Crusader staff report
Former President Barack Obama returned to his hometown of Chicago Tuesday, Oct. 31, where he highlighted his roots as a community organizer and to promote community engagement during a splashy two-day summit at the new Marriott Marquis Chicago near McCormick Place.
Hundreds of world activists and political leaders from 60 countries listened and spoke to overflowing crowds that packed the hotel’s ballrooms.
At times, the Obama Foundation Summit was a social affair as celebrities and British royalty mingled among guests, many of whom were awestruck by big A-listers who turned out to support Obama and his efforts to inspire people to dream big and become activists in their communities. Caroline Kennedy, Chance the Rapper, Common, and Audra Day were just some of the people on the program who were scheduled to speak and perform.
The event was a morale booster to the Obama Foundation, which in recent months, had come under heavy criticism after Obama publicly announced that he would not sign a community benefits agreements for his $500 million library, which will be built in Jackson Park. Activists are demanding jobs and more transparency. Obama said such an agreement was not necessary and urged activists in Woodlawn and South Shore to trust him, as developers prepare to break ground in 2018.
The event wasn’t open to the public and many vocal critics of the library did not attend. However, foundation officials said 2,000 tickets were given to local community organizations, churches, and schools on the South Side.
The two-day summit at the Marriot Marquis Chicago was a glossy, well-orchestrated event that placed the foundation in a positive spotlight as the Obamas continue to seek wealthy donors for this library. The media wasn’t allowed to cover the breakout sessions, but numerous outlets covered the summit’s opening session, where civic leaders spoke before Obama, who gave a 20-minute speech to an enthusiastic crowd.
“I was inspired in particular by the Civil Rights Movement by young people who were going door to door trying to register people to vote. But what I did learn is that ordinary people in local communities can do extraordinary things when their voices are heard, when they come together.
“Our goal is not to present some fixed theory of how change happens. We want to learn as much as we want to share some of what we have learned.
“This is a big brainstorming session. This is an experiment to have a collective conversation in which we will try to shape and direct so that its useful to you.
Obama’s wife, former first lady Michelle, held an interview with poet Elizabeth Alexander on Wednesday, Nov. 1. A day earlier, Michelle and Britain’s Prince Harry visited Hyde Park Academy located near the future presidential center and library.
The summit was packed with breakout sessions, some of which featured high-profile speakers. Actress Rashida Jones and former National Security Advisor Rashida Jones led a discussion on getting women to lead in important places. Obama’s former White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett led a brainstorming session on how to use the digital platform to motivate people to get involved in their communities around the world.
There was also a breakout session that discussed the next chapter of Obama’s White House initiative My Brother’s Keeper.
Obama also spoke on Wednesday hours before the summit ended with a concert featuring Chance the Rapper, Common, Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, Gloria Estefan, Andra Day, Nas, Brandi Carlile and The National, and Francis & the Lights.