British Columbia

Thousands listen to Michelle Obama's message of tolerance in Vancouver

Former U.S. first lady spoke about her childhood, her parents' encouragement of her education and the discrimination her family faced.

Former first lady packs Rogers Arena in Vancouver during one of four book tour stops in Canada

Michelle Obama greets an adoring audience in Vancouver's Rogers Arena Thursday night. (Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama)

Thousands of people walked out of Vancouver's Rogers Arena feeling inspired Thursday night after listening to a talk from former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.

She walked on stage to thunderous applause in an event titled, Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama, part of a promotional tour for her biography released in 2018 called Becoming.

Obama began her talk with anecdotes from her childhood. She said she grew up poor, but with parents who encouraged her to speak up and pursue an education.

"I had parents who understood that to teach a child to have a voice means you have to appreciate their voice from very early on," she said.

"That means you don't shush them, you take their questions, you let them ask things."

Michelle and the former U.S. president Barack Obama now live in Washington, D.C, with their 16-year-old daughter Sasha. Their oldest daughter Malia, 20, is studying at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Barack Obama spoke in Vancouver earlier this month at an event sponsored by the local board of trade.

Faced bigotry growing up

She also spoke to the prejudice and discrimination her family faced.

"As black families like ours were moving up and moving into the communities that were better off, white families were fleeing to the suburbs because they were afraid ... of us," she said.

"And I stop there because ... we still do that to each other."

ABC anchor Robin Roberts, right, hosted the nearly one-and-a-half-hour discussion with Obama. (Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama)

Event opener from Syria

Obama shared the stage with four other women, one of whom lives in Vancouver, who told their stories at the event.

Nesreen Nassleh, an immigrant mother who moved to Vancouver from Syria, used to watch Obama's speeches and admire her for lifting up other women.

"Every time I saw her on television, I felt, 'That's a woman who is empowering all women,'" she told the CBC's Early Edition earlier in the day.

"And I was lucky enough to have this chance to go to her event."

Nassleh shared her experience as an immigrant mother in Canada raising four children in a multicultural community.

Nesreen Nassleh is originally from Palestine but lived in Syria, where she worked as a biomedical engineer before moving to Canada. She's opening Michelle Obama's event in Vancouver on March 21. (Submitted by Nesreen Nassleh)

She is originally Palestinian, but worked as a biomedical engineer in Syria and moved to Canada in 2005.

"I'm teaching them to be respectful and accept all religions and culture in this country," she said.

"[But also] so they are proud of their religion and their culture."

Vancouver is one of four Canadian stops on the 2019 leg of the tour to promoted Obama's memoir, including Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal.

With files from the CBC's Early Edition


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