Anika Noni Rose

My 5 Minutes with the President

Singer, actress and Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose has starred in such Broadway shows as “Caroline, or Change” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” in hit films such as “Dreamgirls” and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” and, most recently, on CBS’s “The Good Wife.” She recently brought her celebrity to the American Lung Association to speak out for those with asthma. Rose recently performed at the 2011 Tony Awards with the cast of her most recent production, “Company.” She just wrapped up filming “As Cool as I Am.”

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

ANIKA NONI ROSE: I would talk to him about the two things I’m most passionate about: restoring arts to the school systems and working to make sure the CDC National Asthma Control Program is able to stay fully funded. I am currently the spokeswoman for the American Lung Association and an asthma sufferer, and sharing my personal stories on both of these issues would be top on my list. Particularly as they interact in my life. Hard to sing, speak, make a living, when you can’t breathe.

RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would it be?

ANR: Right now it is of the utmost importance that the CDC National Asthma Control Program is kept a separate entity so that they can stay focused on what is a national epidemic. Asthma rates are on the rise, with both children and adults being severely, sometimes fatally, affected. More than half of those with asthma had attacks in 2008, which means they are unable to control the disease. Making sure that there is a group which is dedicated to both prevention and management will save our country a lot of money and a lot of lives. Almost 25 million Americans have asthma. With a $31 million budget, that is a little over a dollar per person. I would ask him to protect this group and the asthma sufferers that so greatly need his help. An ounce of prevention, you know ...

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

ANR: Why haven’t we met before now?

RB: What book would you lend President Obama? Why?

ANR: David Copperfield. It’s one of my favorites. It’s about a little boy who came from more than humble beginnings, and turned his life into something special and meaningful, against all odds. It’s beautifully written and inspirational. I’m sure he’s read it, but now might be a good time to read it again. I’m shocked at how many people oppose the president for what seems to be no reason other than the fact that they can. And I’m amazed at the grace with which he handles it. 

RB: If you were going to send the president to one place in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

ANR: I would take the president to New York. I would like for him to spend some time in our schools and hospitals and visit with some of the many children — almost 428,000 — and adults — 1.452 million — who suffer from asthma, and the conditions in which they live and work, which exacerbate the problem. We could point out the many little things we can do to make a great difference. Then I would send him to Sphatika Spa for some deep relaxation. I’m sure he needs it. 

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

ANR: I think this is as political as I want to be. I will stomp for the two things that are such a strong and influential part of my life: the arts and asthma awareness. One is an endangered species, and the other proliferates daily. I will speak for those who can’t be heard.

Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org