I Too Am Becoming: An Open Love Letter To Michelle LaVaughn Robinson
How reading Michelle Obama's book made me feel seen
I love books. And I don't say that in the way people say they love summer over winter, or that they love Mexican food over Italian, casually and without much deep-rooted affection. I consume books and bury myself in the stories on the pages diving into the worlds created by the writers and authors. However despite this love and hundreds of books later there are only a few that I find myself deeply moved by; so much that I have to return to over and over. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so deeply overwhelmed and moved by a book in the way I was by Michelle Obama’s 2018 autobiography Becoming. I plowed through 421 pages of beautifully written and articulated words in basically a day staying up late into the night because I was afraid to fall asleep and lose the magical and empowering feeling I felt while reading. Due to this fear of loss, I have decided to immortalize this feeling by writing these words in hopes to always remember how I felt reading this work. This book, which is more than a simple body of literature strung together with words, has allowed me to feel seen and understood as an African American woman in her twenties living in a society that is systematically structured to make me feel less than. This book is that black mama “girl get your ass up, stop whining and do it,” yell of empowerment that no matter how old we get you always still need to hear.
The worlds between Mrs. Michelle Obama and I could not be more far apart when presented with some concrete facts on our lives. She is the first African American First Lady of the United States, hailing from the South Side of Chicago who has become a national symbol. Who am I? In the grand scheme of things, I’m a relative nobody; a 26-year-old Nigerian living in Maryland. I haven’t spoken in front of thousands of people, or implemented any policies altering the lives of millions of people, or had to stand up to thousands of bullies every day; the one I had in high school was more than enough to crush me for years. And yet thumbing through the first chapters of the book, first getting to know Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, I've never felt like I related more to a person. You probably laughed out loud after reading that sentence. I mean how preposterous and narcissistic must I sound, comparing myself to a two time Ivy League grad student with a life and career that seems like something I could only dream about. But bare with me as I lay it out for you because even I had to pause many times reading the book as page after page, more and more similarities between us were evident.
At the most basic of similarities, we're both Capricorns, her birthday three weeks after mine. Now if you were to believe the horoscopes, Capricorns are fiercely loyal people who keep a consistent group of people around that we would ride and die for. We are not automatically drawn to the spontaneous or “the swerve” as she calls it, as we always like to maintain a sense of order and control in our lives, which could be seen as she described the stark differences in her lifestyle and that of her girl Suzanne and boyfriend Kevin. Perhaps the most freakish similarity is that like her when I was younger I told everyone, anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a pediatrician when I grew up; because I loved kids and because I saw the joy it brought adults who believed it was a proper career to yearn for. Then like her by the time I got to college, my plan was that I would go to law school and become a lawyer. Although I realized before she did that it simply wasn’t for me and gave it up my senior year of college (is this a point for me?). Like her, I have a father who struggles with health issues and yet with every phone call assures me with “I’m fine,” before changing the conversation back to my life. I see my mother in the indomitable Marian Robinson who also fought for me when I had no voice of my own and has always pushed me to achieve more than I think I can for myself. Like Michelle Robinson, I am currently struggling with the decision between personal fulfillment and monetary comfort in my work; weighing my desire to have an impact on the lives of others with what feels like my mountain of bills and responsibilities. And like her nearly every day of my life for as long as I can remember, I too have asked myself the question that was the common thread through this work; “Am I good enough?”
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I lay these similarities out first because it is bewildering to me that I could have this much in common with an icon such as Michelle Obama. But I think this was one of her goals of this book; to let all the women reading this know how relatable her story is, and that like so many of us she grapples with the challenges that we are made to face every day as African American women in society. She didn’t owe us this book, or the story of Michelle Robinson. After everything she has been put through and made to sacrifice over her last 8 years in public office she didn't owe us an even greater look into her life but I'm so glad she felt like maybe we deserved it, like maybe other women would have liked to know how a woman like Michelle Obama can come to be. On page 284 of the book, she confessed that she, “worried that many Americans wouldn't see themselves reflected in [her], or that they wouldn't relate to [her] journey." Well, I'm here to tell her that she’s so wrong and that she never had anything to worry about. Since reading this book I have sought out conversations with friends, coworkers, strangers on the train, across all age groups, who I’ve seen reading the book to see how her stories impacted them. I sought these conversations with the hopes that others felt the way I felt after reading it; excited and empowered that I could do more and be more. And in all of these conversations, I was never disappointed. Over and over again once the subject of the book was brought up, people’s eyes light up as we dove into a high-pitched, overly-exuberant discussion on how well the words are written, or how we could visualize the apartment on Euclid Avenue, and feel the pain at the loss of her father, and the dread she felt on the day Donald Trump was elected to office. Her stories are our stories, and to know that a woman like her could possess the same woes and fears and insecurities as we do is truly hard to believe but exciting all the same.
I draft this letter to Michelle Robinson and not the phenomenon that is Michelle Obama because that is the woman identify with now, whose struggles I can see mirrored in my life. I cannot fathom the difficulty it takes coming up with a speech for the entire Democratic National Convention or choosing which national policies would be the most impactful to millions of children across the world. But I can relate to fighting to be seen and heard at work, seeking a career rather than a job I feel fulfilled in and trying to determine what kind of man I want to spend the rest of my life with. Michelle Robinson and I waded through the same struggles of our mid-20s. I can only hope that one day I am good enough to have 1% of the impact Michelle Obama has had on the lives of people across the world, but for now, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be seen through the story.
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