Of all the Presidents' wives I've lived to see, none made such an impression on me than Michelle Obama. She seemed to be down to earth and intelligent, someone I would love to meet and get to know. Much dirt had been thrown at Barack and Michelle during the Presidential campaign and afterward, but Michelle seemed to endure it with a dignity and grace without being silent about it. I loved that about her. So, when I learned that Michelle Obama had written an autobiographical book called Becoming, I pre-ordered it as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Becoming begins as the Obamas are starting a new stage in their lives. Their reign as POTUS and FLOTUS is now over and Michelle is in her new home, still in Washington, DC, so her youngest can finish school there. She begins to reflect on what brought her to this stage in her life, the various stages of "becoming." She does so in sections: Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More.
In Becoming Me, Michelle discusses growing up in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. She tells us about her family, about her father who wouldn’t let M.S. stop him from living life and raising his family to enjoy life as well, about her mother who provided her with strength and intelligence and a role model as to how to carry herself when others didn’t quite give her the respect deserved, about her brother who would always find a way to support her and her endeavors. She talked about her Aunt Robbie who taught Michelle how to play the piano, but whose teaching style taught her just as much about life. She talked about her grandfather, Southside, whose life as the son of a Georgia slave in Alabama during the Jim Crow days taught him a healthy distrust of authority figures, doctors and more. His love of music added more culture to Michelle’s early life on this Earth and the family events at his home taught her how important family was.
We learn about Michelle Obama’s schooling and her exceptional intelligence and adaptability that allowed her the opportunity to advance, testing into Chicago’s first magnet high school and doing so well there, that she was able to get into Princeton. More importantly, we saw Michelle’s unwillingness to allow other people’s perceptions of who she was and what she could accomplish, even at this young age, to hold her back. Soon, she was at Harvard Law working toward her law degree, eventually gaining employment at a high-end law firm called Sidley & Austin. It was here that she would meet another Harvard Law student working as a summer associate at the law firm – Barack Obama.
As they hit it off and eventually become more than just friends, we come to Becoming Us. It is during this time with Barack that Michelle starts to realize she wants more than the career she has chosen. She begins to believe she might have chosen the wrong path, but it was the loss of a friend to cancer at an early age, her father to MS and watching Barack as he helped people register to vote, talked about writing a book on race in America, finding a job that aligns with his values, that makes Michelle look seriously at her career path and decide to make a change. And yet, as we learn throughout the book, Michelle Robinson Obama doesn’t do anything willy-nilly – she does her research until she finds the right way to approach something and reach her goals. And so, after carefully researching her options, Michelle decides to say yes to a public sector positions in Chicago city government. She also says yes to Barack’s marriage proposal. From her successful stint as a liaison between the government and the citizens, Michele moves on to build a new organization, a non-profit known as Public Allies, which would focus on recruiting talented youth and training them to become apprentices in community organizations and public agencies with the hope that they might continue on the path and become community leaders.
Meanwhile, Barack has written a book – Dreams from my Father – and run a successful political campaign electing him to the Illinois Senate in 1996. By then, Michele was moving on to become Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, hoping to get the students more involved with their neighborhood and the city residents more involved with the university. And on the side, well, she and Barack were trying to grow their family, the first addition, Maya, born on July 4, 1998; the second, Natasha, born June 10, 2001. Shortly after that birth, Michele would take on a job at the University of Chicago Medical Center working to improve community outreach.
By now, Barack was looking toward becoming an Illinois Senator, but once he had succeeded in achieving this position, people started looking at him as a potential President of the United States. Michele was never very happy with politics or the life of a politician, but she felt she could not deny Barack the opportunity to attempt to attain this goal, nor could she deny the American people the opportunity to be the recipients of what Barack had to offer. The final chapters of Becoming Us explains what it was like to be as involved in the Presidential Campaign as Michele was – the highs and the lows.
Then, we move on to Becoming More, in which Michele discusses what it was like to be the First Lady of the United States, discussing the what the transition felt like for her and her family, moving into the White House and dealing with the security issues as well as the pressing national and international issues surrounding the President. This was an opportunity for Michele to try to correct some issues she had observed while helping her husband campaign across the nation. As First Lady, she helped launch the Let’s Move! Initiative, inviting children to help her plant the White House Kitchen Garden which supplied organic produce and honey for the First Family and major official gatherings. This was the first move in battling childhood obesity, focusing on providing healthier food to kids in school, urging companies to market healthier food to children and more. Then came Joining Forces, an initiative Michele worked on with Dr. Jill Biden, calling for all Americans to rally around members of the armed forces, veterans and their families by supporting them through education, employment and more.
During the Obamas' second term in the White House, Michele worked on the Reach Higher Initiative inspiring youth across America to complete their education and move forward, always reaching for more. She also joined her husband in the Let Girls Learn Initiative calling for countries across the globe to educate and empower young women.
The chapter ends as the book began, with Michele finishing her tenure at the White House, not exactly happy with the election results for her husband’s successor and the hope that hers and her husband’s moves for positive change can continue on, making a better place for America’s youth.
I had great respect for Michele Obama before reading this book. After reading this book, I am amazed at all of her achievements – not because she was able to achieve them, but because she has done so much with her life in her 55 years in this world. It was nice to see that Michele was as down to earth as she seemed to be, proving that she was not perfect, that she had concerns and failures we all can relate to. I enjoyed the moments of humor in the book as much as the drama, including the things about her husband that drove her crazy when she first met him and still do, her work with Barney the Dinosaur (you’ll have to read the book to find an explanation for that one) and her fun moments with friends. And I thought it was a great idea to include so many pictures, both candid and posed for, that help the reader get a visual picture of people and events Michele is writing about in the book.
I found Michele Obama to be a clear inspiration to anyone who realizes that they may have followed the wrong career path. The fact that she was able to realize it early enough and not continue to chase the money and security in preference of following her heart and her dreams is absolutely inspirational to all of us. How many people find themselves stuck in a career they chose for the prestige and the money when they really want to work in public service helping others. Not only did Michele find a way to do that, but she found a way to make this option available to many others.
As I read this book, I was amazed at Michele’s poise through all the nonsense hurled at her through her time campaigning with her husband and during his Presidency. Some folks might never have recovered from the hateful criticism, but Michele Obama showed strength and perseverance and was the image of class that I would hope I could present in the same shoes.
Becoming is an inspirational book, intelligently written and enjoyable to read. It’s a definite must-read for fans of Michele Obama, but I would definitely encourage anyone interested in American history and the history of strong women, especially strong black women, to read this book and share it with their families.