The Obamas’ have really made the White House the people’s house, as Michelle Obama once described to Oprah in an interview saying, “we feel privileged, and we feel a responsibility to make it feel like the people’s house.” Her legacy as a unique and outstanding First Lady will always be remembered especially in the area of youth impact, passionately pushing programs that has had tremendous power in shaping the lives of several youth in the country and around the world.
“From the day we started eight years ago, we have made it a priority to open up this house to as many young people as possible, from many backgrounds as possible because we wanted them to understand that this is their house too and that’s not always the case. There are kids all over this country, or the world who think that places like this are not for them so they are intimidated by it and that defines the limits of who they can be and we want to change that, we work to change that, we want them to know that they should always feel warm within these walls and so many institutions all over the world.” -Michelle Obama, 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.
Created in 1982 by Executive Order, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) is an advisory committee to the White House on cultural issues. The PCAH works directly with the administration and the three primary cultural agencies—the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)—as well as with other federal partners and the private sector, to address policy questions in the arts and humanities, to initiate and support key programs in those disciplines, and to recognize excellence in the field. Its core areas of focus are arts and humanities education, cultural exchange, and community revitalization. Mrs. Michelle Obama, like other first ladies before her, serves as Honorary Chairman of the committee, which comprises both private and public members.
The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs. The award recognizes and supports outstanding programs that lay new pathways to creativity, expression, and achievement outside of the regular school day. These programs excite and engage a range of students, cultivating imagination, collaboration, discipline, and academic success—with demonstrable results. They also provide safe harbors after school, on weekends, and during the evenings for children and youth in some of the country’s most at-risk urban and rural settings.
As they embark to leave the White House since 2009 after eight years, Michelle Obama for the eighth and final time as First Lady cemented her legacy of honoring the nation’s top creative youth development programs. November 15th 2016, a date to be remembered, a bittersweet day as described by the PCAH Co-Chair George Stevens and the last public event at the White House after eight Obama years of advancing the arts and humanities; as First Lady, she gave her final remarks to the last set of the young recipients of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP) Award under the Obama administration. Every year since she became the First Lady, she has celebrated a talented pool of young people by hosting them at the White House and honoring them in a ceremony of presenting the outstanding children and teens with their awards.
Each year at the White House, she has honored these after-school and out-of-school time programs that received the NAHYP Awards. 12 programs out of a pool of 251 nominations and 50 finalists in this last set, the creative youth development programs were recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills along with cultural awareness. For this final ceremony, she indicated that over the eight years course, three thousand programs have applied and the White House has honored more than 100 programs from 33 states, DC and nine countries.
To ensure its future upon the Obamas leaving the White House, an agreement was reached and signed that morning at the Kennedy Center where the turnaround arts will be managed at and by the center which will continue to relate to the President’s committee. The President’s committee has created a legacy fund that guarantees financial support for three years to ensure the program continues successfully at the center.
In addition to her efforts in cementing this legacy to the domestic creative youth development programs, Mrs. Obama also made history on this final exit, for the first time an International Spotlight Award was presented to an organization from Cuba, the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School, representing the field of Creative Youth Development in Cuba. It was one of the outcomes of the President’s Committee’s cultural delegation to Cuba with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Smithsonian Institution last April. As part of the cultural mission, NAHYP Director Traci Slater-Rigaud visited a variety of Cuban creative youth development programs, resulting in this year’s special recognition of the Cuban efforts. The First Lady didn’t just stop there in cementing her legacy but making another historic move by honoring with an award to the nation’s longest-running lesbian, gay, transgender and queer youth drama group.
The first lady had very profound departing words to these young talents and their cohorts, telling them she is proud of them and that they represent the very best of America, reminding us of who we are. A room full of hopeful young people who showed exhilaration and joy for not just receiving the awards but being in the White House. These are kids that come from marginalized backgrounds but have somehow made it to the White House through the help of their community after school programs, Michelle Obama leaves them with these words, “We are a country that believes in our young people, all of them. We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. we believe that each of these young people is a vital part of the great American story I cannot say that enough.It is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours—not as ‘them,’ not as ‘other,’ but as ours. We want them to know that if they are willing to work for it and so many are, that they can be anything they want. That is what this country is about and that’s really the power of programs like these. Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever feel fear. You belong here.Keep working hard. It’s going to be so important now than ever to be educated and focused. No one can ever take your education from you.”
Watch the full video of the event below: