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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Mae Jemison, Herbie Hancock Will Meet With Hyde Park High Schoolers Through Obama Foundation Lecture Series

The Hyde Park Speakers Academy aims to inspire South Side students to reach the same heights as the program's accomplished guests, foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett said.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama meets with Hyde Park Academy students at the Obama Foundation's Hyde Park office on Dec. 3, 2021.
The Obama Foundation
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WOODLAWN — Hyde Park Academy High School students will learn from professionals who have reached the pinnacle of their fields through a lecture series that serves as an introduction to the community programs planned for the future Obama Presidential Center.

The Hyde Park Speakers Academy, offered by the high school and the Obama Foundation, kicks off Wednesday. Professionals from the arts, business, construction, communications, technology and other fields will give talks through the end of the school year.

Students will also be able to participate in follow-up programs — in some cases, with the speakers themselves; in other cases, with Obama Foundation staffers and affiliates.

“This is not just, we come in to have a speaker and leave,” Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett said in an exclusive interview with Block Club Chicago on Monday. “We’ll help mentor them in a variety of different ways.”

Each session is open to about 50 students from all grade levels who will be selected by Hyde Park Academy principal Antonio Ross and peer leaders in the school, Jarrett said.

The first session features Ariel Investments founder and University of Chicago trustee John Rogers, Jr. He’ll be joined by his mentee, Myles Gage, who will return to Hyde Park Academy after this week’s session for financial education workshops using the Rapunzl app he co-founded.

National Society of Black Engineers executive director Carl Mack will speak at the second session, which will be held in late February. The other confirmed guests include:

  • Engineer and former astronaut Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, whose sister attended Hyde Park Academy, Jarrett said
  • Jazz musician and 14-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, a Hyde Park Academy graduate.
  • ABC News president Kim Goodwin, who “is interested in inviting students to ABC to visit the studio” and learn what goes into a TV news production, Jarrett said.
  • Basketball coach and broadcaster Craig Robinson, the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama brother.
  • City Colleges of Chicago chancellor Juan Salgado.
  • Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns.
  • Author John Jennings.
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades president Kenneth Rigmaiden.
  • U.S. Secret Service agent Allen Tayler.

“Each person we’ve asked [to speak], we think their personal story will resonate with students,” Jarrett said. “We don’t want them to view the accomplishments of the leaders we’ve chosen as out of reach.”

If the Speakers Academy’s goes well, “we would love to expand it” into other nearby schools, Jarrett said. Future versions may also boost capacity from 50 students, depending on the students’ and faculty’s interests.

“We’re hopeful that, through engagement with students at Hyde Park, we will create with them other ways of enriching their high school experiences,” Jarrett said.

The Speakers Academy — along with a summer internship through Urban Alliance and a project to clean up vacant lots for use as community gardens through Emerald South — reflect the foundation’s vision for Obama Center’s programs, Jarrett said.

The lecture series, internships and community gardens give the foundation officials a chance to “begin in our own front yard” as they prepare the center’s offerings, she said.

Construction on the center broke ground in September; it’s expected to open in 2025.

“From what we learn, we’ll be able to take these initiatives to scale in Chicago, around the country and around the world,” Jarrett said.

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