Writer Jacqueline Holness dresses as her favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama.
With the upcoming New York primaries for the Democratic and Republican parties on Tuesday, the groundbreaking yet vitriolic presidential campaign continues to captivate the country. However, as the campaign showdown plays out, the presidential candidates’ spouses have become targets as well.
Last month, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz traded insults and threw out innuendoes about their respective wives, potential First Ladies Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz, and recently, potential First Gentleman and former president Bill Clinton squared off with Black Lives Matter protestors. Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane O’Meara Sanders has managed to escape negative scrutiny for now.
However, as the country is on the cusp of choosing its candidates at the party conventions, it is appropriate to take a closer look at the attributes and accomplishments of these candidates’ spouses compared to current and former presidential spouses. Although presidents are typically seen as the primary power brokers in their marital relationships, First Ladies throughout history have also contributed significantly in public service, government, and overall American life.
Hillary Clinton is the first former First Lady to campaign for president and to have held the Secretary of State office as well as a senatorial position. According to WhiteHouse.gov, Hillary Clinton was the “first woman elected statewide in New York” to the United States Senate.
In addition to the being the first Black First Lady, the academic accomplishments of Michelle Obama also set her apart as well. Michelle Obama, who was the 1981 salutatorian for Whitney Young High School in Chicago, graduated from Princeton University in 1985, the first First Lady to have earned an undergraduate college degree from an Ivy League institution.
She then secured a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1988, making her the second First Lady to have an advanced college degree, with Hillary Clinton being the first.
While Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are arguably the most popular First Ladies right now, other First Ladies have also distinguished themselves for their contributions to American life. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died on March 6, took on the cause of youth drug addiction when she created the “Just Say No” campaign in 1982 during her husband’s presidency.
According to WhiteHouse.gov, “in 1985 she held a conference at the White House for First Ladies of 17 countries to focus international attention on this problem.” According to the Reagan Foundation website, by 1988, “cocaine use by high-school seniors dropped by one-third, the lowest rate in a decade.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, who held the First Lady position the longest (as her husband and distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt served four terms as president), also championed political causes. She held press conferences, lectured, and had a column “My Day” in a daily syndicated newspaper, according to WhiteHouse.Gov.
She also championed civil rights for Black Americans, including publicly supporting the Tuskegee Airmen. Her friendship with Pauli Murray, a Black civil rights activist and attorney, was captured in The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, a book written by Patricia Bell-Scott and released in February.
Finally, following her husband’s death, Roosevelt became a United Nations spokeswoman.
Mamie Eisenhower, wife of Dwight Eisenhower, sought equality for Black people, though in less public ways. Eisenhower, an honorary member of the National Council of Negro Women, invited Black children to come to the annual Easter Egg Roll, and ensured that the 4-H Club Camp for Negro Boys and Girls was included in special tours of the White House, according to biography.com.
Here is some random trivia about other First Ladies: Should Melania Trump be next First Lady, she won’t be the First Lady to have been born in another country; Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London, England. Similarly, Betty Ford, wife of Gerald Ford, worked as a fashion model, just like Melania Trump. Finally, technically not a First Lady, Harriet Lane served as a First Lady for her uncle James Buchanan, the only president who never married.
While it is impossible to predict who will be the next First Lady or even if there will be a First Gentleman this time next year, it is evident that the spouses of presidents have much to offer the country as well.
For more information about First Ladies, go to www.whitehouse.gov/1600/first-ladies.
For a while the most popular literature and television programming about black people captured no sense of African consciousness. We’ve been far removed from The Cosby Show which introduced many of my generation to Miriam Makeba or A Different World which introduced us to divesting from businesses that supported apartheid in South Africa. Those shows and others of the late 80s to early 90s taught my generation that we don’t only have a history in Africa but our actions affect our present and future connection with the continent. But since then we have slipped out of the realm of cultivating such an understanding of our connection to the continent. For the last decade or so, television programming about black people has been driven by self-interestedness over communal values. There has been nothing to remind us of our descendants and ancestors. On the literary front, we were also hard-pressed to get beyond the Zanes and the Steve Harveys of the world. But recently there has been an uprising of African narratives from African-born writers and creators that is breathing a breath of fresh air on literature and on-air/online programming.
We see its presence in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of the novel “Americanah” which tells the story Ifemelu, a young woman who journeys from Nigeria to America and back again. It is primarily a love story but it also acknowledges the cultural differences between American black people and non-American black people. Ifemelu captures and critiques these differences on her blog and Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog posts to break up the narrative arc of the book. Though these blog posts are the work of a fictional character they resonate as fact among African and African American alike. Adichie also has Ifemelu return to Nigeria where she comes to grips with the ways that America has changed her and also the ways in which Nigeria in particular and Africa in general will always be a home to her despite the ways in which she has fallen out of love with it. African-American readers of “Americanah” are forced to take a look at the ways in which American culture influences their perceptions of African people and question the relational disconnect between American and non-American blacks. “Americanah” is at the top of many books lists and is rumored to be optioned for a screenplay starring Luptia Nyong’o as Ifemelu. Adichie’s earlier novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which tells the story of the effects of the Nigerian-Biafran War through the eyes of five different characters, is now a full-length feature film and is currently being screened in major cities. The film features an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.
Teju Cole is also a part of Africa’s uprising in American literature. Nigerian-American Cole was born in the US, raised in Nigeria until the age of 17 and came back to the states. A Distinguised Writer in Residence at Bard College and a regular writer for publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, he recently released his novel “Every Day is for the Thief” in the US–it was published in Nigeria in 2007. The novel tells the story of a young man revisiting Nigeria and facing some of the less beautiful aspects of life in Africa, such as watching the audacious Nigerian scammers in action—you know, the ones who e-mail many of us claiming we will inherit millions if we respond to their message. Cole’s is a less glamorous account of revisiting the continent, but he also holds that in tension with the fact the he believes Nigeria is “excessively exciting” to the point of being overwhelming. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish Cole said, “But for me, personally, I have not actually really considered seriously living in Nigeria full time. This is my home here [New York and the United States], and this is the place that allows me to do the work that I do…I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places, and to go to Nigeria often. And so I feel close enough to the things happening there without needing to live there.” This quote captures the beauty of Cole’s work which banks on both his lived experience in Nigeria and life as an Nigerian-American writer trying to maintain some semblance of a connection. His next book will be a non-fiction narrative on Lagos.
Finally the most recent example of Africa’s uprising in American literature and entertainment is the new web series “An African City.” Created by Ghanaian-American Nicole Amarteifio, the series follows five young African women who move to Ghana after educational and professional stints in America and Europe. The show is billed as Ghana’s answer to “Sex and the City” but it is actually smarter than SATC. The characters don’t just navigate the sexual politics that SATC was famous for, they launch into the deep of socio-economic politics on the continent. The show touches on the plight of the underdeveloped countries, the people who hold the power in such countries—mostly men, and the premium placed on the authentic African woman over the African woman who has been corrupted by Western ways. It branches out from self-interest to communal concern. The series also provides viewers with a look at the landscape of Accra, a region that is reaching toward urban metropolis status in the midst of strong rural roots. Shots of dirt roads lined with shacks where vendors sells their wares and old Toyotas putter down the streets offset the young women’s appetite for cosmopolitan fare and fashion. The show balances inherited American sensibilities with ingrained African pride with style and grace within each 11-15 minute webisode.
And lest I be remiss there is Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o. Born in Mexico City and raised primarily in Kenya, she stole our hearts in her first major acting role as Patsy in “12 Years a Slave.” She also steals our hearts every time she appears on a red carpet, gave an awards acceptance speech, or appeared on the cover of or in the pages of a magazine. Her beauty is being celebrated by many–and it isn’t limited to the fashion and beauty industries. Nyong’o is blazing the trails that supermodel Alek Wek set for African women and expanding dominant views of what is beautiful. But it is not just Nyong’o’s beauty that is captivating, it is her humble spirit and intelligence that is reminding the world that Africa is a force to be reckoned with.
Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Amarteifio, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more African-born actresses and actors, producers, writers and other creative types are broadening American understanding about Africa and its people. They are also expanding the African-American consciousness on Africa. We can only hope that this is truly the start of a beautiful relationship that goes from this generation beyond.
History—even of the biblical kind—has a way of repeating itself. Solomon, in his typical no-holds-barred style, tells us point blank, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” When corruption of the Christian faith arose in A.D. 65, Jude—half brother to Jesus—challenged early followers of the Way to contend for the faith they inherited. His fellow disciples were seduced into heresy that pulled them into immorality. Jude cautioned them against those who had “wormed their way” into their fellowship, deceiving them into believing that God’s grace means license to live however one pleases. He insisted that they strive to maintain the faith’s integrity because their community was being contaminated, their witness weakened, by false teaching.
Christianity is still being distorted by those within and outside the church. Modern-day deceivers repeat their ancient history as they try to persuade Christians today that biblical instructions regarding some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives—family, sexuality, money, relationships—are outdated and therefore should have no meaningful influence on our lives now. They even go so far as to instruct us in tenets of the faith: the character, activity, and relationship of God towards humanity. These distortions cause our community, at the individual and group level, to drift from biblical faith. The black church once enjoyed a reputation for upholding biblical standards of morality that anchored our families and informed our work, politics, and social interactions. Now, after decades of appropriating false ideas from popular media, misguided cultural customs, and mishandled bible doctrine, we are struggling to overcome the ills that plague us.
Thankfully, God is raising up voices from every corner of His kingdom, including black Christian women who are contending for our faith. We are going to seminary; preaching and teaching bible studies; mentoring young women in practical holiness; blogging and writing books with godly messages; fighting for our children’s lives in prayer; birthing transformative ministries; and turning our hearts back to God like never before. We are once again yielding our lives as vessels in ever-expanding circles of influence, raising our voices to stand for biblical truth. And we need to keep saying it until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I interviewed several contenders whose lives demonstrate the power of answering Jude’s call. Each of these women persists in the face of daunting circumstances, moving beyond personal victory to exercise true influence. Black Christian women can be encouraged and emboldened by women like these to assume our posts, oppose lies with truth, and fight the good fight of faith. Our interviewees addressed a range of topics including the identity of black Christian women, areas of persistent struggle, and women in ministry. Responses have been edited for clarity and space considerations.
Meet the Contenders
Evangelist Faye Dadzie, Founder, Victorious Life Ministries, a global ministry founded on biblical truth to bring hope, help, and healing, especially to women broken and discouraged by life. Ms. Dadzie teaches a weekly bible study, preaches and teaches at conferences and other events, and will begin hosting a radio talk show on the Sunshine Gospel Network on April 2 at 12:30.
Evangelist Dorothy White, Founder, God’s Glory Unlimited Ministries
Evangelist Dorothy White, Founder, God’s Glory Unlimited Ministries, a multi-component ministry with a special focus on missions to help the world’s poor live better lives now, and live forever in heaven. She has organized many international missions trips, concentrating her efforts in Jamaica, Haiti, and Kenya. Also, she has conducted many telephonic bible studies and leads retreats nationwide.
Markiya Collier, a student facilitator at Community College of Philadelphia, and founder of Isaiah 54 Group International, a nonprofit ministry created to empower people, especially minority women, to enlarge their vision: bridging generational gaps; destroying cultural myths; and bringing reform to their homes, churches, and communities
Vilma Davis, Founder of MPUSH (Mothers Praying Until Something Happens)
Vilma Davis, Founder of MPUSH-Mothers Praying Until Something Happens, an organization to empower mothers to be on the offensive in consistently praying for their children, their neighbors’ children, their community’s children, and the nation’s children. Ms. Davis sponsors a monthly prayer call for mothers to pray for their children and a monthly support meeting for moms.
Leslie Sherrod, author of Like Sheep Gone Astray, Secret Place, and Losing Hope
Leslie Sherrod, author of Christian fiction, including her newest release, Losing Hope, and Secret Place.
Chandra White-Cummings: What does “contending for the faith” mean to you in the context of the ministry work you do?
Markiya Collier: Contending for the faith means living with a conquering attitude… living with compassion rather than condemnation for those who appear to be immoral or who have not yet acknowledged their faith. This is a time to contend for the faith like never before. The pressures of immorality weigh heavy upon the church and many have yielded to the perversion of [false teachers]. Working with people requires you to contend for their souls. You will find yourself contending for their faith, even while you struggle with your own doubts.
Dorothy White: [It means] living a life consistent with biblical principles; using the power of my words and influence: all that I have and all that I am to stand for righteousness and against cultural and politically correct norms.
Leslie Sherrod: Contending for the faith to me means fighting to get the truth of God’s Word out into a society that is fighting against hearing that very truth. It means being bold and unashamed, staying in a place of fellowship and study of Him so that weariness and misdirection do not set in.
Vilma Davis: Contending for the faith in the context of Mothers Praying until Something Happens means that as mothers we first need to recognize our privilege of motherhood. We need to learn what the Promises of God are for our children, teach them the word of God, pray for their salvation [and] that they will walk according to the will of God and fulfill their purposes. Satan cannot be allowed to sift our children like wheat.
Faye Dadzie: I fight for [people] through the Word of God and the promises contained there, through my life, my witness, the joy that I have in Jesus Christ to be a living testimony that He is more than enough and to say and show that recovery [from painful and negative experiences] is possible.
CWC: Do you think African American Christian women are losing our heritage as bold witnesses for biblical truth?
DW: Difficult for me to say…[but] I feel that the Christian worldview is being squeezed out of the marketplace and society at large to the utter destruction of life as we now know it in America. Our choice to defy and ignore the Word and ways of God are inviting the judgment of God on us.
LS: I sometimes get concerned that [black] Christian women get caught in the traps of our society that emphasize feel-good messages versus the hard truths about God and His standards. The so-called Black Church was instrumental in our history as a place of community empowerment, civil rights, and our communal self-image. As wives, mothers, sisters, and leaders, black women played pivotal roles in those movements, which started and ended on the word of God. With messages from the pulpits now seeming to focus more on individual attainment and personal wealth, and not as much on godliness and loving others as much as ourselves, it’s easy for our witness to get watered down.
VD: I have met and seen great [black] Christian women standing up for biblical truths. [Black]s have inherited a strong history of reliance on God especially [during] our history of slavery. However I feel saddened…Some have embraced behaviors contrary to the word of God and have also kept silent when confronted with issues that they need to speak up about. There seems to be a couple of generations where we neglected to teach the word of God and hence it has created a disconnection in our values and reverence of the Lord.
FD: [I think we have become weary in standing up for truth for various reasons]. We are ostracized many times in our own churches especially when God has called us to leadership roles; we are frequently portrayed as the least attractive and least desirable in the media; and we are definitely in a “down” position in corporate life. [And] in the process of standing for the Gospel, we are [also] hit by other believers. It can be difficult and some no doubt are growing weary in the fight.
CWC: Describe an area in which you believe black Christian women are not thinking and living biblically. What effects are our errors having on us, our families, our churches, etc.?
LS: I believe we are especially missing the mark in the area of sexuality. The decline of standards in society seems to be trickling into the church as premarital sex, pornography, and other sexual matters have found places in our pews. The sanctity of marriage does not appear to have the same meaning as more people are living together and starting families before wedlock, and [we’re] not seeing [these behaviors as] issues that affect godliness.
FD: [Both single and married women] are struggling in the area of having successful relationships. For singles the challenge of being lonely and dealing with our sexuality has hampered us. We need more sound biblical teaching, imparted in a way that doesn’t hesitate to deal with the real issues. We need instruction for married women on what a godly wife really looks like. We also need to be taught how to choose a mate, what to look for and how not to allow our sexual needs and desires tie us to people that we should never be with in the first place. This [instruction should] start much younger and be consistent. As a result of our refusal to do things God’s way, we are raising another generation of girls who will model our rebellion. The generational issues that followed us, we are now passing on.
I think that we [also] need good sound teaching on giving. The Word of God is clear what the Lord requires in terms of the tithe, yet we don’t teach this to our children. Whatever money they earn or that we give them is usually spent quickly with no regard for giving to the Kingdom of God. Yet when they become adults, there seems to be an expectation that somehow they will miraculously know what to do and have a willingness to do it. As a result of our failure to teach them, they rob God and their finances are “cursed” rather than blessed.
How we see ourselves relative to our role in ministry significantly affects our willingness, ability, and extent to which we will actively challenge false teachings and cultural lies. So I asked the ladies: Do you believe that black churches hinder women in ministry?
DW: No not necessarily. Black women probably enjoy more acceptance in church than our white counterparts. In many cases we, the women, are the greatest hindrance to our own ministry. We often get ahead of God and fail to recognize, honor or submit to God-ordained leadership. [Furthermore] we often strive and compete for leadership roles, titles, and recognition. We fail to really understand and value the true call on our lives and proceed to title and appoint ourselves which leads to much anger, bitterness and frustration. This toxic attitude leads to inappropriate behavior which results in exclusion and rejection by senior pastors and those in authority.
LS: Many black churches appear to support women in ministry, specifically by allowing opportunities and training depending on the denomination. Women seem to make up a large portion of church membership and as such, many ministries appear to welcome female leadership and participation. Also, “co-pastoring” has seemingly become popular in black churches, where a husband and wife team work together as pastors, challenging the traditional role and expectations of the “first lady.” Considering these factors, I think the black church as an institution tends to be more accommodating to women in ministry as compared to other traditions.
VD: I have some different views from others in this. I believe that we can only be hindered if we allow ourselves to be. In some churches, women are not allowed to preach from the pulpit and may not be allowed to hold certain leadership positions. Some women are not allowed to even do what is biblically sound, as some pastors may feel threatened by their biblical knowledge. Yet again, some women also lack the support of their pastors when they identify their call to have a ministry. On the other hand there are pastors or church leaders who will mentor women who are in ministry and will support their ministry as best as possible. Some will encourage enrollment in bible school if needed. Having said this, I strongly believe that the field of ministry is so large and those who labor in it are so few that there is a place for everyone. If God has called an individual to a ministry, He will equip them and their gifts will make room for them.
CWC: Please briefly describe your views on the identity of today’s African American Christian woman? How do you think we see ourselves?
LS: I think the picture painted by [Mary Mary in their hit song, God in Me] mirrors how today’s Christian woman sees herself – or at least aims to see herself. She is polished and powerful, living a life of purpose and balance, financially independent, and someone for others to aspire to be like.
FD: Unfortunately, in too many churches there is still the “fashion show” affect. Too many women are overly concerned about their outfits and minimally focused on their relationship with Jesus Christ. There are still others who believe that their primary purpose is to serve the pastor and male leaders of the church. Then there are still others who have a genuine desire to be used to the glory of God and believe that we have a calling to serve the Lord.
How do you see yourself as a black Christian woman? Like these women, are you convinced of your call to contend for the faith? What will you do to answer the call? There are people in your family, church, and community who are waiting for you to step up and be a contender.