FULTON MARKET — Nearly 60 students were treated to a surprise visit from former President Barack Obama as part of a special event organized by his foundation Monday.
Obama made a special appearance in at 167 Green Street in Fulton Market to participate in a four-person panel discussing the future of Chicago, hopes for the future of the city’s youth and what barriers they face. Students representing various Chicago schools and 12 youth-serving organizations were invited to the event.
The former president was greeted with applause and smiles from students as he stepped onto the stage to join the rest of the panelists. Obama was seen voting in Chicago’s municipal elections Monday morning with his wife, Michelle Obama, who surprised a different group of students later in the day in Hyde Park.
Panelists included Chicago Bulls player Ayo Dosunmo; Chicago Bulls Creative Strategy and Design Advisor Don C.; Adeeb Borden, sophomore at Butler College Prep; and Aniya Hill, senior at North Lawndale College Prep. Both students are actively involved in their communities, Hill being the president of the student group, the Peace Warriors and Borden CEO of Black Youth Leadership 21.
In collaboration with local businesses and Nike, students were also able to participate in a wide range of activities including yoga, meditation, art therapy and a hair product creation tutorial.
Obama talked about his background as a community organizer in Chicago and how he felt the city didn’t have enough resources for youth to come together and share their experiences. He also said he learned that teamwork and collaboration was the way to tackle community issues and make change.
“That kind of team building in communities. We don’t do enough of that. And part of it is because it’s not encouraged,” Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of spaces where young people can come together, share their experiences, talk about what’s going on, and then say hey, ‘What can we do about this if we work together?'”
The former president then asked the youth panelists about challenges they have faced when organizing their peers or working toward personal goals.
“What are the frustrations that you have when you try to do something? Is it that young people aren’t interested in what you’re trying to do? Is it old heads and adults that basically don’t listen and pay attention?” Obama asked.
Hill, Borden and Dosunmo said it is a mix of sometimes getting young men to participate, not being taken seriously by adults and learning how to deal with negativity when trying to achieve longterm goals.
“I think the barriers that we face in this city is not having conversations and role models like this come and talk [to us] because just these conversations … can go a long way, this can make anybody in this room gonna go 1,000 times harder,” Dosunmo said.
The former president said he hopes the foundation can organize more events like Monday’s once the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is completed. The sprawling project started construction in August 2021 and is set to wrap in 2025.
“Once we set it up, we want that to be a convening space where we can have events like this all the time. Not just once in a while, but an open space, meeting rooms, facilities, activities that give people the opportunity to realize you’re not alone in whatever it is that you’re doing. That a lot of other people have the same experiences,” Obama said.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: