SMU staff member talks fitness with First Lady Michelle Obama

SMU staff member Andrea Roberts at lunch with First Lady Michelle Obama, February 2012 - photo by Brad Loper, The Dallas Morning News
SMU staff member Andrea Roberts (left) had lunch with Michelle Obama when the First Lady visited Dallas to promote her Let's Move! children's health initiative. Photo credit: Brad Loper / The Dallas Morning News

Bicycling has its benefits, but this one’s a rarity: Having First Lady Michelle Obama invite you to lunch to talk about it.

That’s what happened to SMU’s Andrea Roberts, events coordinator for Development and Alumni Affairs Reunion Programs. She and her husband, Jason, are better-living activists based in North Oak Cliff, and earlier this month they dined with the First Lady at a Fort Worth Olive Garden. (The chain is promoting a healthier new kids menu.)

Mrs. Obama met with the Robertses and a few other local families to discuss her Let’s Move! campaign, which promotes healthy lifestyles for children. “I had to remind myself a few times during the meal of who I was eating with, because it felt very natural, as if I were talking with just another mom about our kids,” Roberts says. “It was a wonderful experience, indeed.”

The lunch roundtable opportunity stemmed from a recommendation by White House photographer Sonya Hebert, a former Dallas Morning News staffer who was aware of the Robertses’ commitment to improving lives and communities. Mrs. Obama shared stories about her daughters, including one about Malia inviting friends to her birthday party at an outdoor facility with bike paths.

“She asked her friends to bring their bikes, and at that point found out that most of them never learned to ride a bike. These are 14-year-olds!” Andrea says. “Parents are too afraid to let their kids explore and ride bikes in the neighborhoods because of a false perception of danger. My husband brought up the fact that childhood abduction numbers are the same as they were when we were kids riding around, and she was very aware of that and corrected him by saying that the stats were actually lower now.”

Andrea and Jason talked with the First Lady about their Bike Friendly Oak Cliff initiative iBike Rosemont, rolled out in 2010 to inspire more than 140 Rosemont Elementary students to ride bikes to school. They also talked about the now internationally recognized Better Block project they began in 2008 to revitalize blighted neighborhoods and create walkable, safe areas for families to enjoy.

“It’s a completely different modern society, and the First Lady is trying to find ways of bringing kids back to the basics, before this over-consumption of processed food and video games,” Andrea says. “Did you know that the President is the assistant coach for his daughter’s basketball team? And he has yet to miss a game this season. I was so impressed by that. If he can do it, then I don’t think anyone has an excuse to not be plugged in to their kids’ activities and lives.”

Written by Denise Gee