By Michael Livingston
INGLEWOOD — With “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys as her introduction music, former first lady Michelle Obama took the stage at the Forum Nov. 15 where she was greeted by a sold-out crowd of mostly adoring fans on the second stop of her book tour for her memoir, “Becoming.”
Afro puffs, fro hawks and other black hairstyles filled the Forum as black women from all walks of life gathered to listen to the former first lady discuss her book with actress Tracee Ellis Ross.
Obama talked at length about her 2016 speech in New Hampshire in which she condemned President Donald Trump’s recorded conversation from a 2005 “Hollywood Access” episode where he talked about sexual assault and how eager women were to engage in sexual activity with him because of his celebrity.
Obama said she was not afraid to speak out against Trump because so many women haven’t or couldn’t speak out.
“What I wanted to do at that time was take women to that place where we know how we feel when we are demeaned,” Obama said. “We have all experienced that at some point in time. Women don’t have the platform to say it out loud.”
The Forum’s audience was predominantly women of all races, with most men seated next to their wives, girlfriends or mothers. Obama said that many men don’t understand the struggles women face on a daily basis.
“I don’t know if men really understand what we bear as women,” Obama said. “The sad thing is that women aren’t safe in this world. We are at risk to be cut all the time. I wanted to bring voice to women who know what that feels like.”
For black women, hearing Obama speak about her triumphs and tribulations in the Forum — in the same district represented by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters — meant something special.
“It makes me even more proud to be an African-American woman,” Dr. T.J. Day said about Obama. “What she has done speaks volumes to the world about our abilities and capabilities.”
Outside of the Forum, entrepreneurs hustled “Becoming Michelle Obama” and “Michelle Obama 2020” T-shirts. One vendor sold Michelle Obama purses and duffle bags, including one bag that had every magazine cover Obama had ever graced.
According to a news release from Barnes & Noble, “Becoming” has become the year’s fastest-selling book, and garnered the best first-week start of any adult book in the last three years.
With all of the success Obama has earned, Day was impressed that Obama never caved to pressure to change herself.
“She never lost who she was,” Day said. “She remained a real person throughout everything.”
Hearing Obama speak confirmed to Day what she had always known: bet on yourself and never change for anyone.
“[Obama] never lost who she was,” Day said. “Even after leaving Chicago and being exposed to privilege, she remained a real person every time we heard her speak.”
Before the event started, people pulled their cellphones out and snapped pictures of Obama’s image on the jumbotron.
Obama also spoke about her rise from the South Side of Chicago to Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and later as an attorney at Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met former U.S. President Barack Obama.
In “Becoming,” Obama opens up about several challenges in her life — a miscarriage when she and Obama first tried to have children, her fears behind an African American becoming U.S. president and the vitriol they would face.
For Ebony Streets, hearing a black woman of Obama’s stature admitting to these fears and insecurities humanized Obama in a way she hadn’t seen before.
“It shows how real she is,” said Streets, who later bought Obama’s memoir at the event. “It shows that she’s a real individual. We see her as a real black woman who has gone through the same things that we have.”
Gwen Jones said she hopes that the older generation takes heed to Obama’s actions and reveal the stories behind their lives before they can’t be told anymore.
“As a middle-aged African-American woman, it’s nice to hear our older generation opening up to us, telling us their deep dark secrets and also enlightening us,” Jones said.
Jones added that more storytelling can only strengthen the bonds in the community.
“I think if we had more from the older generation talking to us like she is, it would bridge that gap between us.”