On Tuesday she had a special message for students at the Mulberry School for Girls. It's located in the east London neighborhood of Tower Hamlets, which has a higher percentage of Muslims than any other area in the United Kingdom.
“Maybe you read the news and hear what folks are saying about your religion,” the first lady told the students, many of whom were wearing hijab. “And you wonder if anyone ever sees beyond your headscarf to see who you really are, instead of being blinded by the fears and misperceptions in their own minds. And I know how painful and how frustrating all of that can be.”
“But here’s the thing -- with an education from this amazing school, you all have everything, everything, you need to rise above all of the noise and fulfill every last one of your dreams,” she continued.
About 35 percent of Tower Hamlets’ residents are Muslim, primarily from Bangladeshi immigrant families. The neighborhood faces the challenges of poverty, high unemployment and health inequalities, according to the Tower Hamlets Council. More than 75 percent of Mulberry’s students qualify for free school lunch.
But these Muslim students have been defying the odds.
The school has been rated “outstanding” by the country’s education inspectors. The teachers' efforts result in higher grades on standardized tests every year. Plus, more than 80 percent of Mulberry's graduates go on to attend college.
Drawing similarities to her experience growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side, Obama said she is proud of the girls’ passion.
“I look out at all you young women and I see myself. In so many ways, your story is my story.”