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Youth and mentors attend former first lady Michelle Obama's Becoming book tour

“Oh my goodness you’ll never guess who I just spoke to,” data manager Jesse yelled as he crammed the phone receiver back into its cradle. “The Obama Foundation said that Michelle Obama is giving our youth and mentors tickets to her book tour!” A group of kids and their mentors were in for one extraordinary experience.

On Sunday, March 28, Sasha*, Marcus*, Deanna*, and their mentors gathered at the Tacoma Dome alongside 18,000 other people to listen to former first lady Michelle Obama talk about her best-selling memoir, Becoming.

"She's smart and fierce no matter what,” Sasha, a program youth said. “I like that because that's what I want to be."

“If Barack can do it then maybe I can too,” Marcus chimed in. “I don’t think I want to be president, but I could do something great.”

With a Cheshire cat sized grin and lustrous eyes, Sasha soaked in every word Michelle Obama said. Michelle focused in on her passion and intense belief in youth being the future of our nation. She also talked about coming from humble beginnings, working so hard to get into college, and never letting anyone’s biases, ignorance or stereotypes hold her back in life.

These are concepts professional mentors talk about every day with youth in our program. Hearing that same wisdom from such an influential woman made those words all the more real and true.

Michelle recalled the valuable connections she made in college, giving youth a tangible example of the potential results of their hard work. This reflection resonated with Deanna, a junior in high school with SATs and college applications in the near future.

“College is right around the corner for me,” Deanna said to her mentor Jasmine. “If I want to be prepared like my forever first lady Michelle Obama was, I need to start doing some serious work.”

However, Michelle’s talk wasn’t just about academic work; she also emphasized the importance of youth having space to become themselves. “I really like that the Obamas make space for their girls to be who they are without feeling guilty for being different." Sasha said to her mentor Erika. "I really want to learn and experience as much as I can while enjoying being a KID instead of trying to answer what career or school I wanna go to.”

Professional mentors spend half of their time focused on social and emotional development, and they spend the other half of their time focused on academic success in order to nurture this process of “Becoming,” that the former first lady describes.

Michelle also talked about the importance of family and family values. Professional mentor Andrew reflected on 13-year-old Marcus, who had a harder time staying alert for the two-hour book tour.

“Marcus is all about his family,” Andrew said. “When Michelle talked about how important family structure is, Marcus perked up.” Marcus recently got into some trouble at school for fighting. Andrew has been trying to talk to Marcus about the gravity of his consequences if he hurts someone. He particularly wants Marcus to understand what that would mean for him if he were separated from his family and taken to jail.

“Man, Andrew, you are right,” Marcus said to Andrew on the car ride home. “I have to get my attitude straight. I can’t go to jail. I gotta be there for my mom and little brother.”

Each youth who attended the event heard a familiar story in Michelle’s remarks, and gained some insight into who they are becoming in the world.

*Name changed to protect the youth’s privacy.

“[Michelle Obama] is smart and fierce no matter what...I like that because that's what I want to be.”