Higher Ground and Audible Originals present The Light Podcast with Michelle
Obama. How are you doing? How you doing? How you doing? Everybody’s singing off-key
and jumping up dancing. Dancing like your feet ain’t hurting in them high heels.
Got your toes done for Mrs. Obama. She ain’t gonna see your toes, but you got
them done. I am here for a wonderful, incredible, exciting moment, and I am so
honored that they asked me to do this because I get an opportunity to say,
ladies and gentlemen, our forever First Lady, Miss Michelle Obama.
Oh, wow. Okay. I was dancing my butt off in the dressing room to my dear friend,
D-Nice. Hey, everyone. It’s Michelle Obama, and welcome to The Light Podcast. I am just
delighted by this conversation with Tyler Perry. Tyler, of course, is a gifted storyteller,
producer, actor, businessman, everything. If it’s possible to achieve in entertainment,
Tyler has probably achieved it. Now, he’s someone I’ve become closer with only recently,
but what I love about him is that he’s just so easy to connect with. He’s obviously hilarious,
but he also has such a deep well of experience and emotion that he’s so willing to tap into,
and I just love hearing his perspective. In this conversation, we start out talking politics,
particularly what it felt like after Barack left office and the country was embroiled in
controversy, but we touch on a lot more, too, what it means to be a parent and how family shaped
children see themselves. As deep and raw as it gets sometimes, there’s also so much genuine joy
and laughter throughout this conversation. Madea even makes an appearance. Take a listen. This is
a fun one. I remember you saying becoming was your exhale. Well, if becoming is your exhale,
the light we carry is your hallelujah. I’m telling you, there are so many incredible moments in
wonderful stories. You’re so raw and vulnerable, and I thought, wow, she is really laying it bare
as I was reading the book, and I was going, wow, for her to be First Lady Michelle Obama and to
lay it so raw, I thought that is really, really powerful and emotional, and it’s what we need in
this day and time. But to be that open and talk about that, talk about what brought you to writing
The Light We Carry. You know, it started before the pandemic with the election of the president
that was presiding at the time that the pandemic happened, because the truth is, if you remember
my expression during that inauguration, I mean, and I’m pretty good at staying high, but as I say,
even I struggle. Can I ask you, were you high at the time? Unfortunately, I had to get through
all of that sober. But the depression started when the election happened, because as you all
remember, Barack and I campaigned really hard, not just for the candidate we supported, but we
understood, I mean, I said this at the convention speech, I said it over and over again, the
presidency isn’t a thing to play with. It matters who is at the top, and regardless of party,
because there are competent people in all parties, you know, and we’ve been through, you can disagree
with somebody and still the country will function. But it felt like people were complacent and sort of
thought it was a joke in a way that hurt. You know, after all that we put into it and all that we had
to put into it, the bar that we had to live under, where a tan suit was a scandal, where a fist bump
was deemed to be terroristic. Ooh, don’t get me started. I was like, going back there, but it hurt.
Because you had such a high bar. Well, it also felt like there were people who voted for who they chose,
but there were also many of us who didn’t vote at all. And it felt like a direct rebuke. You know, it
felt like, yes, we can turned into, yeah, whatever, you know, and we felt like we showed up for the
country. And so showing up for us means showing up for every election forever and ever. Amen. The
disappointment came in the people who just didn’t bother, because they didn’t quite know why it
didn’t work. Things weren’t working out. They didn’t know what that it would matter. And Barack was
concerned about the very thing that happened, which was a pandemic. Because if you read science, and
you read your briefings, or if you just read, if you just read, but particularly if you’re the
president, the president has access to information. And it was clear that we were due for a major
pandemic, we had had many. Under President Obama, Ebola was a pandemic that led to one case in the
United States, one case. So a blueprint was made for how to deal with the circumstance, a blueprint that was
not read or taken seriously. So when a pandemic hit, as Barack said, he was like, you know, you can play
around with being a, you know, fake president when the country is just running well. But when there’s a real
crisis, that’s when it becomes dangerous. So I was depressed from the very beginning. Because I knew what
was coming and to see it unfold as quickly as it did. It was just sad.
You knew what was coming? Did you know January 6 was coming?
That I did not know. It just proves to us that, you know, for some people, it will never be enough. You were never
enough. And to, you know, and we deal with that. At some point, are we not enough? You know, we go to the best
schools, we work hard, we don’t make mistakes, because we can’t make mistakes. We are a faith based couple
raising good kids, doing the best we can, working as hard as we can. And do we know how this feels when you show up
and you think that you’re showing up right actually will matter. And you realize for some, it never will. And yes, that
took me into a depression.
I can see why. You know, you talk about that, the low grade depression, the things you were going through at the
time. So you started writing The Light We Carry. You chose to call it The Light We Carry because you believe that
everybody carries a light. But after seeing all that, I want to just ask you, do you believe that everybody carries a light?
Everybody got a light. Everybody. All God’s children. All God’s children got a light.
Yes, Tyler, I do believe.
Because I believe everybody got a socket, but I don’t know if they actually have a, I don’t know if they have a light.
Everybody got a light.
So you believe we all got a light. Let’s talk about that.
Everybody got a light. They do. And you know, you can’t start looking for the light when they’re grown and already broken,
right? Where the light is for all of us is when we’re born. We are all born. I don’t care what race, what political
background, what part of the planet we are on. If you know a child, if you’ve held a baby of any kind, you know, they come
with a light. They come with this beautiful openness. All of them. All of them. And what happens to them, if they’re
lucky, they are blessed and that light is fueled. You know, it’s filled with love, investment, opportunity. But for too
many of us, that light is snuffed out. And it’s snuffed out by neglect and abuse and disinvestment. We see it. And for
those who are exhibiting a lack of light as an adult, the ones we question, you know, this is where empathy comes in. For me, I
have to think, what happened to you? What happened to you over the course of your life that you are that bitter or greedy or
selfish or lacking in compassion or unable to see beyond your own fear? Something happens to kids to get them to that place
where they, as adults, do not have light or can’t find it. But we all have it. And I think part of what we have to do is find it in
ourselves to start. Because you can’t give what you don’t have. And you can’t count on other people to give you your light.
Right. That’s right.
You know, particularly those of us who are others or different in the world, right? Where we don’t see ourselves, where we feel
invisible. And this is what I try to tell kids. You can’t wait for people to see you. Because many people aren’t even looking for
you. They don’t even know you exist. And this is so true. There are people, when I went to Princeton, I realized that was the first
place I had been to, really, where there were so many wealthy white people in a whole wealthy white town. I was like, you all don’t
even know I exist. Because when you’re privileged, you can live in your sameness for your entire life. Never even realizing that there’s
some black kid on the South Side who has a lot of potential but doesn’t go to a great school or doesn’t have parents that have what it
takes or maybe doesn’t have parents at all. They don’t even understand why a kid would carjack and spend time in mayhem and
criminality. Because they don’t even realize there are schools where kids don’t get to paint. They don’t have access to instruments.
Nobody is nurturing them. They can’t even fathom that. So they think that when kids are bad, they’re just bad kids. You know, that’s what I
learned. There are people who will not see you. So when I talked to kids, I was like, you don’t have time to sit and bemoan the fact of
your invisibility. Because these people don’t even know you exist. So you have to start seeing yourself. You have to start finding ways to
seek the light out from people who will see your light.
And that’s so powerful. Because I remember many, many times being in situations where I realized, wait a minute, these people, they aren’t bad
people. They’re just not aware. They have no idea of your life, of your existence. You’re not even on their radar. Sometimes we’re talking
about white privilege. They don’t even know what that is or what that means. They don’t even pay attention to it.
Well, and that’s why it’s angering to hear it, right? Because there are a whole bunch of white folks who are struggling, don’t have privilege,
who are unemployed, who are living in a state of inequity and unfairness. And to have that broad brush them, that rubs in the wrong way.
Because it’s like, what you mean, privilege? Because sometimes we don’t even see them. We don’t know that there are white folks who are, and maybe they
don’t even know they got it as bad as we do.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You know, it’s like, you voting for the wrong people.
Because they don’t, they don’t, they don’t know you. They don’t know your story. You know?
Um, so that’s what we have, you know, I think we have to be open to the fact that we all have that light. You know, that’s to me what empathy is.
That is the core of a sane society is that we all work on our own empathy, so that we are not just victims of our circumstance. And we can open up to the
possibility and the pain of the others around us. Because if we can stand in somebody else’s shoes, like we would want them to stand in ours. And it’s hard, as I say, it’s
harder to hate up close. It’s harder to hate when you were seeing the hurt, rather than the anger, you know,
you can understand it
when you get understanding. So if you want to be seen, you also have to see, you know, you have to be willing to see others as well.
In the audience that night, we had a very special guest.
Hi, I’m Officer Caroline Edwards. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, and I’m here with my mom and my sister.
You might remember her powerful testimony before the January 6 committee. She was one of the first officers at the Capitol that day. What I admire about Officer Edwards is not just her bravery, but her empathy and her sense of duty.
The way that she wanted to be there, not just for her country, but for her teammates and the people she cared about.
I’ve asked myself over and over again, what made me get up that day? I should have just gone to the hospital and gone home and called it a day. And I would love for the answer to be because I want to defend democracy.
In reality, it was because of the person to the left and to the right of me. We get our strength from other people. You know, we talk about the things that we fight for, and that’s all well and good. Of course, we fight for justice. But what we’re really saying is, I’m fighting for another person.
I am so grateful to Officer Edwards for joining us that night and sharing her story.
You talk about, and I love this quote, you say, when equilibrium is impossible, we are challenged to evolve. Explain that.
You know, the only thing that in life that is guaranteed is uncertainty. You know, I don’t mean that as a complete downer. Life is unfair. It is unjust. It is not equal. And so we have to kind of stop fighting that and start figuring out, well, what are our tools to exist in the realities of the world as it is?
That’s just the state of humanity. And particularly, it feels like in these times, and I don’t want to go after one generation. I think we are part of raising a generation of kids who believe they deserve happiness and that life is fair. Everybody wins.
We protect our kids against feeling pain. We don’t want them to lose. We don’t want them to feel failure. We treat their anxiety like, oh, my God, you’re anxious. I mean, I told you the story of, like, Sasha going to this fancy school when she was before middle school. She was like, Mom, I’m having anxiety. And I’m thinking.
Wait, wait, wait. Yeah. Where do you even learn that word? You know? And of course, as the first lady, I’m waiting for my kids to be messed up. So I’m like, what? Anxiety? Let’s sit down. Let me let me unpack this.
Well, what it turned out was that she feels anxious when she doesn’t do her homework and it’s late. And, you know, I was like, oh, that’s not an issue that requires medical care or any attention. You just need to be more organized and not procrastinate. You’re supposed to feel that anxiety. That anxiety is supposed to wake your little behind up.
You know, so we’re not going to label that as an issue. Right. But the instinct of a parent is my child is feeling away and how can I fix it? And I don’t want them to. And then we create kids who don’t know how to deal with stress, anxiety. And, you know, let me just as a caveat say there are kids who are dealing with real mental health issues. So this I am not talking about that.
You know, and we want to encourage our kids to get mental health support. We want to pay attention to that. Black people in particular. Yes. Yes. Yes. Therapy, counseling, all of that. We cannot pretend like that’s not real. Mental health is a part of our physical health. It is a challenge that we have to take seriously.
But we also can’t overcorrect. We still have to prepare ourselves and our kids for the world as it is. And so, you know, uncertainty is a part of that. And why COVID and quarantine really got to many of us was that so many of us felt that uncertainty. All of us felt the uncertainty that many people live with.
If you are poor, homeless, you don’t have prospects for a job, your mother’s on crack, you live in sub-Saharan somewhere where there’s not enough food. I mean, this is how the majority of the world lives, y’all.
People grow up in immense uncertainty where the weather can end their lives. You know, a drought will render their crops unusable. And there is their year. That’s the world, y’all.
So, we got to learn how to deal with that and develop some tools to not crumble when it happens, but to, you know, find ways to keep ourselves elevated. And that’s why, you know, when we are out of sync, we can either view that as a, oh, man, I’m messed up, I can’t get out of bed.
Or that’s the time you can change and grow and develop another skin that can get you through the next. So, that’s like turning those, despite those challenges, into that rocket fuel that can keep you going. And that’s one of the tools I learned being the daughter of a blue-collar worker, black man with MS.
I mean, my father had every reason to be depressed, to not get up and go to work. You know, when you grow up with a parent with a disability, I realized, I really grew up with more uncertainty than I wanted to kind of own.
And probably for me and my brother, we were watchful in ways. We were always on guard. We knew we had to have our stuff together, you know, in ways that that uncertainty requires you to be. We had a different skin that we had to develop to live with joy and happiness that was all there.
But my father showed me what it meant to turn that handicap into that disability into a superpower. Because my father never complained. He could have quit his job and been on benefits, went to work every day until the day he had to be taken to the hospital because he was about to die when I was in my 20s.
He worked, put on that uniform, and he went to work. He went to every game. He fathered us. He loved us. He provided for us, despite his challenges, despite the uncertainty.
Hey, everybody. I just want to make sure we recognize that it might be difficult for some of you to hear parts of Tyler’s story. Please take care of yourself while listening.
Yeah, that is, that’s the measure of a true man, of a true man. And when I think about, you know, you talk about your childhood, you talk about your father, you talk about your mother just so clearly in the book, I think about, you know, my own childhood.
This moment actually brought me to tears as I was reading the book. You were talking about your childhood and the love and support. And there’s a line where you say, I was never abused, which I stopped for a second. I go, whoa, a black woman that wasn’t abused.
For me, growing up, from the time I was a child to, you know, maybe 11 or 12 on, you know, those early years, I did not know one black woman, not one that wasn’t abused. My aunt had a PhD, a master’s. She had everything. She would come home to a man who would abuse her.
And when I saw that, I thought there was a place in the world where a little black girl was nurtured and had all the support from her mother and father that made me feel so great to know during that time, right? So now, as a parent, you know, with a young boy and trying to teach him to be the best man that he can and trying to keep him out of the spotlight and keep him on the straight and narrow, I think about all of the people that came before me and what I would want him to be, how I want him to show up in the world, right?
So listening to you, watching what you were able to do with your daughters inside of the biggest fishbowl in the world is just fascinating to me. And I just want to congratulate you on that. It’s really, really wonderful.
And I don’t know if you’re comfortable sharing the story of because, you know, Tyler is an amazing father. He really is. And and for for a black man, you know, I mean, because there are a lot of black men who haven’t seen they haven’t been fathered. Right.
And I know many of them are afraid of whether they can give what they didn’t have. You know, Barack, my own husband struggled. He didn’t know his father, you know, and I know that he he didn’t approach fatherhood tentatively, but he was very deliberate.
There was a deliberateness in him because he didn’t want to be the fathers he had seen. And I want to know if you talk a bit about how you how you managed to do that, because I think there are a lot of young black men out here. He need to hear that.
For me, I tell you what happened was I realized I didn’t have an example. My father would beat the hell out of me every chance he got. He said how awful I was, what a terrible person I was. And, you know, I was jackass every day of my life. That’s what I heard all the time.
But one day and being a writer helped me to find my catharsis in a lot of things. And so all the things that my father was doing, I realized he was teaching me how to be a father just in reverse. So if I did the opposite of everything he did, I had my answers.
Yes, yes. You talk in the book about not learning how to not see yourself in somebody else’s mirror and mirror sort of reverse image. That for me was was one of the things that changed it for me. And I thank you for asking me about that.
But I want to stop there because that is a tool, you know, and many of us haven’t had what we are trying to achieve. Right. But, you know, I mean, there is that strategy of reversing the dynamic, you know, you learn even in abuse and neglect in, you know, and it doesn’t even have to be that far.
So many of us don’t like the way we were parented. We can now look back at our mothers and fathers and the people in our lives and think of the things that you would do differently. You know, but that’s an opportunity to learn, too. You don’t have to repeat what you see, but it takes a level of conscientiousness to do that.
You were talking about, you know, you reprimanded your son when he was talking back to an elder. And I love that that story.
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll tell you about it. I was I walk in a room and, you know, we have a nanny who was helping us out and he’s just giving it a business. He didn’t want to brush his teeth. He’s about five or six then. And he didn’t want to brush his teeth. And he acted and he didn’t know I was in the door. I took a lead. A taxi said come to the door. I stood at the door and I watched him for a minute.
And then I had the nanny leave and I got down eye to eye and I was talking to him and I said, listen to me. You are not going to be this way. We love you. We are your parents. You will not behave this way. We taught you better than this. You are a better kid than this. You’re going to be a better man than this. And I’m giving him I’m talking to him and I’m starting to get emotional. And you’re not going to Oprah me right now. This is about you.
But I started to get emotional in the moment and I had to leave the room. And, you know, he said, I’m sorry, Papa. I’m sorry. He’s to brush his teeth. He did all those things. But I went out on the balcony. I was in tears because I realized that nobody had ever talked, got down and talked to me eye to eye and had a conversation to me that I could understand. It was just yelling and cussing and what you’re not and what you’re never going to be right.
So to have a moment that I had a chance to have a conversation with a child who is my spitting image, I was not only correcting and leading him the right way, but helping my own little boy inside of me healed. It’s a beautiful moment. It was a beautiful moment. And also when we were talking last night, you know, that’s what you try to Oprah me. Go on. No, no, no, no, no.
That’s why you don’t want to eat dinner with me. I’ll be all up in your business and telling everybody. And then he said. But we were just talking about, you know, what I what I like to impart to parents out there, you know, what I learned from my parenting and from being parented well is that, you know, we we focus on the wrong things.
You know, and so many parents believe that what their kids need are things or to be. They want their kids to like them. Oh, it’s like, oh, don’t don’t do that. You don’t you don’t need friends. Don’t have a kid to have a friend. Go build your own kitchen table and then have a baby.
And then you can be a parent, not a friend. But but a lot of parents believe that they don’t have anything to give if they don’t have stuff, you know, and what I want them to see in me and why I share my story is that my parents didn’t have wealth.
They didn’t. They were poor. They didn’t have access. They had no networks. They didn’t go to college. They were brilliant people. Couldn’t go to college. But what they what they gave me was their gladness.
They my parents not just love me, but they liked us. They liked to hear our thoughts. They liked to talk to us in our little bitty house with no money. We did a lot of talking and that was the first place that I was seen.
And that’s really the foundation of a child’s self-confidence is being seen at their own kitchen table. And you don’t have to have much to do that. So I just urge people as we deal with children in our lives, whether they’re ours or anybody else’s, to remember the imprint we can have on them, how powerful it is for kids to be seen by us.
Just see them. Not who you want them to be, but just see them. Talk to them. That’s what I tried to do as First Lady. Why you saw me with so many kids. Number one, they lifted me up, but I understood how many millions of children are not seen.
And not even because they’re neglected, but their parents don’t understand that importance of, you know, you can be busy, but when you are with them, see them. Don’t try to make them your mini-me. Hear their voices. Because they will tell you who they are. They will tell you from the minute they’re born, they start telling you who they are.
But what I try to do as First Lady is to see every child I interacted with. Because I’m thinking, if the First Lady of the United States sees you, if I’m looking you in the eye getting down, I would get down on the level with kids any time I would. I just would want to tell them, I see you. You are beautiful. I am glad for you. I am glad you are here. We have to do that.
All of us have a responsibility to do that for the kids in our lives. The young people sitting here, you know, it’s like they need to know that important people, that the people that they think are important, see them in the world.
I’m Sarah. And your name? Avery. How old are you, Avery? Twelve. Avery had a tough birth and entry into the world and has been in speech therapy and other kinds of therapy basically ever since.
I think, you know, beyond like the practical things and making sure that Avery has like the right support and teachers and therapists in her life, between the two of us, it’s like just making sure that we know that we’re here for each other no matter what.
So it’s almost like parenting now, you have to look for opportunities for your kids to be able to experience independence. So we do it in small ways, I’d say. Avery really likes baking and she’s an excellent, incredible baker.
And so it sounds small, but she develops and studies recipes and sometimes they really work out beautifully and sometimes they don’t, you know, as she, depending on what age she is.
I guess we both have different fears surrounding that, you know, everything from like, will the people around me be able to understand what I’m saying, you know, or will I be able to make friends, you know, that’s probably her life’s work and challenge.
I can tell you right now, your parents had no idea that you would be the first lady of the United States.
And I remember I was talking about my father, I was talking about the abuse I suffered on some show or something and he saw it. I don’t talk to him anymore because I’ve learned how to protect me and stay…
Boundaries, for sure.
But I do support him. I give him the same thing he gave me. We had a roof over our head. We were never hungry. He made sure of that. So I make sure he’s never hungry. I make sure he has a roof over his head, even though he did so many things to me.
But what he said to me, he sent a message through my brother, he said, the message was, if I beat your ass one more time, you would have been Barack Obama.
What he meant by that was he was diminishing the success that I had had because I wasn’t president, but also the biggest part of that, he thought that it was his abuse, it was his beatings, it was his negativity that made me who I am.
When the truth of the matter is, it was my mother’s love that brought me to this place.
And had I not had that love, I don’t know where I’d be. So I would tell every parent, you can look at those kids and may not think that they’re nothing or they look like their daddy or this or that. You never know who is in your house. You never know.
There are diamonds all over this earth.
And we have to give ourselves permission to protect ourselves in this world.
And be okay with it.
And be okay with it.
All right, let’s go to this. I don’t want to leave without talking about this, because you say this, your famous quote, when they go low, we go high.
So, it’s so powerful. When I first heard it, I was so moved by it, especially all the things that were going on in the country, but Medea had some.
What’s Medea? What’s she saying? What’s she got to say?
Okay, you say, when they go low, and Medea will answer, okay?
When they go low.
We go to jail. Hell, I’m not going to deal with this.
Give me another one, baby. Give me another one.
When they go low.
When they go low, I go to my closet and reach up high to get my weapons. That’s where I’m going.
Not the weapons, Medea.
Get my weapons.
Not the weapons.
Give me one more.
When they go low.
So, try to go high. As long as I’m high, I can stay high, but if I ain’t high, I’m going low.
Oh, Medea. Oh, Lord.
See, that’s why Medea has never been to the White House.
Although she was about to go during that last administration, just to have a conversation.
And with that said, I want to say thank you to you and your husband and your lovely family.
Keep showing us how to go high, how to stay high.
Thank you, Tyler Perry.
You all, let’s give it up for Tyler Perry, too.
I love me some Tyler Perry.
Miss Michelle Obama, everybody.
Love you all so much.
Oh, Medea. Always keeping it real.
I want to thank Tyler for bringing her along and for teaching me a thing or two about resilience and power and healing.
And what it means to keep your light shining.
What a beautiful lesson.
Tyler’s story reminds us that if you had a tough childhood, that doesn’t mean you’re broken.
In fact, your experience can give you unique skills and perspectives, just like they did for him.
And Officer Edwards’ story reminds us that even if you find yourself knocked down in the middle of a crisis,
you have the strength from within to get back up.
What about you?
I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve had to call on our own resilience.
So I hope you all are as moved by tonight’s episode as I was.
Thanks for listening and talk to you again soon.
Audible co-producers Keith Wooten and Glenn Pogue.
Produced by Mike Richter.
With additional production by Joyce Sanford, Dan Galucci, Nancy Golombiski and Lisa Polak.
With production support from Andrew Eapin, Jenna Levin and Julia Murray.
Location recording by Jodi Elf.
Special thanks to Melissa Winter, Jill Van Lokeren, Crystal Carson, Alex Maysealy,
Hayley Ewing, Marone Haile-Meskel, Sierra Tyler, Carl Ray, Njeri Radway, Meredith Koop, Sarah Corbett, Tyler Lechtenberg and Asra Najam.
The theme song is Unstoppable by Sia.
The closing song is Lovely Day by Bill Withers.
Audible Head of US Content Rachel Giazza.
Head of Audible Studios Zola Masheriki.
Copyright 2023 by Higher Ground Audio LLC.
Sound recording copyright 2023 by Higher Ground Audio LLC.
Voice over by Novena Carmel.
This episode was recorded live at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.
This episode was recorded live at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.