First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a special panel discussion at the White House in celebration of Black History Month on Friday, February 20.

The event was co-hosted by Essence Magazine and also recognized the National Executive Director of NAN, Janaye Ingram, and four women who have played critical roles in America’s progress on civil rights. The Panel discussion also included Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine; Charlayne Hunter-Gault, activist and journalist; Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Chanelle Hardy, Senior Vice President for Policy, National Urban League.

In her introductory remarks, First Lady Michelle Obama said that what connects each of these panelists’ stories is a “hunger for and belief in the power of education.” Regarding Ms. Ingram, the First Lady said that she is among those whose impact spans multiple generations who have played such an important role in our progress toward the mountaintop, and a common thread that animates their lives is hunger for and belief in the power of education. According to the First Lady: “At some point in their journeys, these women understood that if they were going to reach their potential — if they were going to make a difference not just for themselves but for this country — they would have to get a good education.  Every woman on this stage graduated from college. And some of them did it at tremendous risk to themselves and to their families.”

According to Janaye Ingram: “I was honored to be recognized at the White House by First Lady Obama and hear her amplify what NAN has fought for including educational opportunities and leveraging nontraditional opportunities to learn. NAN focuses on non-violent tactics and methods of civil disobedience to create change. The method of disrupting the status quo includes both the public demonstrations combined with intentional legislation.  That is how we achieve true and lasting change.” 

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National Action Network is one of the most recognized national civil rights organizations in the country with an established platform around civil rights, education and criminal justice. Under the leadership of founder Rev. Al Sharpton, NAN has flourished to encompass a definable presence in each state with senior leadership including Ms. Ingram that is paving the way in social justice and civil rights.