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If you can see it, you can be it. In the case of 8-year-old Ella-Lorraine Brown, she saw a powerful role model in Michelle Obama way before the former first lady moved into the White House.
For her school’s Cultural Heroes Day, Ella-Lorraine chose to dress up as Michelle Obama (known then as Michelle Robinson) when she was a freshman at Princeton University, and she nailed it.
“She was really in awe of the idea that with hard work you could become anything,” says Ella-Lorraine’s mom, Karlyn Johnson Brown, who is also a Princeton alum. While there were several other Michelle Obama look-alikes dressed as the first lady, Johnson says that Ella-Lorraine insisted on portraying Obama as a college student.
“I loved it because by choosing to portray her hero as a college student, the focus was on Michelle’s accomplishments as an individual, not just as an attachment,” Brown added.
Ella-Lorraine’s parents explain that they have always encouraged their daughter to look up to strong women. “Ella-Lorraine has never known a time when Black women weren’t publicly honored and ‘Black girl magic’ wasn’t a highly celebrated thing. That’s awesome,” says Brown.
“We try to surround Ella-Lorraine with women who are go-getters like Michelle, women who are independent and smart, level-headed and loving,” says her father, Eugene Brown. Plus, he says, “We make sure she knows about those who have gone before and have passed on.”
For previous school projects, Ella-Lorraine has dressed up as pioneer pilot Bessie Coleman as well as Ruby Bridges, who was the first African-American child to desegregate an elementary school in the South.
With her new memoir, “Becoming,” former first lady Michelle Obama has been candid about her own journey from Chicago’s South Side to Pennsylvania Avenue and how she found her voice as a strong woman along the way. And clearly she has inspired more than Ella-Loraine: The autobiography was named the best-selling title of 2018, with more than 2 million copies sold within a few weeks and a sold-out stadium book tour.
The L.A.-based family says they hope to raise Ella-Lorraine (named after jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald) and her older brother, Langston (named after prolific poet Langston Hughes) to use their voices to empower others as well. “Ella-Lorraine has been taught from an early age about the women for whom she’s named and how they used their voices,” says Brown. “She knows that folks came before her that allowed her to be where and who she is today, and we’ve encouraged her to not back away from embracing that history.”
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