What a pleasure it was to travel to Nashville, Tennessee with the First Lady as she addressed the 49th Quadrennial Session of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church's General Conference. The AME Church is the nation's oldest African American denomination. Tracing its roots back to the time of slavery in the late 1700s, the minister who started the first AME church did so after his former church demanded African Americans worship in a segregated balcony. Since then the denomination – fueled by the strength, determination, and unflinching faith that sustained that early church – has been an engine for change in communities throughout American history. AME churches have been stops on the Underground Railroad, hosts of civil rights marches, and even, founders of universities.
The First Lady drew upon this rich history in her remarks to encourage all Americans to get involved in the lives of our families, our neighborhoods, and our country. The lessons and the legacy of the AME Church are part of our story as Americans, and as citizens, we have inherited the responsibility to be active and engaged in our democracy. She also spoke about the quiet heroes whose names we might not know – individuals working behind the scenes, day after day without recognition, helping to make our communities stronger. "Time and again," Mrs. Obama said. "History has shown us that there is nothing more powerful than ordinary citizens coming together for a just cause."
Seeing and hearing the spirited enthusiasm of the crowd, estimated at 10,000, was uplifting and energizing. But one particularly special moment took place after the First Lady’s speech when she returned backstage. There, she greeted Dr. Jayme Coleman Williams, a woman she mentioned in her remarks that has worked tirelessly in the AME Church for decades. Ninety-three years young, Dr. Williams was a bundle of energy and spoke passionately about encouraging young people to stay engaged and keep building on the work that others have started to move our nation forward. Watching the two hug and chat – one, a quiet hero and the other, the First Lady of the United States – was a poignant reminder of the extraordinary change that can happen when people get involved and make their voices heard.