The mood was festive! When we walked in there were large photo backdrops with lines of people, mostly women, getting their perfect shots. Merch tables were selling photos, posters and of course books! I overheard one person asking if there were any more signed books. “We sold out of those already.”
When we walked in to the stadium we were greeted with festive music and a backdrop of photos from Michelle’s Obama’s Journey both personal and professional. From clips of her on Sesame Street, to Lebron James, to Will Ferrell, during her family’s time in office Michelle Obama became a part of pop culture. Once she had her initiatives, Let’s Move, Let Girls Learn, she went to where the people were and spoke to us in a language that we could understand. It was a reminder that when we saw Michelle Obama, a black woman from the South Side of Chicago as the First Lady of the United States, our country’s version of the “Queen” we had visual proof and confirmation that anything was possible.
Caption: L, Kris Christian, my friend, myself and Del-Marie, an alumnus of Art of Culture and one of my mentees/musical daughters.
My mentee Del-Marie, my friend Kris and I made our way to our suite. Our suite was stocked with food, snacks and a mini fridge filled to capacity with soda & water. The room was filled with women non-profit organizational leaders and their mentees. We all introduced ourselves while enjoying the very delicious spread. We quickly made our way to our seats as the chatter in the stadium quieted in anticipation of the show beginning.
Photo Credit: Rob Grabowski, Invision, AP News.
The show started with Oprah Winfrey coming out to introduce Michelle via a video about her life. The graphics and visuals were all on point! That was followed by a powerful montage of people sharing who they were becoming in person and on video. Once the video ended Michelle and Oprah came onstage to take their seats. The backdrop was a large screen on top of golden yellow curtains. The seats were a dark teal and perfect frames for Oprah & Michelle’s beautiful brown skin.
Michelle rocked a shimmery off one shoulder top, white pants and hot pink heels. I wrapped my head around the fact that I was sitting in the United Center for a book tour, and it was a packed house. According to Time Magazine, 14,000 to be exact. People attend the United Center for concerts, sporting events and now, thanks to Michelle Obama – book talks. Despite the fact that there were so many people in the stadium, Oprah & Michelle managed to make it feel like we were sitting in a small room with them. You could hear pockets of laughter, “Amens” and cackling when certain points were made. Here are some of the nuggets from the conversation which lasted 90 – 120 minutes. Although I wish I could represent the conversation in it’s entirety, I’m highlighting those things that stood out to me.
- Michelle shared how when she called herself “Mom-in-Chief” she received a lot of criticism for that.
- She shared a story about how she wanted to try to normalize the experience of living in the White House for her daughters so unless they were doing formal dinners, she wanted the staff to dress more casually and not in full tuxedos. She said living in the White House was like living in an expensive hotel.
- During her 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts she spoke about how she and Former President Obama went to marriage counseling. Oprah highlighted the fact that had become headline news. Michelle went into more detail about that.
- She described how when her husband was Senator he had to travel a lot and how that impacted the family. When they went to counseling she wanted the counselor to tell Barack his issues, but wasn’t quite prepared for them to help her deal with her own issues. Her biggest takeaway from counseling was that she was responsible for her own happiness.
- She also talked about how she didn’t want the girls and her to be in a position where they couldn’t eat because they were waiting for their father. They made adjustments and dealt with it from there.
- There was a really cute video clip of Sasha & Malia sharing how they had more ice cream during the campaign season than they ever had in their life. They also talked about that night in Grant Park seeing everyone crying and screaming. They also talked about how proud that their mom as First Lady had, and how cool it was that she was also their mom.
- She described having children as the first “joint project” for many couples. In many cases the wife has her thing and the husband has their thing, but the children is “our” thing which presents couples with challenges.
- Oprah asked Michelle “How do you continually go high when the game is set against you?” Michelle’s response was to “Do the work.” She said “your work will speak for itself.” She also talked about “having a lot to do distracts you from the pettiness. If you’re pushing a real agenda you don’t have time to play those games.” Finally she spoke of learning about moving the needle and the importance of removing our ego so that we can get things done.
- Her parents encouraged her curiosity and they encouraged her and her brother to use their voice.
- In safe spaces and private moments she would have “bubble moments” where she would really say what she wanted to say but then when she would come out in public she would say what needed to be said. She also said “You do not say the first thing that comes to the top of your head” and cautioned against that being acceptable.
- She said that we were still trying to figure out what we believe women can do. She described Hillary Clinton and others hitting a ceiling.
- She also described how women were voting against their interests, and both her & Oprah mentioned wrestling with the why.
- Oprah asked her a question about what she has learned about being in rooms with powerful men from Sidley Austin (the private law firm she used to worked for) to others. Michelle said “Our fear that our story doesn’t matter, it chokes us.” She then went on to talk about how we are often more qualified than some of the people who don’t believe that we should be there. How important it is that we speak up when we are in those rooms and at those tables, otherwise we are not making the most of the opportunity for ourselves and others.
- She talked about how women often have ourselves 4th on our list, and we need to put ourselves closer to the top.
On The Writing Process
- While writing she wrote the majority of the book before sharing it because she wanted to be transparent. She would share chapters with some of her early readers one of which included Oprah Winfrey and also her mother.
On Leadership & Life
- She talked about the pressure being the first black family and how she felt the need to be perfect.
- She described how hurtful some of the criticism was during the campaign and while her husband was in office.
- She described reading the newspaper and seeing everything that was going wrong in the country being her husband’s responsibility, which is also where her empathy for anyone holding that seat emanates.
- She talks about learning how to play the piano from her Aunt Robbie on an imperfect piano. The “middle c” was where you were supposed to start to play. On her piano at home the middle C was chipped and brown, but all of the other keys were yellow. When she played her first recital on a Baby Grand, she thought “This isn’t a piano” because all of the keys were perfectly white. She then used that as a metaphor saying that “Many of us are learning to play music on an imperfect piano and don’t even know it.” That was probably the story and the image that stuck with me the most from last night.
Caption: The above video features Non Profit Leaders + Their Mentees! We were all in the suite together.
I highly encourage you to purchase and read the book. It is 426 pages! I plan to start reading it today! For those who were in attendance, if there was something that resonated with you that I didn’t cover but that may be helpful for others please share in the comments below.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to share this experience with one of our Art of Culture alums Del Marie Nelson. Del is a creative powerhouse with a beautiful soul. I will never forget the image of her writing notes during Michelle’s talk and her sharing the moments that resonated with her throughout. Our mission through Art of Culture is about providing access and information, and last night we were able to do just that. Thank you to Derrick Christian and Kris Christian for making last night possible for Del & I. I pray that you both are immensely blessed. Sometimes you feel overlooked. Running a non-profit is not easy and the stack of no’s is often towering over the stack of yes’s. Last night you guys said yes to us, and for that we are forever grateful. We needed that energy so much!
Lastly, thank you to Oprah Winfrey and to Michelle Obama for being shining examples of powerful, strong, unapologetically intelligent and graceful black women. You both have been North Stars for me throughout my personal and professional journey. If I am ever afforded the opportunity to meet you both in person, I will share that with you! I pray that my life and my work can have a fraction of the impact that yours has had on me and so many others.
Side Note: Exactly one year ago today, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Obama Foundation Event, and had the opportunity to meet President Obama.
I recorded clips throughout the night for all of the people who for whatever reason couldn’t be in attendance. I want you to know that I thought of you last night. Here is a Dropbox link where you can view some fo the footage I recorded: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6maqej50q5nw7ro/AADFZnMpTHu-OXQLWUtX66ADa?dl=0. I hope it inspires you and you can get an idea of what it was like to be there!
It was an absolute miracle that God pulled through in the last minute for me to attend. Read the full story here.