Jun 22

Yes We Can at Regina Mundy

by in Africa, South Africa

While in Soweto, we learned Michelle Obama would be there the next day, making a speech at the famous Regina Mundy church.

This is the place where Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached and where many key events occurred in the Soweto uprisings. In the most famous, at a time when all of the ANC leadership had been locked up at Robben Island and the country was under severe repression and the protest movement appeared dead, a group of middle and high school students decided to take matters into their own hands. They set up a protest march. A young boy named Hector Pieterson was killed during the protest. A gripping photo of Hector’s family carrying his bleeding body was printed in newspapers around the world. It galvanized international responses that led to sanctions and helped eventually end apartheid.

With the help of our guide Sizwe and a local US State Department officer, we found last minute tickets for the speech! Katherine records her impressions below:

This is not the entire speech nor did she say these exact words but this is what I absorbed.

“I just want to thank you all for that warm, gracious welcome.” These were the first ladies opening words after the torrent of applause following her entrance. “I want to dedicate today to all those young ladies out there” (All young ladies cheer)

“But first let’s think about Hector Pieterson” (Here she gets serious) “You all know the story, how hundreds of students marched, protesting their right to education. They were opened fired on, and many took refuge in this very church, the bullet marks on the ceiling is proof of that.” (Everyone looks up)

“I want to thank you again, for letting me speak to all of you in this holy place. Because this church represents that every person, every single person, has a right not only to be educated, but to speak their mind.

I know most people will say to children when they try to express their opinion, you’re too young, wait till you’re older. But we don’t have time to wait; we need to help the world now. I want to acknowledge the 76 young woman in Africa, some of them here today, who couldn’t be content without knowing they were making a difference. Take Grace for example. Orphaned at age 13, she had to take care of her six younger siblings. She didn’t have a lot, and when there was a job opening that she could have taken, where she wouldn’t go to bed hungry, and shiver all night long, she turned it down. She wanted to do something to help the world. She didn’t care about her own personal gain; she wanted the world to gain. (A young woman stands up (Grace) and everyone cheers) “You go girl!”

She said “Now let’s think about Robin, where are you? Come on, stand. Grace got to stand… ah there you are.” (Another woman slightly older than Grace stands (Robin)) “Growing up in Zimbabwe Robin both saw and experienced great poverty as a child, she got interested in reporting and started publishing stories in the paper from her friends and neighbors about the many hardships they had faced. Police came after her and told her they would give her one more chance to stop writing her stories but she said ‘The people of Zimbabwe want their stories heard!’ She endured beatings from the police but still she wrote on. (Everyone cheers and Robin sits)

“There are 74 other young woman who fought for the world, who wouldn’t and couldn’t be content with their lot. And when people pushed them they would not be swayed, because when you strike a woman, you strike a rock!” (Deafening cheers)

“And when people tell you you’re too young, when they tell you to sit back and wait because you can’t make a difference, what are you going to tell them? Yes we can! What are you going to tell them? Yes we can!” (The audience says it with her.) “What are you going to say?!” Everyone cheers “YES WE CAN!”

Her actual speech was much longer, but these are the words that made the biggest impression on me, the words I remembered best out of the first lady’s mouth.


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One Response to “Yes We Can at Regina Mundy”

  1. From Karen:

    Katherine:

    Your recollections of this speech gave me goose bumps. What a powerful story. What an incredible experience for you all.

    I am inspired by Grace and Robin, and by YOU for sharing this with all of us. Thanks for keeping the stories alive and increasing the impact of those who made tough choices to make a difference. YES WE CAN!

    Big hugs,
    Karen

    Posted on 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:25 am #