In the wake of Tuesday’s election, I needed to read something to lift my spirits so I picked up Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin. A former Washington Post national staffer, Slevin has a decade worth of experience writing about Barack and Michelle Obama and political campaigns. I stayed up late on Wednesday night to finish it and I’ve been thinking about it on my walks to work.
With top-notch reporting and an eye for detail, Slevin tracks Michelle Obama from her humble beginnings on Chicago’s segregated South Side to the halls of Princeton University and Harvard Law School to the corporate law firm where she met Barack to mentoring youth in her South Side neighbourhood to the White House.
I was surprised to discover that Michelle declined to be interviewed for the biography. Slevin instead interviewed family members, friends, neighbours, former classmates, and colleagues. He pieced together what he learned from these interviews and filled in the holes with reports and published interviews. It’s so skillfully done, you would never know.
I enjoyed learning about Michelle’s childhood, her relationship with her parents and brother, the racial discrimination she faced while at Princeton and Harvard, her time on the campaign trail making one-on-one connections with voters, her role as First Lady, and the ins and outs of White House life.
I admire her for her authenticity, confidence, poise, no-nonsense attitude, compassion, courage to speak out against racism, discrimination, and injustice, and her decision to ignore negative comments left on her social media. She knows exactly who she is and doesn’t apologize for it.
She devoted hours to her work on education. In a speech to high school students in Washington, she explained why as first lady she feels so strongly about sharing her story and stressing the importance of getting an education, “Because this is all I can be for you right now, is just this model of an alternative.”
She has inspired me to think deeply about ways I can spread hope and give back to my community.
As emotions are running high this week, this important and necessary read offers the hope we so desperately seek. We’ve made progress, but it’s clear from the racial profiling, police brutality, hate crimes, and protests across the U.S. that we’ve got a long, long way to go. Change begins with us, the people. It begins in our homes, our communities, our schools, our workplaces.
Beautifully written, engaging, thoughtful, revealing, and hopeful, it deserves a spot on your reading list.