First Lady Michelle Obama paid an emotional tribute to Rachel Robinson, the 90-year-old widow of Jackie Robinson, during a student workshop on the movie “42” at the White House Tuesday.
“I want to pay special thanks to a woman that I am totally in awe of,” she said. “She’s a woman of strength, of courage, conviction, a woman who paved the way for me, but she paid the way for millions of Americans all across this country.”
“This is what a beautiful woman looks like. She is a proud 90 years old. And I’m telling you that because she’s proud of it.”
Mrs. Obama said that as she and the president watched “42” over the weekend, “You’re left asking yourself, ‘How on earth did they do it? How did they endure the bigotry?’ While so many in this country still face clear challenges–they still exist today–I was struck by how far removed that way of life seems today.”
“There’s work to be done but things have changed,” she said. “There are no more ‘Whites only’ signs posted anywhere in this country. Although it still happens, it is far less acceptable for someone to yell out a racial slur–it still happens, but not tolerated.”
“That kind of prejudice is simply–is not something that can happen in the light of day,” she added.
“For us to be able to sit in the same room as Rachel Robinson–do you all understand? We are here with Rachel Robinson,” she said, appearing to be on the verge of tears. “The woman who lived through that life. Whose memories and perspectives will forever be shaped by those experiences. Her presence today makes us realize just how connected we are to that part of history. It is very real and very tangible.”
“In the end I can’t help but marvel at just how far we’ve come over the course of this woman’s life, but it also reminds us how far we have to go, how much more work we have to do.”
“We think that everybody in this country needs to watch this movie,” she added, insisting that watching the film over the weekend was “truly powerful” for her and her husband.
When asked about how the world has changed in her time, Robinson acknowledged we still live in an imperfect world. “We have made great social progress in America but we still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “We’re not there yet. It’s not a perfect world.”
Michelle Obama implored the students attending the workshop to learn from Robinson’s story. “You might not be able to hit a ball like Jackie Robinson, but you can get your education, in fact you must get your education and demand more of yourself every single day,” she said. “You have to pick up yourself when somebody knocks you down, because you will get knocked down, but to do all of that you have to put the work in. That’s all I have to say, all of this is about hard work. And you have to be willing to face any obstacle you might encounter along the way.”
The movie, which chronicles Jackie Robinson’s struggle to break through racial barriers in Major League Baseball, premieres April 12.
Watch the trailer for “42” below.