Downtown Miami

Michelle Obama takes a break from book tour, makes surprise appearance in Overtown

Former first Lady Michelle Obama surprises a group of high school girls at the Overtown Youth Center in Miami

Former First Lady Michelle Obama Surprises South Florida Students at Overtown Youth Center, as she tours South Florida promoting her book “Becoming.”
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Former First Lady Michelle Obama Surprises South Florida Students at Overtown Youth Center, as she tours South Florida promoting her book “Becoming.”

Before she became the first lady — and before she became Mrs. Obama — a young Michelle Robinson struggled to fit in growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

Her classmates mocked her for talking “white.” Some teachers doubted her. She got into a fight with a neighborhood girl.

Friday felt like looking in a mirror, as Michelle Obama surprised an audience of Miami high school girls at the Overtown Youth Center ahead of an 8 p.m. appearance at the BB&T Center in Sunrise to promote her memoir, “Becoming.”

“I was very much like all of you girls,” Obama said. “Growing up, going to public school, being worried about what people thought about, having some girls in the neighborhood [who] told me I was talking like a white girl because I was trying to be smart and trying to get good grades.”

The group of 35 mostly African-American girls gasped and cheered as Obama sneaked into a crowded conference room at the Youth Center, at 450 NW 14th St.

They had been anticipating a special guest, but did not know who would show up. Administrators at the Youth Center and partner organization Honey Shine kept the secret so well that shuttle drivers who ferried members of the media to and from the center didn’t even know what to expect.

While on her book tour, Obama has visited with members of the community at every domestic stop.

During the opening moments of her appearance, which was made available to reporters, Obama spoke to Honey Shine founder Tracy Wilson Mourning and former radio host Michele Norris about how her childhood experiences molded the person she eventually became.

Virtually the only men in attendance were reporters, security and members of Obama’s staff.

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Former first lady Michelle Obama surprised a group of high school girls at the Overtown Youth Center on Friday, May 10, 2019, to take part in a conversation with Honey Shine founder Tracy Wilson Mourning and former radio host Michele Norris. Obama is on tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming,” and stopped by the center, founded by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, ahead of an appearance in Sunrise Friday evening. Pedro Portal pportal@herald.com

Obama spoke about the importance of training oneself to fight through adversity, especially if there is a risk of failure, in order to grow as a person. She said girls are often conditioned to be scared of failure, when it functions as life’s best teacher.

“The easiest thing in the world to do is to succeed. Winning is easy, right?” Obama said. “But it’s when you fail, when you have a challenge, that’s when you really grow.”

She said her journey to the White House started when she was in high school. So in writing her book, she said, Obama chose to write more about her experiences growing up than her life in Washington, D.C.

“It was my time growing up in a working-class neighborhood, it was the fights I had with girls in the neighborhood, it was remembering the teachers who impacted me or the ones who shot me down,” she said. “It was that part of my journey that I believe told people more about me than who I was when I was first lady.”

The Overtown Youth Center, founded in 2003 by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, offers in-school and after-school programs for area students in need of assistance — and it was established as a safe haven for the young people of Overtown.

Former President Barack Obama has visited the center twice in the past, as a senator and as president, according to Bill Diggs, the president of the Mourning Family Foundation.

The girls in attendance Friday came from the center and from Honey Shine.

Diggs said he found out on Thursday that Obama was visiting the center. He said he hoped the meeting would inspire the girls and that the memories gained on Friday would remain with them forever.

“When you have someone of her level of success, sophistication and stature come into our program and talk to the kids, they listen,” he said in an interview before the event. “I think they’re going to get a lot from it, because she’s walked the walk and she’s always been a good example.”

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