By Catherine Park | March 18, 2016 | People
President Barack Obama wasn't the only member of the first family who stopped by SXSW. First Lady Michelle Obama headlined South by Southwest Music's opening keynote alongside powerful and influential women, including actress and activist Sophia Bush, Grammy award-winning artist Missy Elliott, songwriter Diane Warren, and moderator Queen Latifah. Here are some important highlights you might have missed.
Queen Latifah, Sophia Bush, Michelle Obama, Missy Elliott, and Diane Warren at SXSW on March 16.
All five women on the stage shared moments in their lives that have made them passionate today. Moderator Queen Latifah led the discussion by mentioning the widespread issues of crack and cocaine, while Michelle Obama discussed being a disadvantaged black girl on the South Side of Chicago. Sophia Bush talked about her time at summer camp, where she learned to take charge and do what boys were expected to do. Missy Elliot (though she claimed, "I'm super shy, I don't usually talk.") spoke of witnessing her mom end an abusive relationship, which taught her strength. Finally, Diane Warren referenced the power of music, and how it changed her from a "messed up kid" to someone who could write songs and touch everyone.
The first lady challenged the notion that change only works when you're in a position of power. Instead, she explained, "It happens because, in particular, young people find their power, their voice, and they use it every single day." It's important to realize that change happens from the bottom up, and that you don't necessarily need to be the president of the United States to make an impact.
Bush described the importance of small actions that can create big changes. To explain how, she said she asked donors to pledge only $30 by making coffee for their parents every morning, instead of having them buy it from Starbucks. These contributions through small changes helped her accomplish her goal, which was ultimately building a school in Guatemala. Warren agreed, adding that for her being kind to not just people, but also to animals, was the best way to make a meaningful impact every day.
The FLOTUS reassured the crowd that losing her position did not mean she was going to stop working. Instead, she stressed that she'll be taking all of her skills and influences with her outside the White House, saying that she still feels the same sense of duty to the people as she does now in the spotlight. She also described her hope that young people will take an interest in and act on the issues of eating healthy ("Y'all eat your vegetables!"), creating global education, and protecting the environment, despite what happens after leaders change.
Missy Elliott described the impact that Queen Latifah has had on her throughout her life. "I still look up to her because her music has done so much for me and taught me strength." Diane Warren credited The Beatles and Motown with influencing her and showing her how "fine-tuned" songwriting can be. Michelle Obama jumped in to say that anything from Stevie Wonder influenced her, which drew agreement from Queen Latifah, before adding in Prince's "Purple Rain."
"It's a sign of what a group of women can do together," the first lady announced. Both Missy Elliott and Diane Warren said that being able to work together in creating the song, "This Is For My Girls," was empowering. They hope that this song can make women feel strong, and inspire the thought that anything is possible and achievable.
When a male audience member stood up to ask how men can support women and empower them, the room burst into applause. Sophia Bush yelled, "Shoutout to all the guys in the audience today for showing up, for caring, for loving the women in your life!" She continued that women can't do this on their own, and that a joint collaboration between men and women is needed to succeed—whether that's volunteering, getting involved in the first lady's Let Girls Learn initiative, Sophia Bush's The Girl Project, or simply listening to the stories women have to share, it's easy to make a positive impact when men are aware and listen. She also suggested that guys take selfies in the name of a great cause because it's not only extremely sexy but admirable.
First lady Michelle Obama continued the importance of men's involvements in helping women. "When you have a seat at the table and you have access to power," she said, "the question you have to ask yourself is, 'Is there diversity around the table? Are there voices and opinions that don't sound like yours?'" When there's a mixture of sensitivity, understanding, and most importantly empathy, the first lady believes this creates cooperation, and a solution to the issue. "We need you men, get it together," she joked.
The final question for the keynote was directed at the first lady, which asked her to name the one thing she would miss most about being the first lady, and whether or not she would run for president, which prompted cheers throughout the audience. Getting emotional, Mrs. Obama said that she would miss the young people she had the opportunity to interact with. "You can't be in public life and not love people. It's a hard thing to do." And despite the support she received in regards to the idea of her running for president, Mrs. Obama will not be running. Talking about her daughters, she said, "They've handled it with grace and with poise, but enough is enough."
"Your 50s—phenomenal!" Mrs. Obama exclaimed, "And I expect to go into my 60s blazing!" She continued that she can do so much outside of the White House, possibly even more without the restrictions and limitations that come with politics, and make a bigger impact on the world. Sophia Bush also agreed, saying that her 30s were eye-opening, and that it's been something she's wholly embraced. Not only does she feel more sure of herself, smarter, and more confident, the actress said these are characteristics that women should not only expect but be proud of.
photography by Neilson Barnard/gettyimages