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Book Club: Michelle Obama’s Becoming

“Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us,” “Becoming More” — what it means to be a Black first lady in America

Book Club: Michelle Obama’s <i>Becoming</i>

We sometimes forget that the people we see through our television screens have a history too. A story. A life remembered, and in some cases, lost. Some personas are so much larger than life that we even take their existence for granted.

When I first read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, I was left speechless — in tears even, at certain moments.

In this powerful and intimate memoir of her life, Michelle Obama shows us what it takes to be a first lady, as well as a full-time mother, wife, and working woman chasing her dreams. But mostly, it’s a story of a young Black girl in America, who broke all the barriers, despite the punches she took, and came out winning.

From being told by her guidance counsellor that she wasn’t “Princeton material,” to being one of the few “poppyseeds in a bowl of rice” in the Princeton University student body, Michelle Obama shares insights into the harsh realities of being Black in America.

She also considers several instances where her Blackness impacted, and, in some cases, worsened her role as First Lady — “swampy parts of the internet” questioned and derided her early life, depicting her as a typical “welfare queen” — as well as her womanhood, when a congressman ridiculed her posterior in an effort to demean her.

The best part about all of this, however, is that her reflections on these black dots in her past are humble, as if she’s almost thankful for all her struggles because they eventually put her on a path that led to the White House.

In the first section, “Becoming Me,” we see a young, competitive Michelle Robinson in the small apartment on South Euclid Avenue in the South Side of Chicago that is her world. It is there that her mother and father teach her to be fierce and outspoken, where conversations on sex are welcome, and where she struggles with the reality of being not only a woman, who isn’t always encouraged to pursue her dreams, but also a Black woman in America.

We see her journey through Princeton, where she majors in sociology and minors in African-American studies, followed by a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1988.

The second section, and my favorite section, gives us an intimate glimpse into her relationship with Barack Obama. From their first ice-cream date, to her struggles with pregnancy, to her husband becoming the first Black president of the United States of America, “Becoming Us” is a story of the highs and lows that are a part of any marriage.

The third section, “Becoming More,” finally reveals her life as the First Lady in intricate detail. It takes us through kitchens in Iowa, dinners at the White House, and ballrooms at Buckingham Palace, showing us that everything is not as glamorous as it looks.

In one particular scene, she reflects on the dehumanization of Black people in America while looking at the walls of the White House. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she comments. It’s honest, if ugly, but it’s also pure and bold — and it’s her story full of courage.

From marriage counselling to the loss of her father, Michelle Obama lets us into the deepest moments of her life. It’s brave and it helps us realize that all of our stories weave into each other’s somehow; we’re all struggling, all passing mountains, and humanity can be cruel, but also kind.

The title reminds us that we’re always becoming something more and more each and every day. Just as Michelle Obama says, growing up isn’t finite. You don’t become something when you grow up and that’s the end. Just like her, we’re all becoming.

Michelle Obama speaks on girls’, women’s rights at Plan International Canada event

Former First Lady speaks to 3,000 at event with free tickets for youth 14–24

Michelle Obama speaks on girls’, women’s rights at Plan International Canada event

Crowds of eager attendees filled the Mattamy Athletic Centre at Ryerson University on November 28 in anticipation of Michelle Obama’s arrival. The former First Lady visited Toronto in her first Canadian appearance since leaving the White House.

The event was organized by Plan International Canada and The Economic Club of Canada, and it highlighted the importance of education for young girls and gender equality rights across the globe.

The talk format was a conversation between Obama and Rhiannon Traill, President and CEO of The Economic Club of Canada and a Ryerson alumna. Among the attendees were newly elected New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, MPP Michael Coteau, and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

Obama spoke about her upbringing as a young Black girl, being raised by two parents working blue collar jobs, and living in Chicago’s South Side. She credits the sacrifices her parents made and the challenges she overcame for her success as a lawyer.

“I tell my story so often because I think our stories are important, really important, but I think in our society, we’ve come to think that there are only a certain set of stories of ascension that are valid,” said Obama. “Success looks like one thing: it has a race, it has a gender, and as a result of our misperception of how different or diverse our stories are, some of us are ashamed of our stories.”

Obama also talked about issues facing young women in education, one being the intimidation of pursuing careers in STEM.

Tickets for the talk were priced from $250 upwards to $1,500. For every ticket sold, a free ticket was given to a youth aged 14–24.

Spoken word artist Nadine Williams and singer-songwriter Milck opened the event, commenting on their past struggles and societal and cultural standards as women. Milck spoke of her battle with anorexia and Asian societal standards.

Milck delivered a performance of her song, “Quiet,” which she wrote based on personal experiences.

Chief R. Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations addressed the crowd, delivering a prayer and recalling the role of women in the Anishinabek creation story.

Trudeau paid a surprise visit to the event and addressed the crowd regarding women’s issues in the world, including education for girls, forced marriage, and human trafficking.

“Education is the most important element for this reality to take shape and is a guarantee for the social and spiritual well-being of a nation. Education should be unbiased and based on facts,” she said.

Trudeau noted that, in the duration of the event, 3,000 people were married off to much older men and forced to drop out of school. “This is the fact. Two out of three adults who haven’t had the opportunity to read or write on this planet are women,” she said. “Ninety-eight per cent of all the millions of victims of sexual exploitation are women and girls, and right here in Canada and in the US. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime against women.”