Michelle and I on Euclid Avenue

I’ve been listening to Michelle Obama’s wonderful autobiography, Becoming, with rapt attention. She is a brilliant writer and a terrific storyteller. What makes the book especially fascinating for me is her references to her birthplace and longtime home at 74th and Euclid in Chicago, 7 short blocks from my home growing up at 67th and Euclid. I’m 19 years older than Michelle, but we share similar memories of growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Yet many of our memories are quite different because of race, ethnicity, and the times.

Michelle Robinson came from a lower middle-class family, but they were rich with togetherness and their parents’ commitment to upward mobility for the two children. Michelle’s dad, Fraser, worked for the Chicago Water Department, checking filtration meters constantly at the enormous Navy Pier facility. It was a safe union job with the city. Fraser was also a Precinct Captain in his neighborhood, making sure everybody voted for Richard Daley and the Democratic machine.

Michelle’s mother, Marian, was a mostly stay-at-home mom who was home at lunch to make sandwiches for Michelle and her friends, and an emotional rock for the whole family, both then and now. She also lived in the White House during Barack’s time in the Oval Office, making sure the Obama daughters had all the love and guidance Michelle and her brother Craig had.

Michelle Obama's Childhood home in Chicago.Seven blocks away from the Robinsons, my mom stayed home to watch over me, my sister, and brother, making all of our meals and lending constant support. Like the Robinsons, who went to all of Craig’s basketball games (he played Division 1 in college), my parents always went to my basketball and baseball games. Several years earlier, I played baseball in the gravel schoolyard at Bryn Mawr Elementary, which Michelle attended, before I went to Hebrew school, three days a week. During the summer, I played Little League and Pony League at Rosenbloom Park, which bordered the Robinson house.

Despite our proximity and similar interests and outlooks, our childhoods did differ. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago Michelle and Craig Robinson constantly dealt with racism, not the overt type that kids encountered where my wife Risa grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but a type of debilitating racism stemming from diminished opportunities, low expectations, and schools with low-achieving classmates.

I went to an elementary school two decades earlier that had similarities to Bryn Mawr. There were black kids in my class, but the school’s Irish teachers treated white kids, who made up about 2/3 of the class, with respect and had high expectations for our success. The black kids, with a few exceptions, were treated as second-class. The 48 kids in our class were segregated by test scores, which dictated which row of eight we sat in. I was conscious of the unfairness and unkindness inherent in the seating arrangement, but the idea of complaining about it was not in my vocabulary at the age of 10 or 11.

Michelle Robinson graduated from Bryn Mawr and attended Whitney Young High School, a racially diverse, elite magnet public school attended by many of Chicago’s most affluent African Americans. This was the alternative to attending South Shore High, which was 98% black but a couple of blocks from her home. Whitney Young was an hour and a half bus ride on two Chicago buses for her, and the kids paid their own bus fare.

I would have gone to Hyde Park High School, which was also 98% black, but I got into the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory School, a private school a few miles away, though I usually received a ride from my mom or dad in the morning. My classmates were an amalgam of kids from U of C parents, Jewish kids from the South Side, and commuters from around the city. About 20% were black.

Michelle writes vividly about friends she had growing up, especially one of the daughters of Jesse Jackson, who lived in a beautiful stone house a few blocks from me, although I did not know it at the time.

Michelle graduated from Whitney Young high school and went on to Princeton in 1981, as had her brother Craig, two years earlier. After Princeton, she earned a degree from Harvard Law School and a position at probably the most prestigious law firm in Chicago, Sidley Austin LLP. Nineteen years earlier, I attended the University of Michigan, then joined the Illinois National Guard, and later started peddling screw machines in an office on the South Side of Chicago in 1969.

Michelle eventually made it to the White House with Barack, whom she helped recruit for an internship at Sidley Austin. But both of us will always share Euclid Ave.

Question: Do you ever go back to where you grew up? How does it feel?

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13 thoughts on “Michelle and I on Euclid Avenue

  1. AvatarJeff Pomerantz

    I grew up at 89th and Luella 5 blocks over, just South and also attended the LAB school. Another time, place and world.

     
  2. AvatarDave Smith

    I spent my elementary school years in Lombard, IL before my Dad was transferred to NYC. We moved from Lombard to Connecticut in the spring of 1967. Whenever I am in the Chicago area I make an effort to swing by the old neighborhood. It always amazes me how even after 50 years the street and all the homes look essentially the same to me and the neighborhood has the same feel. Since I was just a 12 year old kid when we moved east, I realize now that our church and school and what used to be the Jewel grocery store are not anywhere near as far away as they seemed to be back in the ’60’s. Things have certainly changed in Lombard since 1967, but the street that I lived on is by and large stuck in time.

     
    1. AvatarLarron Fritz

      What this has to do with precision machining… community. And a very special one at that. I can however see how some that are not familiar with the intimacy the author offers on all his interests and passions can see how this one article is relevant. Half of everything in life is timing and GF has yet (and it sounds likely never will) to see, and more importantly feel, the connection between all of the aurhor’s life and the future of precision machining. Keep on writing and posting guys… your writings are one of the extraordinarily few intteruptions I allow into my world which blocks almost everything out that seeks to steal even 10 seconds of it that are not related to precision machining.

       
  3. AvatarBob Ducanis

    My old Catholic high school in Miami (Little Haiti neighborhood) closed down a year ago due to lack of attendance. It was the first high school in the state of Florida to admit a black student in the late 1950s or early 1960s. As years went by, the neighborhood changed from primarily white middle class, to Cuban Hispanic, to Haitian immigrants. Attendance declined to 270 students and it only got that high by adding lower grades, so 6th thru 12th grade.

    The property of the shuttered school is an attractive 15 acre plot just 2 miles north of downtown Miami off of US1. The Archdiocese of Miami sold the 15 acres for $60 million dollars to an EXTREMELY expensive private school consortium called AVENUES, THE WORLD SCHOOL. There are only a few campuses in the world….Manhattan, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and China. Additional schools are to be added in some capital cities worldwide. Yearly tuition for the Manhattan school is $54,000. Little kids in kindergarten get immersion language classes in Mandarin and Spanish. Sheesh…..pretty expensive.

    Bottom line…..all neighborhoods change over time.

     
  4. AvatarRandy Lusk

    How sad a commentary when people can’t even read, let alone discuss, cultural differences and disparities in our country. Lloyd I appreciate all your pieces, I don’t always agree and sometimes admittedly I don’t stay engaged to the end. But I find them all well thought out and expressed. I seem to recall another recently where someone went on a rant about marijuana not even having caused a death, which i find to be naive when DUI means driving under INFLUENCE and the automotive statistics would bear out that is more than just drinking. Not to mention within a week of that statement there was a video on national news about a woman driving under influence of marijuana that drove up on sidewalk and tried to run over kids that hit her car with snow ball.

    I grew up in Southern Louisiana as a kid in elementary school. Moved every couple of years so never stayed closely connected till we ended up in California. That was over 50 years ago and the diversity of the school and my parents speaking about the worth of every individual never allowed a lot of social judgments to find a stronghold in my family. I think if I take nothing else away from your story it is that no matter where we are, or the circumstances we face a strong family and an eager heart that looks for opportunity can and will still find them.

     
  5. AvatarJohn G

    The Obama’s were not “Friends” to manufacturing in the United States.
    So I expected a push-back against this article.

     
  6. AvatarJoey

    Lloyd,

    What a wonderful trip down memory lane, I had thought about reading Mrs. Obama’s book, now I will for sure.

    Although I agree with one comment that the Obama administration was not always a friend of manufacturing, I do miss the honor and dignity and devotion to family that was displayed during his tenure.

    Great article Lloyd!

     
  7. AvatarBill

    Please remove me from your email list. I wish I could remove the Obama’s and their corruption from my memory, as well.

     
  8. Avatarr in nyc

    She was not proud of America until she was 44 years old, when she said of her husband’s 2008 Democrat presidential nomination, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”

    Proud congregant and Sitting in Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s church where he would say:

    “No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America”

    IMHO quite sad to live in a country you hate for most of your life…

     

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