Local influences, national visitors highlight of first half of Obama Foundation Summit

Former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama enter the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., as the Obama Foundation Summit commences Tuesday, Oct. 31. – Marc Monaghan

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

Local events, people and places that have and continue to inspire former President Barack Obama were a highlight of the first day of the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit that began on Tuesday, Oct. 31 and continued on Wednesday, Nov. 1. Other high points of the summit included a visit from Prince Harry of Wales.

During the opening session of the summit, Obama said after leaving the White House he considered what he could do that would be most impactful in the next phase of his life.

“Ordinary people in local communities can do extraordinary things when they’re given a chance, when their voices are heard when they come together, and they recognize themselves in each other,” Obama said.

Over 500 rising and established civic leaders from 27 states and 60 countries, including Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Tunisia, and China are convening in Chicago at the Marriot Marquis, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., this week for the Hyde Park-based Obama Foundation’s summit. Through the two-day summit’s main stage sessions and breakout sessions, participants will explore solutions to problems facing communities worldwide, exchange ideas while taking in civic art, technology, and music from around the world.

During his opening speech, Obama spoke of his years as a community organizer in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood.

South side artist and University of Chicago professor Theaster Gates tells the story of his efforts in the Woodlawn neighborhood to create community through art and cooperative action during the first session of the Obama Foundation Summit in the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Avenue, Tuesday, Oct. 31. – Marc Monaghan

He credits his time as a community organizer as impactful and aims to in the next chapter of his life impart lessons that he learned from community organizing to train up the next generation of young people to make a change in their communities, in the country, and in the world.

What has been most exciting since leaving office, Obama said is “the idea of creating a hub, a venue, a place, a network, in which all these young people across the globe and across the country, from every background and every race and every religion, could start meeting each other and seeing each other and teaching each other and learning from each other.”

Obama said he believes creating a space for young people to make those connections will help them “to thrive and to grow and to scale up all the amazing stuff that they were already doing locally, and not just to root themselves locally, but then be able to germinate and seed change all around the country and around the world, then there’s no problem we couldn’t solve. There’s no aspiration that we might not reach.”

Former President Barack Obama elucidates his goals and aspirations for the Obama Foundation Summit during its first plenary session “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” in the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Avenue, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. – Marc Monaghan

During the main stage and breakout sessions facilitators from various backgrounds will highlight challenges within communities worldwide and “the biggest opportunities for engagement and positive change,” said the foundation in a written statement.

As participants float between main stage and breakout sessions, they can see and engage with one another through social spaces that feature works of art from Chicago-based artists and artists from around the world whose work centers on civics.

Also, featured in social spaces is a bookstore operated in partnership with Seminary-Co-Op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the [summit],” said Adam Sonderberg, manager of the Seminary Co-Op.

The Co-Op and its sister store, 57th Street Books hosted readings for both of Obama’s books.

Obama Foundation Summit attendees visit the Seminary Co-op bookstore’s booth in the foyer of the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Avenue, where they could see and purchase “President Obama and Mrs. Obama’s Top Picks,” Tuesday, Oct. 31. – Marc Monaghan

“They wanted to have a neighborhood presence and a bookstore which is kind of unprecedented for something of this nature,” Sonderberg said.

The pop-up bookstore featured 10 books selected by Obama that motivated him in choosing a life of service and challenged his views on the world.

The speakers at the summit are the authors of the books included in the pop-up bookstore; foundation staffers selected other titles.

Theaster Gates, a professor in the Department of Visual Arts and director of Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago and founder of the Rebuild Foundation, was one of many presenters who spoke at the opening session of the summit.

One of the most notable projects from Gates’ Rebuild Foundation is the opening of the Arts Bank in October of 2015.

Nearly two years ago, the former Southmoor Bank and Trust building was a 90-plus-year-old deteriorating structure that had stood vacant for decades. Now, the building has a new purpose and is bringing the surrounding community back to life as the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., a hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center.

Prince Harry (center left) speaks during a conversation with Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments, LLC, (far left), David A. Peterson, Jr., President of The National A. Philip Randoph Pullman Porter Museum (center right), and Chantelle Stefanovic, Project Coordinator for Full Effect (far right), about “ways that youth can be drivers of community engagement and development,” during the second plenary session of the Obama Foundation Summit in the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Avenue, Tuesday, Oct. 31. – Marc Monaghan

Prince Harry of Wales was also featured on the main stage on Tuesday.

“I get all my passion and inspiration from young people,” said Prince Harry.

Prince Harry was joined in conversation with Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and current Chair of the Board of Directors of DreamWorks Animation.

David Peterson, a leader from After School Matters, and Chantelle Stefanovic, a leader from Full Effect, a program of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were also a part of a panel.

The panel discussed ways in which youth can be the drivers of community engagement and development.

“Once you understand the privileged position that you’re in, you then spend the rest of your life earning that privilege and giving back and also gaining [the] trust and respect of the general public,” Prince Harry said.

Prince Harry also discussed how his mother, Diana influenced his philanthropic work because of all she had done to help others.

Peterson, a graduate of Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., and Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., is the president and executive director of the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S. Maryland Ave., which works to preserve African American labor history.

“I was always captured by culture, arts, and entrepreneurship,” Peterson said. “I began to use myself as a vessel for the ancestors, and in that, I understood that I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Also on Tuesday before the start of the summit, Prince Harry, and Michelle Obama met with 20 students at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., which is situated directly across from the future site for the OPC.
The final item on the agenda for Tuesday was a community supper held at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive.

t.hill@hpherald.com