Harnessing the power of the pulpit to combat childhood obesity: If food is love, traditions have to be adapted, First Lady says...
Longwood, Florida: On Saturday morning, First Lady Michelle Obama gave the longest speech of her three-day second anniversary tour for the Let's Move! campaign to a very excited crowd of about 3,000 at Northland, A Church Distributed. The mega-organization has a vast internet presence in addition to a brick and mortar location, and the huge sanctuary features jumbo video screens. It was dramatically lit for the First Lady's appearance, and she was preceded onstage by gospel vocalists, who were included in the White House's livestream of the event. During her remarks, Mrs. Obama celebrated not only the success of her campaign, but also the huge response from those involved in "Let's Move! Faith and Communities," a campaign component launched in November of 2010 to involve religious institutions and community organizations. (Above: Mrs. Obama speaking from the pulpit)
“America’s faith communities play a crucial role in guiding and strengthening not only our spiritual health, but our emotional and physical health as well,” Mrs. Obama said.
The faith and communities component has received a major push from the campaign: Mrs. Obama's speech for the first anniversary of Let's Move! also took place at a church. About 78.4% of Americans identify as Christian, with 4.7% identifying themselves as members of other faiths, according to a survey from the Pew research group.
"Every day, you’re serving God by serving others. Every day, you’re proving that when we come together to do good works, no challenge is too big, no problem too hard, and there is no such thing as a hopeless cause. No such thing," Mrs. Obama said.
"And that, more than anything else, is the story of "Let's Move."
Clad in a purple dress with a cowl neckline, her hair rolled back, Mrs. Obama was quietly passionate as she hailed the efforts of America's faith leaders to support her campaign; the Northland audience included "more than 120 congregations and organizations representing at least 15 different faiths and denominations," Mrs. Obama said. During the past year, Mrs. Obama has received a huge series of private-sector pledges for the Let's Move! campaign, and she ticked these off in her speech. She also spoke about the importance of food in religious celebrations--and the importance of faith organizations making healthy changes to combat America's childhood obesity epidemic.
"Whether it’s Christmas supper, Passover Seder, Iftar dinner, so many of our most sacred holidays revolve around food," Mrs. Obama said. "All those familiar smells and tastes, and the memories that go along with them -- all of that brings us joy and comfort. Times may be tough and money may be tight, but at least we can still serve up Uncle Joe’s ribs or Abuela’s Arroz con pollo -- huh? That’s how we show our families that we care about them. Right?
"No matter what culture we come from, no matter what faith we believe in, for so many of us, food is love. Food is sometimes all we have."
But there's a kicker, of course, Mrs. Obama told her audience. Celebrations should go on, but these must be healthy, in order to preserve the future for America's kids.
"We’re going to have to make some changes, some modifications to adapt these traditions to our way of life today," Mrs. Obama said. "And that’s really where all of you come in. That's why today was such an important part of our celebration. Because that is what our faith communities do best--you inspire and empower people to make meaningful changes in their lives."
She lauded congregations and community groups who are leading the way, including Northland.
"It’s no accident that this church hosts classes to help folks lead healthier lives. It’s no accident that, long before we ever started "Let's Move," so many congregations were already sponsoring health ministries and fitness classes, hosting food pantries and summer nutrition programs for our kids."
Mrs. Obama gave a shout out to Muslim community leaders who are "hosting sports tournaments to encourage young people to get active," and The Jewish Community Centers Association's efforts to encourage gardens and create early child wellness programs. The National Baptist Convention is attempting to have "health ambassadors" at all of their nearly 10,000 churches by September, she said.
"And some of their churches have already created “no fry” zones in their congregations."
There's plenty of room for expansion, Mrs. Obama said, which was the main point of her speech: Harnessing the power of the pulpit to create lasting change.
"Let’s not forget that all of this represents the efforts of just a tiny fraction of our faith and community organizations. Just a tiny fraction," Mrs. Obama said. "So just imagine what we could achieve if every single organization and every single congregation in America got involved in this way."
Before she closed, Mrs. Obama announced a video contest for faith and community groups (full details here), and promised the winners a White House visit. The First Lady ended to thunderous applause, and worked the ropeline for about fifteen minutes before departing for a sports event at Walt Disney World Resort. Members of the Northland community were invited to participate.
Mrs. Obama was introduced by Northland's senior pastor, Joel Hunter, who ticked off her impressive resume--Princeton and Harvard Law graduate--but noted that she's most proud of being "Malia and Sasha's mom." He also recalled a meeting with President Obama, in which Hunter praised his leadership and great family, and the President replied, "I don't know how it is in your house," but in the First Family, "I'm just labor."
The Florida focus and Campaign 2012...
On Friday, the First Lady acknowledged during an interview with reporters traveling with her that the Let's Move! tour is as much about her husband's re-election push as it is about child health initiatives.
"This is a bit of a two-fer," Mrs. Obama said of the tour. "Because it's an issue that I care about, and it's an issue that's important to the country. ...I want to make sure that what I do enhances him."
The anniversary tour has been one of Mrs. Obama's longest tours as First Lady, and came as Mr. Obama marked the fifth anniversary of first announcing his candidacy for the presidency. Florida, a battleground state for the President's 2012 re-election effort, had four events for the First Lady's tour: A WebMd townhall on Friday afternoon in Homestead; a private dinner with the Halls Family on Friday evening; and the sports event at Walt Disney World Resort, as well as the speech at Northland. Mrs. Obama last visited Florida on January 26th to unveil a Let's Move! commitment from Goya Foods; she also attended two fundraisers. President Obama visited Disney World in January to unveil his plans to boost tourism. (Above: Mrs. Obama greets the crowd)
Mrs. Obama marked the first anniversary of Let's Move! with a relatively simple day trip to Atlanta, Georgia, where she spoke at North Point Church and visited a school. The 2012 election was much farther away on the event horizon in February of 2011. The two reporters selected by the White House to fly with Mrs. Obama aboard her plane during the tour have typically covered the President, and have in the past expended little ink on Let's Move!: The New York Times' Mark Landler and Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee.
The First Lady's second birthday tour kicked off on Feb. 9 with an arena event for 14,000 kids in Des Moines, Iowa, which aptly illustrated her power on the campaign trail. She also visited Little Rock, Arkansas, and Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas. The First Lady was accompanied on her tour by Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass; her Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen; top Domestic Policy Advisor, Jocelyn Frye; Communications Director, Kristina Schake; and Press Secretary Hannah August, among others. Members of the White House new media team and photographers are capturing the action.
*The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks
CLICK HERE for all posts about the First Lady's tour.
*Photos by Chuck Kennedy/White House