I was looking for something a little outside of my normal reading genre, when Becoming by Michelle Obama was mentioned. I was instantly intrigued because while I greatly revered the former FLOTUS, I was ashamed to admit I knew nothing more of her beginnings other than she was from Chicago. What I knew of her was what her presence on TV provided and the information that the news filtered and spun depending on who was reporting. I had assumed, albeit falsely, that because she was in the public eye that she had come from a wealthy family with affluence. I realize how horribly wrong I was to make such assumptions. I know that all celebrities and politicians are people with ideas and opinions all based on their own life experiences, and we never know their struggles unless they decide to share them. I didn’t consciously think about where our politicians or leaders come from, but learning about Michelle’s struggles and victories made me admire her so much more.
I decided to download the audio book so I could listen to it on my way to work. I enjoyed listening to Michelle narrate her life in her beautiful melodious voice, beginning when she was a young child living on Euclid Ave in Southside Chicago. She described how they rented their upstairs apartment from her great aunt who taught piano lessons below. Her family dynamics consisted of her father who worked for the water plant, her mother who was a homemaker, and her older brother who was not only a good student but a talented basketball player. She shared her memories about her school and how she worked hard to make good grades and excell. She was selected to be in advanced classes in elementary school, which allowed her to learn independently and fueled her competitiveness. She went on to go the prestigious Whitney Young High School because of her hard work. From there set her sights for Princeton, following in her brother’s footsteps. She expressed frustration over her interview for Princeton, where she was told that she may not be Princeton material. That only fueled her determination to succeed.
Michelle also relayed fond memories of her youthful friends and I was surprised to learn that she was good friends with the daughter of the Rev Jesse Jackson. She expressed that by hanging out with Santita Jackson she realized that did not enjoy the uncertainty of politics. She went on to describe how she went on to Harvard to study law and enjoyed working with people in the legal aid department. She eventually went to work for a law firm going over legal memos and advertising scripts. This is where she met her future husband and the future POTUS. She lovingly described her first impressions of Barack with his thin frame, large smile and pointed out that he was late for their first meeting. She was to be his mentor while he worked for the law firm as a summer associate. They began as colleagues, became friends, and eventually their friendship blossomed into love. It was endearing to hear Michelle talk about their budding romance and her concerns about work propriety and eventually overcoming the long distance obstacle that resulted from Barack leaving at the end of the summer to go back Cambridge. I enjoyed listening to her tell the sweet story of his proposal.
There were also times in the book that brought me to tears. I cried when Michelle bared her anguish at witnessing her father’s battle with multiple sclerosis and his eventual passing. I empathized with her shock and loss of her beloved grandfather who brought Jazz music into her life at a young age. There was also her friend’s death from cancer at just 26 years old and which forced her to think of her life and the contributions that she wanted to make to society. Michelle made changes in her life that would help the minorities in Chicago. She moved away from practicing law and worked for the Chicago city government as an Assistant to the Mayor and then the Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development. Eventually she gave up the city office job for the meager earnings of a not for profit agency that was dedicated to young adult leadership development called Public Allies. Mrs. Obama continued to fight to make lives better for minorities and the poor by working tirelessly for the University of Chicago to reach out to the surrounding community to encourage them to look at the University for their higher education. She also worked at the University of Chicago Hospital to try to better the treatment of low income and minority patients who did not have ready access to health care.
The book detailed her life not only before the Presidency of Barack but also detailed how their life was impacted by his rise into politics. She described the long hours Barack would put in while in the Senate and the missed meals, and sacred minutes they shared when he was able to return home. She spoke honestly of their struggles with this strain on their relationship and the counseling that helped them both. Michelle described the difficulty that she had becoming pregnant and the use of fertility drugs and IVF. She had grieved a miscarriage and had the realization that it was not an uncommon occurrence, just one that was not often spoken of. Luckily she had good friends that were supportive and could also relate. She celebrated the births of her two beautiful daughters and described their personalities as they began to grow older.
After Barack won the Presidency, she relived moving into the White House. She gave an inside perspective of what it was like to pick out the things that her family would need in their quarters. As she spoke she painted a picture of life in the White House that only a select few could ever witness. She was adamant about her girls growing up and being independent and refused to let staff make their beds and pick up their room. She fought with the security detail about balance for the girls to be able to be kids and do normal kid things. Michelle was also extremely concerned with the health of children of America and began to push for better food in schools and more exercise for today’s youth. She even started a garden on the White House lawn that would provide fresh food for the family and staff. Michelle worked hard to make life better for children. She fought for better opportunities for girls not just in America but also in other countries.
There was so much in this book that I loved and I couldn’t begin to cover everything. I applaud Michelle for her tenacity to overcome her meager background and the determination to destroy the barriers that she faced by not only being black, but being a black woman. She admitted the sting of pain that it caused her, because she ultimately cared what people thought, however she did not let it stop her from shining. I whole-heartedly believe that all young girls should read this book and see what a strong, intelligent, black woman really is. Instead of idealizing pop stars or movie stars, she is the example that we should be setting for our girls, of any color.