As I casually flipped open my outside mailbox, my eyes fastened on a brown, book-sized box, resting haphazardly on top of a stack of letters. Instantly, I knew it was the book I had ordered a few days earlier. Hastily, I made my way into the family room of my house, nervously ripped off the covering, and came face-to-face with the picture of a beautiful woman, clad in a white, off-the-shoulder dress, named Michelle Obama…First Lady Michelle Obama! I was elated! Now…the whole story of what it’s like to be the First African American First Lady of America, would be digested. The anticipation was stifling, over-powering!
Before delving into the “wows” and “I had no ideas,” let it be clear, this article is not an attempt to review Becoming, it’s written to share the impact reading such a history-making story had on me! Even with my very busy schedule, I managed to complete the book in a week and two days…I read every minute I could…didn’t want to put it down!
Having heard Mrs. Obama give a synopsis of her book on CSPAN, I thought I knew what to expect. Wrong! From the very first chapter, it became clear the story would be heart-warming, humble and honest. It was a “tell-it-like-it-is” story—a story that was straight-forward, compelling, unapologetic and graceful. The style, sophisticated, yet simple, instructional, but embracing, chastising, yet reassuring. It is very detailed, spelling out the where’s, how’s and why’s, with seemingly, picture-perfect memory. I was “all in.”
The title Becoming suggests a work in process—a “this is where I began, these are the steps I went through, and here is where I am now.” It also forecasts a future that suggests the world is better because of “my becoming.” Michelle Robinson did not grow-up with a silver spoon in her mouth. Like many young children, she knew what it was like to desire, but not get, work hard, and sometimes achieve little, fall down, but get up, massage bruises and start again.
One of the essential elements to her becoming, is that she had parents who knew the value of acquiring a good education and sound moral values—values that spelled courage, determination and resolve. These produced the self that meticulously laid the foundation for a First African American First Lady. Most of us have been a “first” of something at one time, and we understand the pressure that comes with being in such a position, but this book gave me a new sense of becoming.
As I read the final pages of her story, I knew my “self” had been transformed, renewed and re-constructed. I was no longer gripped with excitement and wonderment about external forces, but with each word, sentence, paragraph and story within a story, a sense of internal quietude, restfulness and serenity infiltrated my thought and took root. I began to see the bigger picture Mrs. Obama was painting. With each brushstroke of thought, she planted on the massive canvas of thoughts, ideas and practices, a portrait of America—an America becoming—an America that can use many colors to form its portrait, or only one—an America that recognizes the value of each color, culture, ethnicity, gender and economic status, or an America that clings to its past of division, partiality and inequality. What road will we take? What will we place on the eternal canvas?
Becoming highlights freedoms and values that say, “Intelligence has no color, gender, or limitation—no social or economic status, it is what we believe, have faith in, and use every ounce of being to achieve. Limitations are the ones we place on our own thinking…on our own achievements.” Like the “coat of many colors” Jacob gave his son Joseph, we can paint a picture with many colors—colors of success, wisdom, tolerance, justice, lawfulness and unity.
What kind of portrait will the final results be? It depends on the materials we choose…
Written by Dr. Mamie Smith