Civil Rights Society: The Legacy of Michelle Obama’s Visit



Partly as a result of our long-standing commitment to women’s education and community empowerment, we were selected in June 2016 to host a visit from the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Mrs Obama joined us at Mulberry to launch her Let Girls Learn campaign.

Speaking to an audience of our students, staff, governors and partner schools, she stressed the global importance of guaranteeing full primary and secondary education for every single girl and young woman, emphasising that international governments need to make girls’ education a top priority.

Mrs Obama’s address perfectly encapsulated the core principles of Mulberry school. Listening to her speak, our girls recognised the ethos of the school community in which they live and learn, and sensed the global significance of that ethos, and its importance in establishing a world where every girl fulfils the potential with which she is born. Mrs Obama made it clear to Mulberry girls and their peers that they are a central part of the global conversation about girls’ education, encouraging all of them to use the opportunities they have been given and the various platforms they are offered to speak out on behalf of disenfranchised girls around the world.

Shortly after the First Lady’s visit, we were thrilled to receive an invitation from the White House to join Mrs Obama for a morning of discussion about how her Let Girls Learn campaign will be developed. We were invited to bring 20 girls and 5 members of staff to meet with the First Lady and her team.

Mulberry places great value on the importance of global education, and of an education which encompasses all aspects of social justice. We decided to make the most of this incredible opportunity and plan a week-long visit to some of the southern United States, during the course of which students would learn about the history and development of the American Civil Rights movement, from the Civil War to the present day.  A programme of travel was put together, including visits to Washington DC, Memphis, and Birmingham, Alabama. It was decided that students would visit landmarks in the history of Civil Rights, including the home of Frederick Douglass, the church where Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ address, and the Civil Rights Museum.

We wanted the trip to provide students with the tools they need to become agents of positive social change on a global scale. They would learn about the rich and diverse history of Civil Rights; they would celebrate the progress that has been made, and explore the battles that are still being fought; they would connect their own identities, passions, principles and beliefs with the global struggle for justice and equal rights, finding their own places within a community of activists, thinkers, writers, teachers and students. Through education, experience, discussion and debate, our girls would gain a sense of how they might change their world for the better.

At Mulberry, we have an established tradition of students acting as ambassadors to their peer group, and educating one another. We decided that the group of girls who attended this trip would use a variety of platforms to share the knowledge they gained with their peers and their local community  – from the Berry Bugle, to our diversity education and discussion group ‘United Cultures of Mulberry’, to our feminist education group ‘Feminist Fridays’, our Girl Guides and our Human Rights Ambassadors network. In this way, Mulberry girls will work for positive change in their school community, their local community, and the global community of girls at school to which they are so proud to belong.

The trip was set to be an incredible opportunity, and we knew that most students in the school would be interested in taking part. In the interests of fairness, we decided to design a unique application process. Students who wished to apply for a place on the trip had to attend a series of education workshops on Civil Rights; complete a written application; give a speech to a panel of teachers; and have an interview with our Head Teacher and our Governors. The process was designed to give the students a thorough grounding in the history and development of the American Civil Rights movement, and to give them opportunities to think deeply about their own engagement with civil rights.

The application process was extremely challenging, but all student applicants rose to that challenge brilliantly. The quality of written and oral work produced was exceptional, and students showed real depth of thought. All those who took part should feel very proud of their achievements, and should recognise the value of what they learned during the application process.

The group departed for the US on Monday 16th November. Read on for the students’ perspective on the trip; and some extracts from the girls’ travel journals.

 White House

Making Memories in Memphis: Seven Days in the Life of a Mulberry Girl

Partway through the morning on Tuesday the 24th of November, anybody looking out their classroom windows or making their way down to the main school reception would have been graced with the presence of 20 of their fellow mulberry students, 10 from year 10 and 10 from year 12, arriving at the school. Tired, grumpy, aching-at-the-bones, just where had these girls been? Listen up carefully because they’ve got quite the story to tell…

Last year, when Michelle Obama visited our school, she extended an invitation for us to do the same: that is, to visit her at the White House. Naturally, this lead to a very important question: who to take?

And thus was born The Civil Rights Club—a club which, as rightly suggested by its name, was an afterschool club for those keen to learn about the Civil Rights Movement 1955-1968 in America. Those who managed to stay at school until six o’clock for two weeks of workshops were gifted an Application Form, to be filled out if you wished to be considered for the White House trip. This consisted of four essay questions as well as some shorter questions to fill out. After this was a two-minute speech in front of a panel of five senior staff, and then a second interview with a panel of senior staff, including Doctor Ogden herself. After all these rounds, the final 20 were decided.

And so, we will fast-forward through all the preparation sessions: learning how to use a camera and film a documentary, about Abolition, girls education, #62million girls around the world denied an education, visiting the US Embassy and meeting ambassador Barzun… all the way up until Monday 16th of November, where 20 girls were making way too much racket for 6 in the morning. It was still dark, technically still Sunday.

Climbing into the coach, some were tearful, some were anxious; I was already going through my suitcase in my head, certain I’d left something behind… but one thing was constant: we were all so excited for the next day. To meet Michelle Obama. Again. And let’s not forget having the chance to travel to three different states. Not to mention all the filming we’d be doing, for the documentary we wanted to make about our trip. And disappointed we were not—the Whitehouse was an absolutely unbelievable experience—and don’t just take my word for it…

“When meeting Michelle, it felt surreal as I simply couldn’t imagine myself ever actually sitting with The First Lady and talking to her. It was an extremely pleasant experience to sit with her and to listen to her thoughts on certain topics, especially girls’ education. The passion with which she spoke made it clear to me that she truly cared for girls’ education and was determined to fix the problems that girls face, rendering them unable to fulfill their education. It has also helped me to realise that if we are not educating girls we, as Michelle said, are not educating half of our population – which is shocking! Half the population uneducated means half the amount of innovative ideas and half the overall development as a community or country. There needs to be something done about girls’ education and Michelle Obama’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ campaign gives us hope. Some one is trying to make a difference.

Michelle came across very down-to-earth as she was very much herself whist she was speaking to us, which made me feel instantly comfortable with her. She is a very likeable person and definitely has a lot to say about many issues. Even though we spent a total of fifteen minutes with her, she managed to inspire and motivate twenty young females into changing the world for the better.” – Anika Chowdhury

In Washington we also visited a lot of other places other than the Whitehouse, such as Capitol Hill (The US version of Parliament, more or less) and the US State Department. We met some truly inspirational women, and men, who all gave us their view on freedom.

We then flew (again) to Memphis, Tennessee.

“I think that Memphis was actually the best state that we visited out of the three. We visited the Lorraine Motel, the hotel where Martin Luther King died. It has been converted into a museum now. It was incredibly surreal to be in the actual place he died in so soon after learning about his life, and the hardship he went through. It just made everything seem so real. In the evening we had dinner at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Café with an Elvis Presley impersonator singing, which was absolutely hilarious! I believe our experiences in Memphis made our whole Civil rights trip all the more memorable and brought all of us together.” – Sumaiyah Rahim

The next day we took a 4-hour coach journey to Birmingham, Alabama. This was my favourite of the three states: we went to 16th Street Baptist Church, where three 14 year old girls and one 11 year old girl were killed by a bomb planted by the KKK on September 15th 1963. There was a memorial opposite the church, depicting four girls releasing six doves. The six doves portrayed the innocence of the six children who were killed, as two young boys were also killed that same day.

This site was the one I was most apprehensive about out of the entire itinerary, and yet it was my favourite part. I believe those girls and boys deserve to be remembered, brutally murdered for nothing other than the colour of their skin. The memorial is a reminder of the devastating consequences of racial hatred, but the determination of the city to remember those innocent children marks how far we have come globally: we are no longer prepared to accept a world in which people can be hurt, even killed, because of the colour of their skin. We want to build a better, safer, more accepting world.

Our visit to the United States showed us that there are people out there, like Michelle Obama, who are working to change and improve the world. It also showed us that we, too, are part of that effort. It is our work to change the world for the better. It is a team effort. We are all part of that team.

Maisha Zainab

Mulberry School for Girls Inaugural Education Lecture


Mulberry School for Girls’ Inaugural Education Lecture took place on 22nd October 2015. This was the first of a new series of annual events for students and valued friends of the school, which aims to foreground and celebrate the relationship between education and industry.


Our inaugural education lecture was delivered by Jude Kelly CBE, a successful theatre director. Jude founded the acclaimed West Yorkshire Playhouse and sat on the National Advisory Committee for Culture, Creativity and Education, which drove forward significant government investment in young people’s creative and cultural education. She joined Southbank Centre as Artistic Director in 2005, and founded the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in 2010. Now a significant global brand, WOW Festival celebrates the lives and achievements of women and girls all over the world, bringing together artists, performers and speakers from a huge range of disciplines and backgrounds to spotlight women’s lives, their successes, and the obstacles against which they continue to struggle. At the lecture, Jude argued that creativity, culture and the arts play a central role in education, and must be fought for and protected.


We are very grateful to Jude for granting us her time and to all who joined us to celebrate the value of arts education, in particular to Ansford Academy, who travelled all the way from Somerset to be there. The event was attended by Mulberry students who have made an admirable commitment to arts subjects at school and the evening provided them with opportunities to network with inspiring professionals from the arts and education sectors.



Let Girls Learn

EK4A7554On Tuesday 16th June, Mulberry School For Girls was extremely privileged to welcome a very exciting visitor: Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America. Mrs Obama joined us at our school to launch her girls’ education campaign, ‘Let Girls Learn’, through which she is calling to international governments to prioritise girls’ education and help every girl in the world to complete her education.

The first lady entered the school to rapturous applause and cheering from students and staff alike. After greeting a committee of guests, representative staff and pupils in the reception area, she made her way through the courtyards of the school, accompanied by her hosts for the day – Nusrath Hassan (12SH) and Deputy Head Prefect Myesha Haque (10L).

Students filled the courtyards, waving British and US flags and cheering as the First Lady walked amongst them. In the Mulberry Courtyard, Mrs Obama paused to watch a specially commissioned arts performance. The Year 9 Choir, conducted by Jemima Islam (9Y), sang a beautiful arrangement of ‘Something Inside So Strong’ by Labi Siffre. Mulberry alumna Maria Jahan performed a dance piece, accompanied by Naphysa Awuah (10B) reading Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’.

The First Lady made her way to the Parkwood foyer, where she was greeted by a delegation of Year 10 and Year 13 prefects. Greeting them with open arms, she said ‘It’s so good to see you!’ and told them that she was ‘so proud’ of the work they had done to make the visit possible.

After posing for a photo with the Prefects, Mrs Obama led a round table discussion on girls’ education in the Mulberry library. She was joined by the Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan; Secretary of State for International Development, Rt. Hon. Justine Greening; Bina Contreras, a volunteer from the Peace Corps; Dr Pauline Rose from Cambridge University; and Fiona Mavhinga, founding member of Camfed.

Mrs Obama then met an audience of over 200 Mulberry students who awaited her in the Main Hall, filled with anticipation and excitement. In addition to our students, we were joined by students from some of the fantastic schools with whom we have established valued partnerships over the years: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school, the Ursuline High School and Wadham School in Somerset. We also welcomed VIP guests including Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and current Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education; and Matthew Barzun, American Ambassador to the UK. The rest of Mulberry’s pupils gathered in the Sports Hall to watch a live stream of Mrs Obama’s address.

Following an introduction by Dr Ogden and opening remarks by Justine Greening, Mrs Obama delivered a heartfelt and moving speech about the urgent need to prioritise girls’ education. She spoke with conviction about the impact a good education has not only on a girl’s life, but on the lives of her family and her community. Her passion was clear as she spoke about how valuable education is. She touched on her own background, growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in Chicago, dreaming of attending a top University and wondering how she was going to get there when she knew nobody else who had ever been to university. Students listened, rapt, as she encouraged them to be ambitious, to stay dedicated to their studies, to know the value of their education, and to lend their considerable energy and talent to helping other girls across the world to access education.

Mrs Obama’s speech was followed by a Q&A with Dr Ogden and Julia Gillard. Students asked questions about how they could follow in Mrs Obama’s footsteps and become lawyers, and what practical steps they could take to support girls who have not yet been given the educational opportunities Mulberry girls and their peers have enjoyed. As she took leave of her audience, Mrs Obama shook the hands of many students, and hugged many others. Her warmth and sincerity shone through and the audience, already moved by her speech, was left buzzing with excitement and energy.

After leaving the stage, Mrs Obama paid a surprise visit to the students gathered in the Sports Hall, telling them she couldn’t possibly leave them out.

Long after her departure, Mulberry students were filled with energy and excitement. More than ever before, our students have been galvanised to pursue their own dreams and ambitions with passion and drive; and to share their energy and experience with their sisters around the world.

We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to Michelle Obama and her team at the White House for a day our staff and students will never forget.

We are very excited to report that Mulberry has been given an official invitation to visit Mrs Obama and President Obama at the White House next year. Fundraising for this trip will commence in September.



U.S Embassy Eid Celebration

US Embassy Eid PartyOn Wednesday 22nd July, Mulberry attended an Eid reception hosted by the American ambassador to the UK, Ambassador Matthew Barzun. Taking place against the stunning backdrop of the Ambassador’s private residence, Winfield House, the reception celebrated the customs and traditions of Eid, and paid tribute to Muslim communities all over the world.

Sujina Khatun, Tahira Miah, Bushra Hussain, Thasneem Zaman and Nusrath Hassan attended alongside the Women’s Education Team. Speaking at the reception, Ambassador Barzun personally thanked Mulberry for attending, mentioning the First Lady’s visit in June. He went on to talk about the importance of communication and strong community links, and the ways in which technology can be used positively to draw communities together on a local, national and international level. Students had the opportunity to network with other guests, and were excited to learn more about the Ambassador’s Young Leaders UK programme, which seeks to bring together motivated young people under 30 to discuss, debate and reflect on issues within UK and US politics and culture, particularly the special relationship between the US and the UK. We had a wonderful evening enjoying Ambassador Barzun’s famous hospitality, and our thanks go to the US Embassy for all their support. 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers Youth Conference

Mulberry School for Girls has run an annual Youth Conference since 2002, bringing together hundreds of students from around Britain to explore issues of common concern. This year, we are delighted to be holding the conference in partnership with National Theatre Learning and Langley Park Sixth Form. The conference will bring together schools from across the UK to explore the play Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a new play by David Hare based on the book by Katherine Boo, who spent three years in Annawadi, a makeshift slum surrounding Mumbai airport, recording the lives of its residents. Curated and hosted by students from both schools, the conference will explore the themes of the play, global inequality, social justice, aspiration and education. Speakers will include Rufus Norris, Director Designate of the National Theatre, Akala, hip hop artist and social entrepreneur, Rahima Begum, Founder of Restless Beings, Chrisann Jarret, Campaigner and Founder of Let us Learn and Professor Heidi Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith & Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as representatives of Focus E15 and Magic Bus. The conference will also feature a range of practical workshops which empower young people with leadership skills to create positive change in their communities.

MulberryTalks Lecture

MulberryTalks are a series of short seminars delivered by internationally renowned speakers from a range of fields. Commissioned in celebration of Mulberry’s 50th Anniversary year, MulberryTalks create opportunities for our school community to come together  in lively intellectual debate. 

Each MulberryTalks speaker  will address a different topic or theme. The speaker will give a 30 minute presentation of their ideas in the most innovative and engaging way they can. Questions will then be taken from the audience.

Our  inaugural MulberryTalks lecture took place on Thursday 22nd January, with Professor Julian Le Grand, Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE) since 1993. His lecture was entitled, ‘Academia and Whitehall: how can intellectuals influence public policy?

Professor Julian Le Grand spoke about his time from 2003 to 2005 when he worked at 10 Downing Street as Senior Policy Advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Since then, he has worked closely and extensively with the UK Department for Children, Families and Schools and the UK Department of Health; and has acted as an advisor to organisations including the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the  BBC.

The lecture was attended by 160 students who study Economics, Government and Politics and Sociology. All the students who attended have an active interest in public service

Professor Julian Le Grand was awarded a knighthood in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for his services to social sciences and public service.