First lady turns focus on education

— Fresh back from her extended holiday in Hawaii, Michelle Obama turned her attention to education in underserved communities Wednesday.

The first lady hosted a group of approximately 60 “‘education stakeholders” for a White House screening of the film “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.” The film, which is described as “a coming of age story about two inner-city youth who are left to fend for themselves in the Bronx,” was produced by singer-songwriter Alicia Keys.

Keys told the group, which included youth organizations, high school teachers and counselors, that she was drawn to the complexity of the characters when she read first the script.

“It was so complex and so human and so honest and it mirrored the reality of so many kids in America – kids I know, kids I grew up with,” she said. “It made me think of my own childhood, growing up in Hell’s Kitchen and in Harlem in the middle of it all – exposed to every side of the spectrum of possibility.”

The film, as described by Keys, is the story of “a young black boy being triumphant through all the faces of the most difficult, harshest realities.”

“There is no one who can make it on their own. No one. Not in this whole world. Especially our kids,” Keys said. “That’s where education comes in – and the access to quality, unbiased education.”

Obama, who says the film is one of her favorites, choked up a bit when recalling a scene in the movie.

“He says ‘keep fighting cuz there ain’t no ceiling for a kid like you. There’s no ceiling!’ But Mister (one of the characters in the film) says he can’t do it alone,” the first lady said. “We have to show these kids that they’re not doing this alone. That’s what we’re here for.”

In remarks to the press and screening attendees, she made clear that it is a child’s responsibility to use their experiences to learn and grow.

“I want these young people to understand that their struggles can actually be a source of strength,” she said. “But it is our responsibility to make sure that they have those caring adults in their lives. It’s our responsibility to make sure that they have schools that will teach them.”

Obama made clear she is going to focus more on education. “For the rest of my time as first lady… I’m going to be doing my very best to promote these efforts,” she said, “Three words you are going to hear me say a lot over the next three years: grit, resilience, courage.”

Thursday, Obama will join the President for a White House summit of university presidents. According to the first lady, they will be challenged to “recruit and support even more underserved young students at their schools.”

“We have to keep fighting because these kids are worth it,” she said.

Oldest World War II vet Richard Overton, 107, honored by President Obama

— At 107 years old, World War II veteran Richard Overton credits God for his longevity.

“If man had it, I’d have been dead, but God’s got it, and he’s keeping me well,” said Overton, believed to be the oldest known American veteran of the war.

And in his more than century of life, he’s seen both the good and bad.

“He was there at Pearl Harbor when the battle ships were still smoldering. He was there at Okinawa. He was there at Iwo Jima, where he said. ‘I only got out of there by the grace of God,’ ” President Obama said Monday during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony honoring Overton.

Overton volunteered for service in 1942, becoming a member of the Army’s 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit that served on various islands in the Pacific.

He doesn’t enjoy thinking or talking about it, telling CNN he “forgot all that stuff.”

“When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas, to a nation bitterly divided by race. And his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high,” Obama told the crowd of roughly 4,000 people.

Overton visited Washington for the first time earlier this year. His first stop was the World War II Memorial. Then he saw the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

“As Richard sat in a wheelchair beneath that great marble statue, he wept. The crowd that gathered around him wept, too,” Obama said Monday as he described the veteran’s visit. “To see one of the oldest living veterans of World War II bear witness to a day, to the progress of a nation that he thought might never come.”

Monday’s audience gave Overton two standing ovations for his service. At the end of the day, he spoke to CNN while taking in the World War II Memorial at night.

Overton said he was happy to meet the President.

“I didn’t think there (was) gonna ever be a black president,” he said, “but it finally did happen.”

And, while giving credit to God for living well over 100, Overton says he doesn’t take any medicine and enjoys his vices.

“I drink whisky in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight,” he said. “I smoke my cigars, blow the smoke out — I don’t swallow it.”


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