Leadership

The crucial advice from Michelle Obama's parents that led her to Barack Obama

If former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama had to pick the words that have guided her over the years, she said she would pick a song by Stevie Wonder or a poem by Maya Angelou. Despite those and many other points of inspirations, Obama said the words she thinks of every day are those of her parents:

"When I think about the words that stay in my head, that guide me, what I wake up to every day, it's the voice of Marian and Fraser Robinson," she said in an interview with poet Elizabeth Alexander during the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in her Chicago hometown.

Obama reflected on the words and phrases that her parents shared with her growing up: "Do what you say you're going to do, be honest and true, and treat people with dignity and respect."

"Those words guide me and they led me to Barack Obama," she added, "who reminded me very much of my own father in his decency and his honesty and his compassion. That was my foundation."

Michelle and Barack Obama celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this past October, during which Michelle tweeted to Barack, " you're still my best friend and the most extraordinary man I know."

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Chris Kleponis | Getty Images

She underscored how when thinking about the everyday words that personally influence you, they don't have to be poetic or set to music to matter.

"Most of the words that guide us are those words that we've heard growing up," Obama said. "For me, I had some pretty powerful parents who were very understated and humble in their own rights, but I live each day trying to make them proud."

She believes she has her later father, Fraser, to thank for this way of perceiving each day.

Before Obama was born, Fraser used to be an athlete who used to box and swim until he was suddenly stricken with MS. Growing up, Obama said she saw how despite Fraser's disability," he commanded a level of respect," and was the center of not just their nuclear family, but their entire family.

"My father used to sit in his chair and people would come for advice, they would come for money, for love, for affirmation and he would give that affirmation so willingly," Obama said. "But the thing that I remembered about my father is that he never complained."

In spite of needing a cane to walk, Fraser got up each day, put on his blue uniform and drove to work at a water filtration plant in Chicago.

"I think for me and my brother to grow up watching somebody sacrifice that much, somebody with that much power and influence and love, never complain once," Obama said, "the stories, the message, the images that roll around in my head tell me I have no reason to complain and that I am a blessed child."

Although Obama's parents didn't go to college and were not of wealth or means, they managed to provide and be supportive of her.

"It wasn't just their words, it was their actions: to be open-hearted, to be empathetic and to make your life useful and to define usefulness as broadly as you can," she added. "Maybe I didn't have that much money, but I was blessed with the love of a father and a mother who gave me gifts that were priceless and for that, I owe so much."

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