By TONIA HILL
Young people from across the Chicago area gathered Saturday at the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave., for a one-day training event hosted by the Barack Obama Foundation.
As the last session of the day wrapped up, participants were greeted by surprise, former President Barack Obama, in the flesh.
The room erupted with applause as Obama walked onto the stage.
Obama joined 175 young people toward the tail end of the one-day session in what he referred to as a reverse townhall, where he asked teams of young people about an issue they identified within communities and gave them steps on how to address it.
The purpose of the training event is to teach young people “how to put ‘civics’ into action, use their own story as a powerful tool for change, and become more active in shaping their communities,” said the foundation in a previous article in the Herald.
After leaving the White House, Obama said he considered what could he do that would be most impactful in the next phase of his life.
“The best way for me to have an impact is to train the next generation of leaders so that I can pass the baton and all of you can make change in your communities, in the country and the world,” Obama said.
The OPC, will be more than a building or a museum it “will be a living, working center for engagement — an ongoing project for the community and world to shape what it means to be an active citizen in the 21st century,” said the foundation in a previous article in the Herald.
Ashton Edwards, a resident of Auburn Gresham; Chynna Hampton, a Bronzeville resident; and Jenna McDonnell of McHenry, Ill., presented varying issues within communities involving financial literacy, food deserts, and college readiness.
Obama provided feedback and assisted them in mapping solutions related to their topics.
To Edwards’ group who were looking to develop financial literacy classes for communities in need, Obama said, “Once you’ve identified the problem and the solution then the next step is [to identify] who makes decisions.”
He also encouraged participants to consider programs in the community that are already working within their area of focus.
“Sometimes we don’t take the trouble to do an inventory, to figure out what resources are already there that maybe we’re not using as much we should,” Obama said.
The event on Saturday was the first of three pilot training sessions or one-day experiences. The next round of training will be held next month in Boston and Tempe, Ariz.
There were 452 applicants for the training with 46 percent from the south side, 26 percent from the north side, 14 percent from the west side and 14 percent from the suburbs.
Saturday will also serve as a model for the foundation as it hosts its next round of training days.
“Giving young people the opportunity to tell their own stories and understand the power of their story it makes a difference you can feel the energy in the room,” said Michael Strautmanis, vice president of Civic Engagement at the Obama Foundation. “We learned what works and so we’re going to take these lessons on to the other trainings that we’re going to do.”
The foundation forged partnerships with local organizations in each community that will help design and lead the training.
The community-based organizations also assisted the foundation by recommending applications from young people for participants and peer advisors.
Partner organizations for the training day on Saturday include Mikva Challenge, Facing History and Ourselves and Narrative4, the organizations helped to develop curriculum for the training pilots.
Also featured at the event was a community engagement fair consisting of local organizations such as Chicago Cares, Chicago Food Depository, Chicago Office of the City Clerk, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Votes, Contexture Media Network, Donda’s House, Horizons for Youth, Improve It, Kuumba Lynx, My Block My Hood My City, The Peace Exchange, Tutoring Chicago, Year Up, and Young Chicago Authors.
The training days build upon a wave of programming for the season for young people and civic leaders including, The Obama Foundation Summit, Obama Foundation Fellowship, and the integration of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance into the Obama Foundation later this year.
On Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, the Obama Foundation will welcome civic leaders from the city, the U.S. and the world to join the former president and Michelle Obama.
The two-day event will be held in Chicago and provide an opportunity for attendees to exchange ideas, explore solutions, and experience civic art, technology, and music from around the world.