Welcome to Lambeth, Michelle Obama!
On Monday 3 December, former First Lady of the United States of America Michelle Obama visited the Southbank Centre, Lambeth, to reflect on her memoir, BECOMING. In conversation with acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mrs. Obama invited the audience at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive, balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
Mrs Obama is one of the most admired women in the world. As First Lady—the first African American to serve in that role — she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the United States and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.
With warmth and wit, Mrs. Obama describes in BECOMING her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.
Several Londoners of different generations share their views about Michelle’s visit and what it means to them for Lambeth Life’s readers:
Past winner of The Voice, Jermain Jackman says he reached out to Michelle Obama shortly before her visit to London. “I said ‘it’s great you’re coming to London, but I’d love to host a meeting with you with just young people. Because young people who really want to hear you won’t have the opportunity to buy a ticket for the Southbank. They look up to you.’
“It’s inspiring for young black men and women when Michelle Obama comes to the UK to speak about her journey and her story, and they can take certain gems on board for whatever they’re going through”.
Florence Eshalomi, London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark attended the event and shared her thoughts “Michelle was honest and open about some of the many frustrations that came with being the First Lady, including the constant scrutiny on what she was wearing by the British Press instead of a focus on the initiatives she was trying to promote. She described how the racism and hostility directed at her for the mere fact that she is a black woman and the how the tag of ‘Angry Black Woman’ would be applied, just because she had the temerity to have her own opinion and ideas about how she wanted her tenure and role of the First Lady to be. She described the connection she felt with the group of students at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington because like them, she knew that as a young black woman, a good education was crucial in helping to open opportunities in a world that is still very much biased against people from a certain background. I sat in my seat nodding and agreeing with most of her comments because as a black woman I could relate to so many of the issues she described that evening.”
Jacqueline Mckenzie, an Immigration and Asylum Lawyer based in Streatham, who has been the leading solicitor in the Windrush campaign, said “My real ‘sheros’ are the women of the Windrush generation denied their rights by the British government and the victims of FGM, torture, domestic abuse and trafficking who I work with and who have all taught me what true courage and strength is. Michelle Obama however provides a symbol of hope to young people who face racism and classism in that her visibility allows us to hear the story of how she overcame racism, misogyny and disadvantage to rise to the top of her profession and give back through community activism, messages that some of our young people, especially, need to hear in these very troubled times.”
Marcie Brown, a South London- based freelance writer, said of the visit “Speaking as a dark-skinned Black woman finding my path in 1980s Britain, the idea of a symbol of hope such as Michelle Obama would have been a hard sell. The search for positive Black, female role models who were accessible, user friendly and relevant to our ‘fight’ for equality was a depressing and fruitless experience. As I watch her seamlessly reach out to marginalised young women, empathising with their struggles and cheering on their achievements, I feel a mixture of awe and envy. How I wish she had paid a visit to my school. You only have to look at the faces of those young men and women to understand how impact- ful a visit from a Former First Lady such as Michelle Obama can be. She has a warmth, a determination, a knowing fighting spirit that is priceless. She can inspire those who can inspire others. She can make you put down the donut and pick up a carrot! Give that homework one final check before you submit. Give up the twerking and get working on that CV. Who knows, with a few words the whiff of cocoa butter and that smile she may even have given me the confidence to apply to Bristol Uni, instead of ‘settling’ for a Poly. Millennials, breathe in the greatness, hold, hold, hold… release, and take your place in Michelle’s world. Make her proud.”
The Advocacy Academy is a youth movement working to unleash the power of young people to create a more fair, just, and equal society. Thanks to the support of Penguin Random House, The Advocacy Academy was able to send 20 black women to see Michelle Obama in conversation with Chimamanda Adichie. Akhera Williams, Class of 2019, The Advocacy Academy Social Justice Leadership Fellowship, said “This event has honestly marked a new epoch, tonight has given me the liberty to redefine what it means to be a black woman in this world instead of what we’re always conditioned to think of ourselves as.”.
Shirley Thompson is an eminent black British composer, commissioned by the Southbank Centre in 2009 to write a piece to mark the first 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency. She is Head of Composition and is Head of Composition and Performance at Westminster University, and said “I’ll never forget that in their first Christmas in the White House the Obama Family spent Christmas day, with the children, in the local soup kitchen, helping to serve food provisions to those who were less well off. Michelle Obama has helped to transform societies across the world with her love of humanity. She has been an exemplar of advocating the power of love and kindness over the power of money. In high office she has demonstrated the dire need for equal opportunities in societies, beginning with family and the local community”.