A Speech only Former First Lady Michelle Obama Could Give

Nearly 20 years ago, I studied William Shakespeare‘s Marc Anthony’s speech in Julius Caesar. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; and other speeches delivered by many others through the ages, including Martin Luther King, Jr. That confirmed what I’ve always known from growing up in a culture of oral history tradition.

That speaking from the heart, where vulnerability and love reside, along with all the emotions we hold around it, is the only way to speak if you want to genuinely connect with people. That is, if people are truly going to understand who you are, and why you care.

But that is a concept that is not necessarily widely accepted in the western corporate way of speaking in the public eye, even now. Yet in many cultures like the ones I have grown up in, outside of the West, expressing emotion is a normal part of speaking in public. This is a speech from the heart and one that has had enough of the status quo.

A first minute transcript: Former US First Lady, Michelle Obama. Delivered 17 August.

“Good evening everyone. It’s a hard time and everyone’s feeling it in different ways. And I know a lot of folks are reluctant to tune into a political convention right now, or to politics in general. Believe me, I get that.

“But I am here tonight because I love this country with all my heart and it pains me to see so many people hurting. I’ve met so many of you. I’ve heard your stories. And through you, I have seen this country’s promise. And thanks to so many who came before me, thanks to their toil, and sweat and blood, I’ve been able to live that promise myself. That’s the story of America.

“All those folks who sacrificed and overcame so much in their own times because they wanted something more, something better for their own kids. There’s a lot of beauty in that story. There’s a lot of pain in it too, a lot of struggle, a lot of injustice, and work left to do… ” Michelle Obama. Watch the video to listen to the entire speech.

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama have a very distinct style that speaks to a strong oral tradition. It comes from that vulnerable place. Their words echo their background and experiences of inequality, racism, pain, injustice in America. It’s a very different set of experiences to previous presidential couples. Yet they also speak to the things that American citizens and people around the world, irrespective of culture, race and creed, have in common.

One of the appeals is that the former First Lady Michelle Obama is not a political person and doesn’t like politics. She makes that point very clear in the first few seconds of her speech. To read a full transcript.

Ponder This

“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally:

Let’s invite one another in.

Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us.

Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same.

It’s not about being perfect.

It’s not about where you get yourself in the end.

There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice.

And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.

This, for me, is how we become.”

Michelle Obama (Becoming)

No matter what country you come from, or live in, Michelle Obama is one of our most influential and respected female leaders of our time. She gets to the heart of the matter.

Like fire in the belly.

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