Michelle Obama tells crowd: 'Be brave enough to open ourselves up'
Michelle Obama wants people to know her.
After leaving the White House, Obama could have written a book about galas and meeting world leaders. But she wanted people to know her story in the context of her life so they could understand her, and suggested that everyone might feel better as Americans if they did the same.
"One of the things we don't get to do with each other is that we don't understand each other in our context," Obama said. "We see the superficial. We see each other through stats and skin color and race and party, and that tells us nothing about each other, which is why we feel so disconnected."
Obama said people needed to know about that little girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, hear the stories of her father and the neighborhood where she grew up and her struggles in order to more fully understand her.
"We have to share ourselves with each other if we want to break this cycle of discontent and fear," Obama said. "We have to be brave enough to open ourselves up to each other, because one of the things I say in the book is it's harder to hate up close. It's easier to hate a neighbor that you don't know ... and you haven't taken the time to open up and see, well, here are your hurts and here are your challenges. We are not doing that with each other."
Obama — a former lawyer, hospital vice president, wife and mother but perhaps best known as the former first lady — spoke Tuesday about “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama” during her book tour before a sold-out crowd at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
She began and ended her talk by encouraging others to open up to one another.
"We are just a little lost now," Obama said. "I think the only way we can get back together is if we open ourselves up to each other, and it starts with our young people being more open to each other, to feeling more confident about their journeys, feeling pride in their stories."
"If we understand there are so many ways to be an American. There is no one right way. It doesn't look a certain color, it is not a certain income … then we will all feel better."
She was clad in a black-and-white pantsuit as she spoke in an intimate conversation onstage with Phoebe Robinson, a comedienne, author and producer.
She said her father and brother treated her as an equal growing up. But that, she said, is not common for other young women.
"This is so pervasive that women don't even talk about it," Obama said. "Women face, all throughout all their lives, ... people putting you down or somebody touching you the wrong way ... Most women experience something like that on a daily basis. And we pretend like it doesn't take a toll on us but it does. A little cut here and there and we grow up and we are covered in cuts."
That's what lead to the hashtag, #MeToo, Obama said.
"I just want to the men to understand ... you have to treat (women in your life) with respect," Obama said.
Obama offered a suggestion for students going to college: Minority kids do not always need to blend in.
"Every young person needs a place of respite," Obama said, adding that students need mentors to help pull them through. "Kids can't be afraid of needing their own community."
Obama also spoke about being black, and how it has affected her life. She said there are so few African-Americans in positions of authority and that even now, she feels like she has to be perfect, clear and more.
"That's why I talk about it," Obama said. "It is a burden that is real."
She ended by saying that she hoped her legacy would be her work with young people.
"To every young person out there that reads this book or hears me or sees me, know that this is possible: It is in you," Obama said. "There is a country waiting to lift you up."
"No matter what we are feeling now," she said, "Let me tell you, I have traveled all around this country and there is more goodness and possibility and kindness and openness than not."
King High School student Jody Dowdell-Gill, who attended the event, called Obama an idol.
“I see her as an idol because of all the things she has done as first lady and after the White House," said Dowdell-Gill, 17. "It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to go and see her.”
Dowdell-Gill was among 100 students from eight Detroit high schools selected to attend Obama's talk, one of 12 across the nation, through the Michigan College Access Network and the Detroit College Access Network.
Joining Dowdell-Gill was Angelica Bajos, a senior who carries a 4.3 grade point average at Voyageur College Prep High School in Detroit. She said she considers Obama a role model.
"Michelle Obama is a very highly educated woman of color who advocates for women and children's education," said Bajos, 17. "Education is very important to me."
Bajos called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Before the event,Alexis Adams-Wynn wrote on Facebook: "Tears already flowing and she hasn't even walked out yet."
Obama's book, published Nov. 13, has become a best-seller, topping 3 million in sales. She announced Tuesday that she would extend her tour into next year to include 21 other events, including those in Austin, Texas; Toronto; Atlanta; and Copenhagen.
Her book includes topics about racism, and offers personal subjects like having a miscarriage and going through in vitro fertilization. She also criticizes President Donald Trump for promoting the false “birther” rumor that her husband was not a U.S. citizen.
Detroit was on the first part of Obama's tour, and many local residents and others bought tickets ranging in price from $29.50 to $300.
"I've been so humbled by the response to the tour thus far ...," Obama said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Obama visited the Motown Museum in Detroit, where she surprised a group of Wayne State University students.
Later, among the crowd arriving early for the book tour was Diane and Alicia Storey. The mother-daughter team drove two hours from Battle Creek so they could see Obama.
"Aside from her being a role model for African-American women in general, I just wanted to be able to have that closeness with her," said Alicia Storey, 34. "I see her on TV all the time, but this is an opportunity to see her up close."
Mia Alexander's three sons and their wives bought her an early Christmas gift to see Obama, putting her in the sixth row with her sister, Joyce McKinley.
"They are blessing us for Christmas," said Alexander, 54, of Romulus.
She wanted to see Obama because she was the first African-American first lady and she admires her work with children.
"She's very family oriented, and that is the key to life," said Alexander.
McKinley, who read Obama's book, said she appreciates the message that she sends to young girls.
"She let's them know they can be anything they want," said McKinley of Detroit. "Not just black girls, but white girls, too."