by Jessica Price -
SGN A&E Writer
BECOMING BOOK TOUR
Two weeks ago in Hawaii, along a stretch of black, rocky beachm I noticed '3 OBAMA' written in those ubiquitous white pebbles along the shoreline. Two years into post-Obama America, and we're still clinging to memories of the dignity that Barack and Michelle brought to the White House. When in our recent history has anyone missed a former First Family so incredibly much?
We've missed them enough that over 18,000 people turned up to see Michelle Obama at the Tacoma stop of her Becoming book tour last Sunday night, breaking attendance records for the 21-city tour. The lines were long and slow-moving, but an easy camaraderie drifted among the lines of people streaming into the Dome. People of every gender, race, age, and other persuasion were positively gleeful, happy just to bask in a little of Michelle Obama's light. Good will and laughter prevailed from concession stands to merch lines to ridiculously overpriced parking lots.
Pre-show, a series of light-hearted moments from Michelle's public appearances played, including the time she did push-ups on 'Ellen' and other memorable clips. Girl-power pop songs and a live feed of #IAmBecoming tagged photos on social media raised the excitement level. Next a small group took the stage and stepped one by one from darkness into a single spotlight, each answering the question 'Who are you becoming?' Among the speakers were a local Girl Scout, an active duty green beret, and local heroes Sue Bird, Ciara, and Eddie Vedder.
With an elegance and poise that are by now second nature, Michelle appeared and settled in to chat amicably with Jimmy Kimmel on a variety of subjects for over an hour and fifteen minutes. Spanning her childhood in Chicago to the personal losses of a college friend and her father, she spoke openly and thoughtfully about the self-examination that shaped her decision to alter her career trajectory after achieving early success in corporate law. There were moments of humor and levity (when asked if the Obamas had returned to the White House, she replied 'no, we haven't been anywhere near that house' with a wry smile), but stopped short of saying anything disparaging about the current administration.
She described the kids' last sleepover the night before the inauguration and the chaos of moving day ('grab your blankie, grab your biscuit, because the Trumps are coming and ya'll got to go'), as well as her 30-minute collapse into exhausted tears as she departed. During their time in the White House, the Obamas were held to an incredibly high standard, one with zero margin for error. Living under brutal scrutiny for eight years, with so many detractors eager for the slightest misstep, did not break her spirit or that of her family. Yet as a mother, wife, and human being, it would be impossible not to be marked by them. And leadership through fear - fear of your neighbors, fear of each other, she admonished - is not the answer.
Everyone has a story and context (a sentiment she shared earlier with members of the Balanced Black Girl Book Club at the Tacoma Public Library). Her life pre-White House forms the bulk of her memoir, she said, and her focus was to convey the importance of communicating that context. 'I'm an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories, and other voices. There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story and using your authentic voice, and there's grace in being willing to know and hear others. This for me, is how we become.'
The Becoming tour was much more than an appearance in support of a best-selling book. In many ways, it was a reminder that the unifying energy in the room, the inspiration and hope, is a legacy the Obamas left behind that cannot be undone. It was also a peek into the real woman behind the public figure - the funny, sarcastic, brilliant, beautiful, and relatable woman. Through her memoir and tour, she can be herself, laying the chaos of the White House years to rest. Her new work will be in increasing awareness and fighting for accessibility for education in young women - education is power, she said.
Just two days after her sold-out appearance at the Tacoma Dome, it was widely reported that the former First Lady's memoir is poised to become the best-selling memoir in history, having just surpassed 10 million copies sold. It will be another record broken in a remarkable lifetime of firsts.
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