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An evening with Michelle
by Rev. Irene Monroe
2019-01-02

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama swept into Boston recently as part of the national book tour promoting her memoir Becoming; the event was held at the TD Garden. The evening before the event, my spouse and I were gifted with front-row seats.

OMG! The event was simply magical and the audience was wildly excited.

Michelle Norris, a former NPR host, interviewed Michelle Obama. The two Michelles had a fabulous time lollygagging and laughing, making us all privy to their intimate conversation.

Obama conveyed a universal message of hope. However, her message of self- empowerment to women—young and old—spoke a truth across generations, centering it as the theme for the evening. Walking into T.D. Garden mothers had daughters in tow and both carrying Becoming.

Obama's concept of "swerve" is connected to one of the many messages in her book. The idea grabbed my attention, not only in the delightfully relatable and meaningful way she conveyed the concept, but it also caught my attention in ways she shared examples from her life.

"Swerve," is about embracing flexibility. "Swerve" is the ability not to be tethered to a perceived and rigid trajectory of your life, but rather it is about being open to life's journey, and at times merely living in the question about what to do in your life. ( And, do I know about the latter! )

"You're not supposed to know at 20" what you'll be for the rest of your life Obama told the audience. Obama stated that we'll have many lives and chapters in our lifetime because we're always discovering, evolving, and journeying into "becoming."

For example, Obama shared with the audience that, in her late teens and 20s, she had mapped out a straight and perceived unerring path for her life—college, law school, job—to achieve happiness and success. She disclosed, however, that she abhorred being a lawyer, albeit it was one of the many checkboxes on her achievement list.

Her candidness on the topic has inspired others.

"Being that Mrs. Obama's path was not straight, it's just been inspiring to know that my path may not be straight either but I will be successful," Alana Underwood, a senior at Berkley School of Music, told the Boston Globe. Underwood was one of the twenty young sisters chosen as part of the Black Girls Rock program to visit with the First Lady.

The book, as in her promotional tour, takes the audience into the interior of her life—from a happy working-class childhood growing up in a multicultural community on the South Side of Chicago, through her ivy league education, a plum job at a corporate law firm and to the White House. The book like the tour dispenses advice and inspirational self-help.

Obama's stop at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester was to inspire a future generation of young leaders often not thought of as such.

"We were reading your book as if you wrote these stories about us," a woman told her.

Also, the book, as well as the tour, reintroduces Obama.

Several biographies have been written about her—all by white men and women authors, except for American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America and Becoming. Their depictions of Obama, while not intended to be damaging, are, nonetheless, stereotypes.

Deceased Caribbean-American feminist lesbian Audre Lorde once stated: "If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."

During the beginning years of Obama's tenure in the White House as well she time on the campaign trail she was typecast as an "angry Black woman," a racial trope for any sister who speaks truth to power.

For example, during the campaign trail, Obama—candid and excited about the enthusiasm sweeping the country about Barack's run for the presidency—was assailed by Republicans as unpatriotic and angry. In what once seemed inconceivable—a Black president the United States—Obama told a crowd before the Wisconsin primary, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country."

In reflecting on how her image was misconstrued, at best, or, intentionally maligned, at worse, Obama told the Post, "I was female, Black and strong, which to certain people ... translated only to 'angry.' It was another damaging cliche, one that's been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room."

The book, as well as the tour, reintroduces Obama to us as a private citizen. She wrote the book to start a conversation with this country about empowerment and healing.

While Obama's tour will not reach everyone, she hopes the message in her book will, resonating with some unlikely people. For example, Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney who stated his boss repeatedly used racist and divisive language, said he hopes her book will help unify the country.

I think it has the potential to do so.


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