The Crazy Holiday Week I Got to Meet Mrs. Michelle Obama
On Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 I am sitting in a Just BE team meeting, talking with my business partners about how one of my mentors told me to remember to relax and let opportunities come my way instead of always trying to plan everything (#sigh…). My phone beeps and I get a message from Public Allies national office on facebook messenger informing me that they are trying to reach me and to send them my best e-mail contact. I send it to them wondering what that was all about.
Then at lunch, I read the e-mail and it says you have been selected as an alumni of Public Allies to join a private gathering with former First Lady Mrs. Michelle Obama!!!! I had to read the message twice, I was like, “say what!? - do they mean the Michelle Obama?”. I started hollering and dancing in front of my friends - right there in the restaurant in disbelief.
Then I looked at the date and it said this Friday, December 14th. I was like oh shit - that is this Friday in San Jose. I had a major craft fair that day... logistics were running through my mind like wildfire.
For the rest of the week, I was freaking out and having weird dreams. I was getting serious performance anxiety. My mind was saying things like "what will I say to her”, "this is my chance to get funding for Just BE”, “don’t choke”, “do I even deserve or belong in the same space with her”…. I put so much pressure on myself, raising my anxiety to paralyzing levels. I almost backed out due to stress.
On Wednesday, I had to break it all down into bite-size pieces in my journal. I completed my limiting beliefs activity and leveraged my meditation practice to calm the fear storm. Shout out to my business partner Kamilah and soul friend Sabaa for helping me get out of my head.
The big day arrives, I carpool down to San Jose with a fellow alum full of nerves. When we arrive, the secret service is there and I nervous pee like 10 times. #hydrated
Then the moment of truth. Public Allies has set up what is called a “fishbowl” which is a great leadership development activity we used back in the day to practice deep listening, sharing space, and speaking our truth. Mrs. Obama used it during her time as the founder and ED of the Public Allies Chicago Chapter as well. We are to conduct 3 rounds of fishbowl conversations.
Round 1 goes by with press and inspiring conversation. The press leaves during round 2 while alumni and current fellows get deep with Mrs. Obama. Then I am asked to enter the inner circle in round 3. There is a seat right next to Mrs. Obama that is open. That negative self-talk voice, that I have since named “Fearicia” almost convinced me to sit one seat down. In a split second I was like, “nope by Fearicia” and I took the seat right next to Mrs. Obama.
By this time my nerves are shot. I am like let’s do this. I am super inspired after listening to round 1 and 2. The Bay Area Public Allies Director poses this question to the group “how can leaders of color rock the boat without falling out of it?”. There is a pause and silence…then I say “you build a new boat” and everyone starts laughing together. The conversation has begun. Mrs. Obama says, "hold up there is something to that tell me more”. Nerves are gone finally and I am settled into being present.
I then go into my work as an entrepreneur since I left Public Allies with Fresh to Def Collective and Just BE. I share all the amazing Black Women entrepreneurs I met and how we have similar stories for why we left our respective boats and are trying to build our own collective boat. I also share my family story to explain why I am so committed and motivated to do the work I do in the world.
It was awesome and amazing to share my passion with her and the current fellows in the room.
I had so many feelings and emotions being in the space that I am sure will continue to unfold as I continue my journey.
Mrs. Obama shared two nuggets that really stuck with me:
1) "A true mentor is one that prepares you to take their spot when the ship it is at its peak, not when it is sinking"
She said that a true mentor is one that prepares people to take their spot someday and to be even more successful than they are. That our culture of one person working 30 years in high positions of power is unhealthy. We have to pass on the baton when things are going well, not when the ship is broken.
2) “The world needs you to get over it.”
This quote was shared this in response to our questions about how to overcome “imposter syndrome”. This quote was very jarring to hear, but in a good way. She said that people of color need to get out of their own heads RIGHT NOW, stop moving from a place of fear, and just do it. She said that with the state of the world the way it is today, we are needed NOW. She said if we can’t do it, then move out the way because the time to act is now, today, right this minute. She concluded that we are enough and we can do it together.
Wheeew! That was a lot and just the tip of the iceberg. I have so much to reflect on and am so grateful for this experience.
Thank you Mrs. Michelle Obama for your fierce authenticity and words of wisdom!
Thank you Public Allies for this opportunity to reconnect with community in such a powerful way.
Thank you community for believing in me when I often fail to believe in myself.
Thank you Universe for laying the groundwork for this moment. Who knew that being an AmeriCorps Public Ally for 2 years and starting a business would lead me to meet former First Lady Mrs. Michelle Obama!?