselves. And we need to remember that this is going to take a serious and sustained investment over a very long period of time. As Mrs. Obama said, "This is forever."

It’s a challenge that makes sense for leaders in communities across our country to embrace. Our kids deserve no less.

You can watch Michelle Obama's complete remarks below or on YouTube:

Tina Tchen is the Chief of Staff for First Lady Michelle Obama