When making history, wealth and power are not decisive factors. When seeking to create development and prosperity, however, equality, justice and inspiration are more important factors; such is the message that former United States President Barack Obama is seeking to deliver on October 31 and November 1 during the first summit of his foundation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the former President arrived at the summit along with former First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver the opening speech of the summit, which took place in the South Side of Chicago, a neighborhood with historic importance related to the constant struggle for social justice and equality. Earlier in the day, Obama had been meeting distinguished guests such as Prince Harry of Wales, who toured an urban school located near the future site of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, which will be financed by the Obama Foundation and expected to be completed in four years.
Hundreds of guests from all over the world were selected from a pool of thousands of applicants who wish to work with the foundation. Some of the distinguished guests include Prince Harry, Nigerian billionaire banker Tony Elumelu, Broadway producer Lin Manuel Miranda, former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, and performance artist Krista Francis. Most of the attendees are community organizers and activists, just like Obama was before pursuing politics.
Even though it was his first major public appearance since leaving the White House, the former President kept his remarks very short. The specter of the chaotic Trump administration, which for some reason seems to always look for opportunities to trash Obama and his legacy, hung in the air, but the former President only mentioned politics once as he stated that political attitudes stem from civic culture as a whole. Obama then asked everyone to not spend time taking selfies and checking their smartphones and urged them to start working.
The summit was conducted through a series of meetings and workshops; there were few lectures or presentations. Obama wants these gatherings to unfold like “hackathons” or brainstorming sessions. The idea is for participants to take simple ideas back to their communities so they can be put into practice quickly. Obama is calling this effort an experiment in citizenship; he would like to see the small achievements he experienced as a community leader spread around wherever they may be needed.
Although the atmosphere at the summit was positive, hopeful and lively, not everyone in attendance agreed with the practical brainstorming format. A Harvard lecturer commented that the summit agenda lacked a call to change the political status quo. A community organizer from a nearby suburb told the Chicago Tribune that not all the workshops and meetings sounded practical and did not seem as if they could trickle down immediately to people in need.