“Who are you becoming?” Michelle Obama questioned the audience of more than 18,000 people at Sunday night’s intimate conversation in the Tacoma Dome.
The event to promote her book “Becoming” was originally planned for Feb. 8, but was rescheduled due to severe snowfall in the Seattle area in early February.
Obama captured the attention of thousands, eliciting laughter and thunderous cheers as she elaborated on her childhood and White House memories documented within the pages of her memoir.
Throughout the crowd, audience members danced and sang along to a lively playlist of upbeat songs including “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder to “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé while waiting for the former First Lady.
Tacoma brought in the largest crowd yet of her 31-stop international tour, announced Jimmy Kimmel upon taking the stage as a guest moderator for the show.
Notable local legends, such as WNBA Seattle Storm player Sue Bird, the spouse of a Green Beret, singer Ciara, a Girl Scout, and Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder, opened the event with who they are becoming.
Rather than reading as a biography, Obama said she hoped her book portrayed as a story so people can get to know the little girl Michelle Robinson, Michelle’s maiden name, before the title of FLOTUS consumed her identity.
“The meat of who I am is that little girl [in] those stories and that journey,” she said.
She discussed the importance of role models and representation in all career fields for young people, especially girls and youth of color, in order to see what can be achieved by anyone.
Right now, she said, it appears the only representation is male, white and wealthy.
Barack is still writing his book, Obama said, to which Kimmel asked if he has indulged in smoking while working to finish the book.
“He better not be,” Michelle said. “No, no, he kicked the habit. He committed to stop smoking when healthcare was passed — ”
“He almost got to go back to smoking,” Kimmel said.
“Yeah, I know…” Mrs. Obama replied, turning to look directly out at the crowd. “I miss us too, ya’ll.”
She spoke about empowering young girls to become strong women and how equal upbringings build such characters.
Obama spoke fondly about her five-block radius of a world growing up and her hardworking father.
“I was raised right there as an equal,” she said about the way her father taught her and her brother, Craig, how to throw a ball — and throw a punch.
She talked about the fulfillment of giving back, rather than accumulating titles, income and degrees — but also shared the importance of education. Obama said at some point in her life it felt as if she was just checking boxes, not living with meaning.
“College doesn’t teach you how to think about who you want to be in this world,” Obama said, but she also strongly coaxed the crowd to attain education to better yourself.
Don’t teach kids to pick titles; teach children to explore who they are and who they want to become, Obama said.
Kimmel asked her if the Obamas had been back to visit the Trumps at the White House, to which the crowd erupted with laughter.
After a pause, Obama answered with a head shake.
“We have not gone anywhere near that house.”
Former President Obama’s departure from office when President Trump was inaugurated brought uncontrollable weeping because it was the first time she was able to “release and say, out loud, ‘That was hard,’” she said.
“That Michelle, that First Lady Michelle, was much more buttoned-up in a way that I don’t have to be now because I wanted to make sure that Barack and I, that we lived up to a very high standard,” she said. “Because we knew, as the first, that we would be setting the tone for anybody else who was not male and white coming in to the White House.”
To wrap up the evening, Obama detailed ways to become a better self and a culture the world needs: Find and value the story in you, be brave enough to put your story out there, practice every day the person you want to become, and vote while using every emotion to fuel your power at the polls.
Mrs. Obama joined 13 members of a local book club to discuss her memoir at the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library on Sunday afternoon prior to the evening show.
“Balanced Black Girl” book club was created by Lestraundra Alfred, a Seattle-based social media manager. The idea for Alfred’s book club sprouted from her diversity and wellness podcast of the same title soon after “Becoming” was released in November 2018.
“A lot of what she shared with us was cutting ourselves slack as women,” Alfred said. “We can be very hard on ourselves and very hard on each other and something she touched on at multiple points was to go easy on ourselves, be compassionate with one another because we’re all just doing the best we can.”
“She really encouraged us to share our stories and talk to one another and to uplift one another by having real conversations, and building community among women I think is the biggest takeaway,” Alfred said.
After the book club, the women poured from the building, excitedly chatting about their time with Obama and still awestruck by her grace, a few women told the Mirror.
“I just can’t believe I was in the presence of Michelle Obama,” said Nicole Keicher from Seattle.
Lily Pridgeon, from Bonney Lake, is a mom of two young girls. At Sunday’s afternoon event, Pridgeon said Obama talked about parenting.
“It was really inspiring to hear her talk about how she raised her girls and treated them as individuals and how we need to empower our daughters to be themselves and encourage whatever it is that they’re interested in,” Pridgeon said.
And as Lestraundra’s mother, Trina Alfred, put it: “It’s like having a conversation with your wisest girlfriend who gives amazing advice, and who is hilarious and down to earth.”
• Olivia Sullivan is a reporter for the Federal Way Mirror.