*We’ve all seen Michelle Obama get funky – showing off her delightful dancing skills to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk” on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. She was busting a move to promote healthy eating. Mrs. Obama routinely advocates for women in the U.S. and around the world – making her first speech abroad in 2011 at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School telling students at the secondary school for girls in London “I wasn’t raised with wealth or resources of any social standing to speak of.” And nobody can forget in 2014 pictures of the First Lady and President Barack Obama showing their romantic side after a date night in Georgetown to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary.
Former Washington Post reporter Peter Slevin has written a definitive book, “Michelle Obama: A Life,” about the President’s better half, the woman he once described as “the rock of our family, the love of my life.”
Slevin observed in his book that she is the most unlikely first lady in modern American history.
“Mrs. Obama talks of herself as a statistical anomaly,” Slevin, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said in an exclusive interview. “She says I am not supposed to be here. She has felt that at several points in her life – when she was at Princeton, when she was at Harvard and now in the White House.”
This autobiographical work delves deep into the life of the first African American first lady born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago.
“There is certainly never been a first lady in modern times who is as urban – who is as unlikely in where she came from having been raised in a working class family on the very segregated South Side of Chicago,” Slevin said.
Her father, Fraser Robinson, a pump operator for the city of Chicago, and her mother, Marian, a secretary, were no doubt her major inspirations to succeed.
After getting a law degree from Harvard University she joined the Windy City law firm Sidley Austin where she would meet her future husband, a summer intern she was assigned to advise.
Slevin points out in his book that Mrs. Obama is an “independent” woman. When living in Chicago, he said she was very serious about her work to the point that “colleagues called her tenacious.”
When Senator Obama decided to try to make history and become the first Black president, Mrs. Obama “had a 20 year career on the South Side of Chicago – 10 of those years as a working mother and a very independent identity in civic life,” Slevin pointed out.
There were choices Mrs. Obama made based on her deep-seated convictions. She left a prestigious law firm because “she didn’t feel the job spoke to her and to what she wanted to do,” Slevin observed. “She’d learned from her parents the value of giving back and she very much wanted to do that. After a very short stint at City Hall where she worked for Valerie Jarrett who is now a close adviser to Michelle and Barack Obama – she started a community mentoring project and devoted much of the next 20 years to working in South Side neighborhoods for the University of Chicago primarily.”
Is there a chance that Mrs. Obama might one day do what another first lady has done and enter into politics? Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill Clinton the 42nd President, has thrown her hat in the ring for president. Does Slevin think Mrs. Obama has what it takes to make a good president?
“I think she would be a terrific president,” he replied. “But as Barack Obama says for Michelle Obama to go into politics she would first have to be abducted by aliens. It is not a world that she would like to be any more a part of than she is today, according to her friends.”
While politics are not likely in her future, Slevin says she’s talked about what she would like to do post White House.
“I believe her when she says she’s not entirely sure what path she’ll take but she plans to do some writing. In fact she’s working on some writing right now. And she says she wants to stay involved with education which she calls the most important civil rights issue of our time.”
In “Michelle Obama: A Life” Slevin started writing “more than four years ago” he describes the first lady as “strong (and) very smart. She is extremely organized and she sets high expectations for herself and for everyone around her.”
The president and first lady have two daughters – 16 year-old Malia and 13 year-old Sasha.
Listen to Tené Croom’s exclusive interview with Peter Slevin
By: Tené Croom