Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama speaks during her book tour at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on May 12, 2019. Stephen Colbert was the Guest Moderator for the Nashville stop.

The most important thing Marion Robinson did for her daughter, Michelle, was raise her to be a person, not just a baby or a child.

That’s the fundamental step the former first lady of the United States took on her journey to becoming Michelle Obama.

At the final stop on her book tour on Mother’s Day, Obama told the crowd in Nashville’s sold out Ryman Auditorium how her mother made her a better person before she even knew it.

Because her mother had the sense of mind to treat her as a person from an early age, Obama said her mother fanned the flames of her curiosity.

Marion Robinson had the wisdom “not to snuff out my flame,” Obama told the audience, which allowed her to grow into her own personality and sense of identity.

That was the cornerstone upon which Obama would build her life and legacy on her way to becoming Michelle Obama.

I was shocked to learn I had been approved for the final stop in Nashville, but I am forever changed by what Obama said during the hour and a half she spoke about her book, her life and her time in the White House during what was, arguably, the best presidency in modern years.

Obama’s book, “Becoming” has skyrocketed to the top of the charts and is filled with poignant stories about her childhood, her relationship with her parents, her courtship and marriage to Barack Obama, her family life in and out of the White House and herself.

When asking the crowd to think about who we were all becoming, Obama let us know it was okay to take time to figure things out, to take a step back and really evaluate where we were headed in life.

She herself completely changed the course of her own life once she met Barack, she said. Before they’d met, Obama said she’d been singularly focused on achieving the next milestone, on reaching the next goal. It wasn’t until the two met that she really started to enjoy life in the moment, which she said has dramatically improved her outlook on life.

Much of what she covered is available in her book, which is available everywhere books are sold, but some of the best moments I took away from the night were how Obama tackled politics in general.

Of course she was asked to comment on the current president (she wisely wouldn’t take the bait from moderator Stephen Colbert), but instead Obama discussed how politics is an ugly game that we as people and we as journalists play.

She recounted those terrible moments during the campaign when she was mocked mercilessly as an “ape in heels,” and how it shook her confidence.

 “Politics suck,” Obama admitted.

Those comments about her appearance or the “terrorist fist bump” news cycle were all part of the political game – they had nothing to do with her personally. So learning how to navigate the game of politics while maintaining her sense of self was an important thing she had to learn.

Another poignant lesson Obama told us that night is that politics isn’t about issues or people – it’s about power. Politics is about how people gain and keep power, and nothing is off limits when people are seeking power.

Despite the dirty games of politics, Obama said she is still hopeful for us as people and for us as a country.

America is just a teenager, in terms of relative age and maturity, she said, and no one ever knows what teenagers are going to do.

Still, I take comfort in knowing that someone who has achieved so much and weathered so many personal attacks for little to no reason is hopeful, because that means I can be hopeful too.


This is a column by Erin McCullough; she may be reached by email at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.