First lady Michelle Obama used a trip to her hometown Thursday to make
the case for the kind of career mentoring and college preparation that high
school students are getting from a Loop nonprofit group.
Obama joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, for a morning visit to the career training program, Urban Alliance Chicago.
Rule has promoted Urban Alliance, which arranges internships for high school seniors in underserved neighborhoods and helps them get ready to continue their education after high school. Supporters say the program can help prevent youth violence.
"To you all students, for having the courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something that was probably initially pretty scary, I know that feeling," Obama told about 50 teens gathered at Columbia College Chicago to see her. "I was you guys. I say that all the time. Living on the South Side, looking at these buildings, wondering what it was like to work in those offices."
"Programs like this are an answer in so many ways to stemming the tide of violence for kids in so many communities, giving them an opportunity to envision a world outside of gangbanging, hanging on the streets, dropping out," she said.
Obama also took questions from the crowd.
Briana Miller, a recent Dunbar Vocational Career Academy graduate who is headed to Trinity College in Connecticut, asked for advice about how to be successful there as an African-American woman who grew up in subsidized housing on Chicago's South Side.
Obama lived with her family in a bungalow in the South Shore neighborhood before attending Princeton University, which she called "probably the ivy-est of the Ivy League." She told Miller not to be afraid to reach out for help from counselors or other students, and to have confidence in her point of view, which will be different from the outlook of many classmates.
"There will be a cohort of people that you will trust and you will identify with," Obama said. "Know that you can't do this alone."
"What you will find is that you have so much more to contribute than you think," she added. "Your perspective on life will be different from your classmates. Your observations, your judgments will be different and many times better. So you don't want to suffocate that voice."
Obama then smiled to the crowd of reporters in the back of the room and gave them their marching orders: "OK, guys, we'll see you. It's been real."
As media representatives were ushered from the room, Obama urged the assembled teens to move their chairs closer to her. "Let's rearrange," she said. "Now we can talk."
Obama's visit to Chicago included an overnight stay Wednesday in the family's home in the Kenwood neighborhood. The first lady attended Beyonce's concert Wednesday night at the United Center with daughters Malia and Sasha.
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