It’s almost a perfect storm of factors that make her an effective first lady, a role model in general and an exciting role model for African-American women. I think that she brings a dignity but also an earthiness to the job of first lady—and it is a job. I think that she has clearly put her children first, and the love that she pours into them really shows. Having her mother on the cover of Essence with her was just a wonderful statement on motherhood. The working family issue plagues many women—how do you balance work and family? She’s a relatively young woman; she’s in her 40s, and so she dealt with the issue. Obviously this would not have been Laura Bush’s issue because her children were adults when she came to the White House. But that’s an issue that concerns my students, an issue that concerns women who are professional and have issues with childbearing and rearing—and for her to take it on frontally is great.
—Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women
A Friendly Neighbor: Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and CNN commentator
A-Plus: Congressman James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, House Majority Whip
21st Century Ambassador: Vishakha Desai, president, Asia Society
The Other Community Organizer: Lani Guinier, professor of law, Harvard University
Not About PR: Dorothy Height, chair and president emerita, National Council of Negro Women
Black Love Guru: Cathy Hughes, CEO, Radio One
An American Mother: Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia
Carrying Her Own Head: Susan L. Taylor, former editor, Essence
Rock Star: Baratunde Thurston, editor, The Onion
Gardener in Chief: Alice Waters, restaurant owner and activist
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.