An evening with Michelle Obama

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Cover of Michelle Obama book
Cover of Michelle Obama book "Becoming"
“We were all privy to their intimate conversation”

First Lady Michelle Obama swept into Beantown Saturday as part of the national book tour promoting her memoir Becoming that was held at Boston’s TD Garden. The evening before the event, my spouse and I were gifted front row seats.

The event was simply magical. And, the audience was wildly excited.

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

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Michelle conveyed a universal message of hope. However, her message of self empowerment to women — young and old — spoke a truth across generations. It centered on the theme for the evening.

Michelle Obama’s concept of “swerve” is connected to one of the many messages in her book. The idea grabbed my attention. It was delightfully relatable and meaningful in the way that she conveyed the concept. And it also it caught my attention in ways she shared the 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, Michelle told the audience. She said that we’ll have many lives and chapters in our lifetime because we’re always discovering, evolving, and journeying into “becoming.”

For example, she shared with the audience that in her late teens and 20s she had mapped out a straight and perceived unerring path for her life. It included college, law school, and a 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, all the while she was quite miserable.

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 20 young sisters chosen as part of the Black Girls Rock program to visit with the First Lady.

The book 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. Later, a plum job at a corporate law firm, and to the White House. The book, like the tour, dispenses advice and inspirational self-help.

Michelle’s stop at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester was to inspire a future generation of young leaders often not thought as such. “We were reading your book as if you wrote these stories about us,” a woman told her.

The book, as well as the tour, reintroduces Michelle Obama. Several biographies have been written about her. All are 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 Michelle, while not intended to be damaging, are, nonetheless, stereotypes.

A deceased Caribbean American feminist lesbian 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 Michelle’s tenure in the White House, as well the time she spent 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, Michelle, 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 — Michelle told a crowd before the Wisconsin primary that “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 worst, Michelle told the Post, “I was female, Black, and strong, which to certain people translated only to ‘angry.’ It was another damaging cliché, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room.”

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via Twitter at: twitter.com/revimonroe