On Saturday night, Michelle Obama’s Becoming book tour blew into Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. To an absolutely packed stadium (maybe about 20 empty seats total), our forever first lady, got really real, even letting a swear-word slip much to the delight of the adoring audience.
To a spirited pop soundtrack, images from Michelle’s childhood, years in the White House and never before seen photos with close family and friends caused tears to spring up in the eyes of the mostly female attendees. And this is all before Mrs. Obama even made an appearance in the flesh. But sure enough, fifteen minutes later and to thunderous applause, Michelle Obama walked out on stage in a pristine white Brandon Maxwell suit with caged stiletto boots and diamond hoop earrings in an unusual oblong shape. It was surreal to see her in person, a woman who I have idolized for as long as I’ve known she’s existed. It was palpable that the feeling of revent unease bounced off the different bodies there, charging up the room so that everyone sat at rapt attention, soaking in every little hair flick, fidget and mannerism. It was fascinating to see her in person but Michelle and her longtime friend, poet, Elizabeth Alexander who also gave a spoken word performance at the 2009 inauguration and in no time, they got down to it.
If you’ve read Becoming, which has outsold every other memoir by any first lady in history, you know that Michelle spends a considerable amount of time talking about childhood and upbringing. This is because she believes that the core of who she is began there. So, first, she discusses Michelle Robinson and the kind of precocious, rule-following youngster she was. By the time she gets to high school, she is academically advanced and looking at schools, one school in particular, Princeton, which her older brother is already attending. When her guidance counselor rocks her world by telling her that she was simply “not Princeton material”. “As you can tell, I’m still a little salty about it”, present-day Michelle Obama jokes to the audience but uses this example as a catalyst of something that lit her fire way back then. Needless to say, she was Princeton material and then later, Harvard material.
By the time she graduated Harvard, she started working at a law firm in Chicago and that’s when she got a summer intern. This was the part that we all were waiting for: the love story. Famously, Barack was her intern and she still to this day, rued him for being late on his first day. What’s not in the book, is that she said he approached the topic of dating with her a month into working at the firm. Michelle gave him a firm no, wary of fulfilling the stereotype that she was sure the partners wanted. “The two black people from Harvard?? They we’re like ‘so you’re in love right?’No.” Barack, for his part in this persisted, which Michelle found attractive but she was also aware of the fact that would be inappropriate considering that she was a senior associate and he was an intern. “So I’ll quit”, Michelle reported, laughing, to the audience. “And I said, wow, you’ll quit your little summer job for me?” Eventually, no one had to quit and they got together but Michelle said that what really set Barack apart was the fact that he was 100% unafraid to commit. Apparently she had a reputation as a “tough customer”, according to her mother. Her brother recalls the moment Michelle bought Barack home. Mrs. Robinson, remarked “Oh, he’s tall!”, which was a positive for the 5’11 Michelle, “Yea”, her father, Frasier Robinson replied “too bad it won’t last.” For no other reason than that none of the others had lasted, but 2 kids, 2 dogs and 2 presidential terms later, I think it’s safe to say it lasted.
Michelle pointed out that while Barack had an impressive resume by the time he met her, she was most attracted to the fact that he had been a community organizer. She noticed the way he treated people, the way he respected women and the way that he expressed himself. “We are missing out on a lot of good brothers by trying to check off all their credentials”, she said. I mean, Barack had also graduated from Columbia, was the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review so yea, he already had the credentials obviously but ultimately, her advice was to try to see people and their potential, rather than just a tally of accomplishments.
By the time we got to marriage and children, she had the audience rolling and eating out of the palm of her hand. That’s when she let a 4-letter word fly as she said, “that shit don’t work” when discussing marriage inequality and the pressures she felt as a new mother. “I’m back. I’m back” she said, laughing along with the audience. But that human slip-up, is precisely why Michelle Obama is filling stadiums across the country, inspiring people all over the world with her candor and her story.
Michelle’s tour will be taking a hiatus so that she can attend the funeral of George H.W. Bush but she will resume later in December and her book Becoming will make an amazing holiday gift and read. If you do anything else with the rest of 2018, get this book.
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