A discussion with Michelle Obama

On November 28, 2017, over 40 ambassadors from the Girls Inc. of Halton community travelled to attend the talk titled “The Economics of Equality: Advancing Women and Girls to Change the World.” Not surprisingly, it was a sold out crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at Ryerson University. This was the former first lady’s first Toronto appearance since leaving the White House. The Economic Club of Canada partnered with Plan International to bring Obama to Toronto.  The luncheon opened with impressive spoken word poetry by Nadine Williams, musical performance by MILCK and opening words by Chief Stacey Laforme and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

The event consisted of a conversation between Obama and Economics Club of Canada President Rhiannon Traill. The two women discussed racism, mental health, education, leadership, gender equality with more personal quick-fire questions at the end.

Obama discussed her childhood and she attributes her accomplishments to her parents for pushing her beyond their fears and her resilience. She stated that the “journey for me from the South Side to now, that journey for me has not been a story of success. It has been a story of stumbles and tumbles along the way, and missteps and embarrassments and hurts and pains and cuts and bruises. But it’s the getting back up part of all of that—that is really what’s important. It’s that resilience that makes me who I am”. 

Obama addressed the crowd directly at times with sound advice for the younger attendees. Via social media, Obama said that “effective communication is about thought.”  She strongly suggested that when posting anything “you need to edit it and spell check it, step away and then edit it again and then…maybe…hit send”.

Without discussing the President Trump by name, she suggested that “one person can’t make the change. Change is from the bottom up. Not the top down. And that’s a good thing…that means that no one person can break all this either.”

On racism, she was direct and clear. She said that we must bring diverse perspectives to the table and sometimes that means someone may have to give up a seat or a new seat might be created.

When asked about gender equality and the role men and boys play, she did not mince words. “Men and boys have to lead the change. They hold the power positions. They earn more. In some areas, they are the only ones at the table. We need men and boys to be better.”

The audience also learned some fun facts about Obama. For self-care, she exercises and connects with her female friends. She was star-struck when she met the Pope and committed a royal faux pas by touching the Queen. 

If she could invite anyone to dinner, it would be Jesus Christ and she would ask him “is this really what is supposed to be happening here?” Obama used humour and her phenomenal oratory skills to make everyone in the room feel like they were speaking with her directly. Our group most definitely left the event feeling inspired and that anything is truly possible.

The author Satinder Brar (right) with a Girls Inc. of Halton attendee at the #EqualityTalks event in Toronto.