First lady Michelle Obama hosted a luncheon in New York City on Tuesday for the spouses of visiting heads of state in town for the United Nation’s General Assembly.
Along with Obama and Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Secretary of State John Kerry, about 50 first ladies from around the world toured The Studio Museum, located in Harlem, a neighborhood with deep ties to the black community and the 20th century arts scene.
“There’s a reason why I wanted to bring you all to Harlem today,” Obama told her guests. She said the neighborhood “is infused with a kind of energy and passion that is quintessentially American,” which acts as “a thread that connects all of us here today, no matter where we’re from or what language we speak.”
She noted the cultural impact of former Harlem residents on the country, who became “some of the greatest African-American artists this country has ever known,” ranging from writers like writers like Langston Hughes to musicians like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington.
The first lady encouraged the women in the room to use this “opportunity” to share ideas on improving the lives of women and children in their respective countries.
“Everywhere I go in the world, I meet so many wonderful young girls—girls with so much promise, girls eager and desperate to learn, girls who just blossom when they get that one chance to go to school and to start scratching at the fulfillment of their potential,” she said.
“Don’t be shy, make sure that you talk to the ladies at your table about the great work that you are doing in your countries because you are all doing some wonderfully powerful work. Ask others about what they are doing in their countries.”
Surrounded by paintings of African-American women courtesy of artist Robert Pruitt, the ladies dined in the main gallery on salad with roasted apples, shrimp and dirty rice, collard greens and a banana pudding parfait for dessert.
Broadway star Audra McDonald, who Obama described as having “the voice of an angel,” performed for the group.
Guests each snagged gift baskets, largely stocked with items from the White House garden: a jar of White House Honey Butter, Lemon Verbena tea, two jars of honey, and a cookbook, “New American Table,” by chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, who created the meal.
The visiting dignitaries gathered in New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
The first lady’s behind-the-scenes power was made clear earlier this week when President Obama was caught on on open mike, explaining that he hasn’t smoked a cigarette “in about six years–that’s because I’m scared of my wife.”