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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Michelle Obama?

Part of my job as an author is to pro-actively find and connect with audiences for my book so when I got the invite to attend the MichelleOBrunch, a quarterly meet-up inspired by Michelle Obama's example of leadership and volunteerism, I asked the founder Chana Ewing if I could do double duty as a guest and author/vendor. She graciously said yes, but when I got to The Rising Arts Gallery and loft of artist Kennis Baptiste, I was a little apprehensive. These past few months of signings and festivals and events have turned me into a hardened shiller. I case the joint, look for the most optimal aka highly-trafficked place to set up, and prepare to pitch. Aggressively. But immediately, I could feel shilling was not the spirit of this gathering.

Though the women in the room were board members of non-profits, principals at foundations, and founders of companies and community organizations, the brunch wasn't about selling stuff or yourself. It wasn't even about networking really. Refreshingly, the women in the room could only talk about service -- and food. :-)

Together with her "Chef's Circle" our host Chana who launched the MichelleOBrunch series last year led the group in contemplating what we're currently doing to be effective community leaders and how we can grow in those roles in the new year. As we tucked into our catered Senegalese restaurant brunch -- banana pancakes, spicy blackened chicken wings, Eggs Benedict, spinach leaves drizzled with fresh carrot ginger dressing, french toast, Prosecco mimosas and wine -- we discussed skills and services we could offer each other to help take our respective volunteer and service efforts to the next level. It was a powerful, empowering, and satisfying experience.

Meanwhile, a photographer and videographer was capturing it all for posterity. The videographer asked those of us who wanted to share our thoughts on the brunch: "Why Michelle Obama?" I mentioned her realness; her admirable ability to keep her position and opinion poll standing in perspective, to cut through the faux impressiveness of situations to represent herself with honesty and truly connect with people e.g. hug the QE II when it's supposedly protocol to shake the monarch's hand; don a marmy sweater over her Narciso Rodriguez dress because, shoot, it was cold in Grant Park that January day when her husband accepted his victory as the first black president of the United States; her choice to place her children and family at the top of her priority list...

That realness was in full effect at the MichelleOBrunch and a reminder to me to keep it all in balanced perspective as I move into 2011. Yes, I must shill, but I also must chill.