The Dallas Examiner
“My husband is making his own adjustments to life after the White House, catching his own breath,” Michelle Obama penned in the forward of her new memoir, Becoming. “And here I am, in this new place, with a lot I want to say.”
The former first lady – and first African American woman in that position – was at the American Airlines Center, Dec. 17, for Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama, where she actively engaged a large audience with what she wanted to say.
That included reminding listeners and readers that before she was the wife of a two-term U.S. president, she was Michelle Robinson, an individual with her own goals, occupations and personality.
Her book – covering such eras of her life as her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, to her earning degrees from Princeton and Harvard, to her post-White House years – presented an accomplished individual who is more layered than just Barack’s wife, which she claimed she is honored to be but did not want to be solely known for.
Former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, moderated the event. In 1991, Jarrett, who was deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley, hired Michelle from a private law firm. At that time, Michelle and Barack were engaged to be married.
During the program, one aspect to personal growth that she dwelt on was the male role models in her life during her childhood.
Michelle urged women in the audience to harken back to the male role models they knew who are worthy of praise, as she voiced that female role models are so often highlighted in the lives of girls that good men may be inadvertently devalued.
She devoted time to the subject by praising her brother, Craig, and recognizing the effort of her father, Fraser C. Robinson III, in raising his children to be respectable citizens, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis.
“He treated us as equals,” she said of her father and his relationship with both of his children. She recounted a time when her brother developed an interest in boxing, and remembered, “He got his gloves, and I got mine.”
Known for her phrase, “When they go low, we go high,” Michelle also pondered the negativity she faced from various camps, both as a Black student and as the wife of the first Black president, and confessed about those whom she described as naysayers and doubters, “They don’t go away.”
“I’m filling up the stadiums, but just today I read an article about somebody still calling my senior thesis ‘incompetent.’ An article today, still hatin’,” she revealed as she reached out to younger members of the crowd.
“There will always be somebody telling you what you can’t do because there are people out here who want some folks to think small. They want you to set your bar low. Because they don’t think you’re worthy, or they need you to think small so that they can feel good.”
The disparagement she faces even now reminded her of a battle of wills she had with a college counselor who did not think she was cut out for an Ivy League education despite her excellent grades.
“So you’re going to have to make a choice as a young person again and again and again to choose to listen to the people who lift you up,” she said, addressing the youth in the audience. “And that’s what I did. I worked around my guidance counselor. Instead, I went to the teachers who knew me, I went to the people who had seen me, and I wrote my application and I talked about my reach.”
“I said, yes, maybe I am reaching with Princeton, but doggone it, reaching is all I know. I am not networked. I am not wealthy. I don’t know much, but my story is powerful – let me tell you about my dad and how he worked in pride and in value.”
“I owned all of my story as a way to say, ‘I’ll show you, but not only will I get into Princeton, but I will get in being fully me.”
Her publisher, Penguin Random House, promoted her book tour with flattering prose which read in part, “… She helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”
Michelle’s theme of the evening was not only that none of it was easy, but that hiding the struggles was dishonest. If the end result is worth the work put in, however, perseverance rather than surrender is always the better choice.
In one instance, she brought up the difficulty of family, including her attempts to get pregnant, and a miscarriage she endured in her mid-30s.
“That was my journey, and that’s what the book is about, was my journey, and the notion that I leave out that important piece of it, it would be false. It wouldn’t be a true story,” she conceded. “The other thing is that I wished that somebody had talked to me about it when I was going through it.”
Michelle recalled that before her first child was born she had a miscarriage and underwent infertility treatments. After braving multiple attempts to get pregnant and feeling isolated, she began to discuss the process with other women around her. She said she noticed that as she began sharing her own intimate story, other women would share their similar stories. During these conversations, she realized she wasn’t really alone.
She also left the crowd with some witty couples advice in the form of perspective as she imparted wisdom on the relationship between herself and the president and the marriage counseling they underwent.
“No one ever tells young couples that it’s hard; it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone,” she exclaimed to applause. “I love my husband. I respect my husband. My husband is a bad dude. I am proud of him. He is stronger than he’s ever been, but there were times that I wanted to push him out a window.”
The former first lady’s confession was followed by rising laughter.
“I didn’t want him hurt, so it wouldn’t be a high window – a first floor window,” she added.
Throughout the levity expressed by the audience, the former first lady underscored that ups and downs within a marriage were normal, and not worth giving up the relationship over.
“I think young people, they tend to look at us as perfect and then when they hit those bumps, they quit. And the bumps, oh lord, the bumps are there,” she admitted.
“I say, you know, if you’re blessed enough to be healthy and married for 50 years, which is my goal, if you have 10 bad years, that’s pretty good.”