Michelle Obama and others headline the main stage on final day of Obama Foundation Summit

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has a conversation with poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander during the second day of the Obama Foundation Summit in the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., Wednesday, Nov. 1. – Marc Monaghan

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The inaugural Obama Foundation Summit has come to a close.

The final day of the event featured speakers from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama; Common, a Chicago native and hip-hop artist and Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, playwright and actor who is best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musical Hamilton, were some of many heard at the summit.

Over 500 rising and established civic leaders from 27 states and 60 countries, including Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Tunisia, and China convened in Chicago at the Marriot Marquis, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., on Tuesday, Oct. 31 and Wednesday, Nov. 1, for Hyde Park-based Obama Foundation’s summit.

Michelle Obama spoke at length about her sources for inspiration and on what it takes to lead a life of public service in conversation with Elizabeth Alexander, a poet and close friend of Obama.

“Michelle Obama is true north she is a compass; she is steady in the churning sea,” said Alexander as she introduced Obama to an excited and attentive audience.

When asked about words of inspiration Obama said it is the words of her parents that laid the foundation and has guided her throughout her life.

“When I think about the words that stay in my head that guide me…it’s the voice of Marian and Fraser Robinson,” Obama said. “Words don’t have to be poetic they don’t have to be set to music. Most of the words that guide us are those words that we’ve heard growing up.”

The words passed along to Obama, and her brother Craig was to “Do what you say you’re going to do. To be honest and true [and] to treat people with dignity and respect.”

Southsider, Grammy and Academy Award winner Common (left) and Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner and author of the musical “Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda (right) greet each other for a conversation during the closing session of the second day of the Obama Foundation Summit in the Great Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., Wednesday, Nov. 1. – Marc Monaghan

Obama said her father’s and mother’s actions also aligned with the words they imparted to her and her brother.

“It wasn’t just their words it was their actions [to be] openhearted, empathetic and to make your life useful and to define that usefulness as broadly as you can. Those words guide me, and they led me to Barack Obama, who reminded me very much of my own father.”

On how people should use their voice to express disagreement, she said, “The question of how you use your voice comes after you find your voice.” For those who are seeking to find their voice, Obama said that it doesn’t happen overnight.

From a very early age, Obama said she was given the space to have a voice.

Former President Barack Obama tells a story about the time he first met Chancelor Johnathan Bennet (Chance) when he was only 8 years old as Mrs. Michelle Obama and now Grammy winner Chance the Rapper listen during the Obama Foundation Summit’s Community Event in the Wintrust Arena, 200 E. Cermak Road, Wednesday, Nov. 1. – Marc Monaghan

“My parents understood teaching children at a young age that their voice was valuable, was important,” Obama said. “I was allowed to speak my mind at three and four. They asked my opinion; they wanted input from me and my brother about things that involved the family and life.”

Most important though, Obama said is recognizing the power of your voice and using it in the right manner.

“When you have a voice you just can’t use it any kind of way,” Obama said. “You don’t just say what’s on your mind. You don’t tweet every thought.”

She followed it up by saying that “We all have to be open to the differences in the possibilities of other people’s truths so [that] you’re careful with your words [and] with how you debate.”

Obama also encouraged the room.

“Hope is right in this room,” Obama said. “Your voices, missions, goals the possibilities that you all have to be leaders in the world that gives me hope.”

Through the two-day summit’s main stage sessions and breakout sessions, participants explored solutions to problems facing communities worldwide, exchange ideas while taking in civic art, technology, and music from around the world.

The second day of the summit was spent identifying resources within communities to achieve change.

A large crowd responds as Chance the Rapper performs during the Obama Foundation Summit’s Community Event in the Wintrust Arena, 200 E. Cermak Road, Wednesday, Nov. 1. – Marc Monaghan

“In this session, we learn why collective power is the root of human flourishing,” said the foundation in a written statement.

Each session featured facilitators from various backgrounds highlighting challenges within communities worldwide and “the biggest opportunities for engagement and positive change,” said the foundation in a written statement.

Common and Miranda spoke about art and how it informs them as activists during the closing main stage session of the summit.

“It [hip-hop] had that impact on so many people in our lives and culture,” Common said. “It was eye-opening for me to see people from different walks of life brought together to tell a story about a person prevailing through life and overcoming situations.”

Folk rock singer Brandi Carlile performs during the Obama Foundation Summit’s Community Event in the Wintrust Arena, 200 E. Cermak Road, Wednesday, Nov. 1. – Marc Monaghan

During the conversation, the pair broke out into a spontaneous freestyle rap session.

“You can use any source of fuel to power your craft,” Miranda said. “Rage is a fuel source. Joy is a fuel source. Anger is a fuel source. Love is a fuel source.”

Former President Barack Obama closed out the summit with final parting words; he said, “you are right there ready and able to transform the world.”

The night ended with a celebration at the Wintrust Arena, 200 E. Cermak Rd., with appearances by Chance the Rapper, Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, Gloria Estefan, Andra Day, Nas, Brandi Carlile, The National, Francis & the Lights.

t.hill@hpherald.com