I had a hard time picking up this book. I thought that I knew a lot about Michelle Obama and that the book would fall flat for me. After all, she and her family lived in a fishbowl for all of us to watch for 8 years. I was wrong. What I didn’t know was the person behind the persona – the feelings and complexity inside the image of the former First Lady.
I always root for the underdog – the team that isn’t supposed to win and the person who isn’t supposed to succeed. By her own admission, Michelle Obama wasn’t supposed to end up in the White House and having heard her story, I agree that her journey was not nearly as straightforward as most others who have lived in that famous home. She grew up very modestly on the southside of Chicago, her family living on the second floor of a small home owned by her aunt and uncle. Her family was in many ways traditional, with her mom staying home during many of her growing up years, but her parents weren’t satisfied with the status quo for their children. They wanted change and progress for their children, or perhaps they hoped that their children would be the change and create the progress. Regardless, her parents sacrificed and looked for opportunities to help Michelle and her brother, Craig, succeed. They were both excellent students and amazingly, both graduated from Princeton University.
Michelle Robinson was successful before she met Barack Obama. After graduating from Princeton, she attended Harvard Law School, and was hired as an attorney at a highly regarded Chicago law firm. Because she had a strong desire to give back to her community, she eventually moved from the law firm to government and community service work. Making this move was bold and signified that she has more interest in life than just earning money – she wants to make a difference.
Throughout the book, Michelle shared that she is often made to feel that she is “other” and that she at times, doesn’t feel like she belongs. As a result, she has great empathy for people who are perceived as outsiders and those who are different. Beautifully, she said that “We grow up with messages that tell us there is only one way to be American. That if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong.”
We have all been made to feel “other” at some time in our lives. It’s a feeling that we are not welcome or that we don’t belong. It may have been that time when you were looking for someone to play with at recess or sit with in the school cafeteria. Or that time you started a new job and no one made you feel welcome. Or that meeting you attended, and there was no one in the room who looked like you – they were a different gender, ethnicity, or nationality – and they didn’t offer encouragement or other sign of acceptance. Michelle Obama shared that she too, has lived through those moments just like us, even as she assumed her duties as the first African American First Lady of the United States.
Becoming is a story that so many of us can relate to. If you feel like you or your ideas are different or unique, or the way you communicate isn’t always understood, or that finding acceptance is sometimes a challenge, then you should read this book. In the words of Michelle Obama, “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.”
In honor of Black History Month, I am reading books about African Americans. What are you doing to celebrate Black History Month?
Do you have a story you can share about a time when you didn’t feel accepted or that you didn’t belong? How did you overcome those feelings?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?