Bankole: Michelle Obama shows triumph is not impossible

Bankole Thompson
Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks at a rally to encourage voter registration on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, in Coral Gables Fla.

No one is born a failure. No one is born extraordinary. We are each endowed with gifts and hidden talents waiting to be fully discovered and applied.

Our greatness in life depends on our ability to withstand adversity and to rise above the limitations placed upon us sometimes by structures and forces designed to do just that.

In essence, we are each a success story waiting to happen. We are a book waiting to be written someday with unforgettable lessons for succeeding generations.

That is the message conveyed in former first lady Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” about her own life growing up and eight years spent at the White House, which has captured the attention of the nation in a powerful way. Obama will be discussing her book Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena.

The book written like the manifesto of a woman who has become a symbol of inspiration for little girls around the world, is also a therapy for a nation like ours currently mired in bitter divisions and political recriminations.

As a result, Michelle Obama, who was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Jan. 17, 1964, has become a cynosure of originality for readers to explore her insight into how she overcame an America that never imagined her living in the White House. It is a didactic work about how she acted with courage in defiance of a system that rarely offered a meaningful future for black girls born during an era of segregation. 

A startling revelation in the book, Obama writes, was when a college counselor at the start of her senior year at Whitney M. Young High School in Chicago told her she wasn’t fit to attend Princeton University.

“I’m not sure that you’re Princeton material,” Obama recalled of the exchange. She defiantly applied to the Ivy League school because, as she noted, “I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself.”

After she got an acceptance letter in the mail from Princeton, Obama wrote, “I never did stop in on the college counselor to tell her she’d been wrong, that I was Princeton material after all. It would have done nothing for either of us. And in the end, I hadn’t needed to show her anything. I was only showing myself.”

At Princeton, she held her own in a classroom dominated by male students. Obama wasn’t going to let them dictate the conversations because she didn’t come to New Jersey to take a back seat.

“Hearing them, I realized that they weren’t at all smarter than the rest of us. They were simply emboldened, floating on an ancient tide of superiority, buoyed by the fact that history had never told them anything different,” Obama writes poetically in the book.

Obama’s journey to Princeton which set her on a trajectory to global stardom was possible because she mustered the courage and resolve to not give up. Had she listened to the college counselor’s psychologically damaging advice and decided otherwise, she probably would not have been where she is today.

For kids today, the lesson is to believe in themselves and not allow anyone to put a limit on their potential.

Frankly, the book is the embodiment of a remarkable and improbable journey, punctuated at every turn with fascinating events that lay out the blueprint for greatness.

But the book also speaks to the collective generosity and ingenuity of this nation. That no matter your circumstance or background in life, there are individuals — white and black — who would be willing to invest in your vision for a better future.

For example, in 2008, when Barack Obama won the election to become the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American commander-in-chief, the electoral coalition that ushered him into the pantheon of history, was made up of people of all ethnicities.

“If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it was not likely to be the same for me. My grace would need to be earned. I stood at the foot of the mountain, knowing I’d need to climb my way into favor,” Michelle Obama wrote about the White House experience.

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