A day before the launch of her book tour, former first lady Michelle Obama on Monday returned to her high school, Whitney Young on Chicago’s West Side, to talk to 20 girls, all seniors, about her memoir, “Becoming,” in which she writes about how the school exposed her to a world outside the South Shore community where she was raised.
The students, many young women of color, sat in a circle around Obama, a format she has often used. The difference this time was that she was in the building where she spent four formative years of her life, spending hours each day commuting on a CTA bus from the South Side.
Part pep talk, part advice from a mother/big sister role model, Obama told the girls to not let anyone make assumptions about them because of how they look. Do not sit quietly, she advised. Let people get to know you. If “no one has been around a black person, how will they learn?”
She also urged the teens to expand their horizons, using herself as an example of how, as a youth, she pushed herself “out of my comfort zone.”
Obama, 54, told the girls that she prodded her mother, Marian Robinson, to travel with her while in the White House, breaking down her resistance to try something new. Of course, her mom loved the trips.
The visit — the second in a week — is part of highly orchestrated media blitz organized for the kick-off of the book, as Obama fills arenas to talk about her life in conversations with friends. Oprah Winfrey returns to Chicago for the first tour event, Tuesday night at the United Center. Billed as “an intimate conversation with Michelle Obama,” it will take place before an audience of about 14,000.
Obama has added a European leg to her tour, appearing Dec. 3 at Royal Festival Hall in London with more stops likely.
Obama, the Whitney Young class of 1981 salutatorian, surprised a dance class at the school earlier this month when she walked the halls while being interviewed by ABC’s Robin Roberts for a “20/20” special that aired Sunday.
One of Obama’s signature programs in the White House was “Reach Higher,” created to assist students through the college selection process, from applications to financial aid. These students are often the first of their family to attend a university. In the Obama post presidency, “Reach Higher” continues to exist, housed in a non-profit organization and its executive director, Eric Waldo, also met with the girls.
The students meeting with Obama will get copies of “Becoming” and tickets to the United Center event.
And this is interesting…
Obama former chief of staff Tina Tchen told me while serving as first lady, Obama did not keep a diary. The team helping Obama write her book used the detailed daily schedules in their research and interviewed key figures, including Tchen and former Obama White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who back in the day hired Obama for a job in Chicago’s City Hall when she was a deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Obama wrote in her book, at the job interview with Jarrett, “before I left, she offered me a job, inviting me to join her staff as an assistant to Mayor Daley, beginning as soon as I was ready.”
Before she accepted –– and this story has been out there for years –– Obama told Jarrett she wanted to think it over and have Jarrett meet her fiance – a man by the name of Barack Obama.
Jarrett leads the conversation with Obama on Nov. 17 in Washington at the Capitol One Arena and Dec. 17 in Dallas, at the American Airlines Center.
Obama, who likely knew that writing a memoir after the White House was a lucrative possibility, reveals more details in the acknowledgments at the end of the book about how the 426-page volume was produced. She acknowledged that she worked with collaborators, including writer Tyler Lechtenberg, whose start in the Obama world was as an Iowa field organizer.
“The hectic pace of my life as First Lady left little time for traditional journaling,” she wrote. “That is why I am so grateful to my dear friend, Verna Williams” who is now a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “I relied heavily on the roughly 1,100 pages of transcripts resulting from our biannual recorded conversations during our White House years.”
It will be interesting to see if those tapes or transcripts end up at the Obama Museum.
• In her book, Michelle Obama recalls her Chicago upbringing: ‘Am I good enough?’
• • Michelle Obama’s visit thrills dance team at her alma mater, Whitney Young
• • Michelle Obama book tour kicks off Nov. 13 in Chicago