When Michelle Obama calls — and wants to do a favor for 150 Baltimore schoolkids

Former first lady and author Michelle Obama appears onstage at Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Nov. 15.
Former first lady and author Michelle Obama appears onstage at Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Nov. 15.(Kevin Winter / AFP-Getty)

The phone call got Alicia Wilson’s attention. On the other end of the line was Michelle Obama. She wanted to give away tickets to city students to attend a stop in her book tour in Washington, D.C.

Could Wilson help her do that? Wilson had met the former first lady through a mutual friend and then had dinner with her more than a year ago, sharing the work she did at College Bound Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit that provides support and counseling to students who want to attend college.


Obama was now hoping to do something for city students. The tickets for the Capital One Arena stop in the 10-city book tour for the recently released memoir, “Becoming” ranged in price from $29 to $3,000 when they first went on sale, out of reach for many people.

Obama asked Wilson how many kids she wanted to bring. “I said 50, and she said dream a little bigger,” Wilson said. And that is how 150 students and their chaperones will be loading onto three buses to go to Washington, D.C., on Saturday night for the event. Tickets for the tour have sold briskly and on Friday, tickets were being resold for more than $200 apiece.

Wilson, the president-elect of the College Bound board, said the organization should decide who would be chosen to go among the many city students who participate in College Bound programs, from elementary to high school and college.

The Baltimore artist Amy Sherald has known since the fall of 2016 that she had been selected to paint the portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama. The nearly 18-month build-up came to an end Monday, as her artwork and Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Barack Obama were publicly unveiled.

Ultimately, College Bound advisers in the city schools chose the students. Some are academic stars, but others were just students they believed would benefit from the experience.

It wasn’t hard to get rid of the tickets, Wilson said. “It was like telling them they had tickets to Disney World, a first-class ticket to heaven.”

Obama has gained rock star status for some African-American girls. Tanae Moore-Buchannon, a 16-year-old Digital Harbor High School student, said she was incredibly excited to see her in person. “I feel she motivates me to become greater than what I am now,” said Moore-Buchannon, who has a 3.8 GPA and hopes to become a doctor.

Her mother, Stacey Moore, is accompanying her daughter for what she says is “a lifetime dream.”

College student I’Shea Boyd grew up in the city and has always watched Obama videos on You Tube, dissecting the way she put together her speeches so that she could use them as models for how to speak.


The 20-year-old University of Maryland College Park computer science major has admired the former first lady for years. She even joined a gym and began exercising more regularly because of Obama’s crusade to get kids up and moving. “I was more mindful of getting active at an early age,” she said. “She was a great source of empowerment.”

The CollegeBound Foundation is asking the Baltimore school system to make room in its $1.3 billion operating budget to fund a college and career adviser at every city high school.

Wilson understands the excitement of these students. She went to Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, she said, because her father said the family might not be able to afford college so she better learn a trade. A teacher suggested she take the SAT in ninth grade, and when the results came back, her College Bound adviser took her and other students with promise to various college campuses and helped her apply for college.

It was that intervention, she said, that changed her life. She chose UMBC, becoming a Sondheim Scholar, and then went on to a full scholarship at the University of Maryland law school. She became the first African- American partner at Gordon Feinblatt, and is now the senior vice president of investments and senior legal counsel for Port Covington Investments.

In December, she will become the first College Bound alum to head the board.

Even as a 30-something professional, she said she is “equally as excited as the kids.”

“If you don’t have a jade of adulthood on you, what will the words do for you?” she said.