By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
As she has done at most, if not all, of her stops along her book tour, Michelle Obama joined 13 members of a local book club to discuss her memoir at the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library on Sunday afternoon (March 24th) prior to her evening conversation with Jimmy Kimmel. (1*)
“Balanced Black Girl” book club was created by Lestraundra Alfred, a Seattle-based social media manager. The idea for Alfred’s book club sprouted from her diversity and wellness podcast of the same name soon after Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” was released in November 2018.
“A lot of what she shared with us was cutting ourselves slack as women,” Alfred said. “We can be very hard on ourselves and very hard on each other and something she touched on at multiple points was to go easy on ourselves, be compassionate with one another because we’re all just doing the best we can.”
In her larger, more expansive talk to a sold-out Tacoma Dome crowd (about 18,500 in the audience) Michelle Obama talked about her childhood in the south side of Chicago and the parenting style of her disabled, yet hard-working father.
“I was raised right there as an equal,” she said about the way her father taught her and her brother, Craig, how to throw a ball — and throw a punch.
She talked about the fulfillment of giving back, rather than accumulating titles, income and degrees — but also shared the life-changing impact of education. Obama said at some point in her life it felt as if she was just checking boxes, not living with meaning.
At an early age, due to her determination, she had acquired a law degree and a prestigious job – and then had the opportunity of mentoring a law school hotshot named Barack, (who arrived late and wet, lost and caught in a rainstorm – but got the job anyway) and the pressure, not only of being in the White House, but of being the only woman of color on the world stage in a variety of arenas from trade or treaty talks to the United Nations and sharing meals with Queen Elizabeth.
But the bulk of her story, she emphasized, was not her time in The White House – but her time acquiring the essential life skills that got her there and allowed her to cope gracefully with unmitigated harassment and obstruction.
Her goal, as she stated several times, was to fill The White House with a reflection of America as it was – every race, religion, ethnicity welcome – and full of song and celebration – and children.
More mission-statement than biography, Obama said she hoped her book portrayed a story that any one of us could tell, and that we get to know the little girl Michelle Robinson (Michelle’s maiden name) before the title of FLOTUS (2*) consumed and identified her. “The meat of who I am is that little girl in those stories and that journey,” she said.
Her focus was on the power and life-long impact of role models and representation in all career fields for young people, especially girls and young people of color, in order to see what can be achieved by each and every one of us.
In a small, fairly intimate setting and in a massive venue, Michelle Obama spoke clearly, graciously and generously without a negative or hostile comment.
In some parallel universe, not riven by political agendas and talking points, any person, of any race or background who made such contributions or upheld standards and goals of health, well-being and national unity would be appreciated.
Who would have imagined, for example, that for the First Lady of the USA to encourage children to exercise and eat better would ever have been controversial?
Her main message was the importance of telling our own story, using our own voice and, with kindness and empathy, lend our hands to make the world a better place.
Giving in to cynicism, scape-goating, vindictiveness and fatalism is easy. Getting out there, listening to, even respecting those who disagree with you is hard work, but it is always worth it.
You can see – or relive – highlights from an evening like no other in Tacoma here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNQI74TPtbU. (3*)
(1*) Jimmy Kimmel reminded the crowd that he began his media career in Seattle in 1989 at KZOK, on the ‘The Me and Him Show.” Kimmel could not avoid a “Tacoma Aroma” jab – “It smells so much better in Tacoma now, it really does. I don’t know if you lit a giant stick of incense, but it has improved dramatically.”
(2*) FLOTUS – First Lady Of The United States
(3*) A key story (at 34:40) of Michelle’s brother’s first encounter with a white police officer is edited out. It is a revealing encounter of a white police officer, a black child and the black child’s determined mother.