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President Obama in conversation with Yara Shahidi and Obama Foundation Program Participants

President Obama in conversation with Yara Shahidi and Obama Foundation Program Participants


(upbeat instrumental music) (audience cheering and clapping) – Wow, what can I do where I am? What can I do to make
things a little bit better where I live? That’s the question
that Toni Morrison asked as a young editor during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement when there was change
occurring all around her. What can I do where I am? She decided to use her gifts, her passion, and her position as an editor basically to lift up the ideas and the words and the voices of people all around her, to make sure that they
were being seen and heard. She then become one of
those voices herself, writing novels that made sure that every face was seen, that every voice was heard, that every story was told in a way that changed not just literature, but helped define who we are as a people. What can I do where I am? That question and so
many questions like it are at the heart of what we at the Obama Foundation seek to do. When people ask that question or a question like that, what can I do where I am, we seek to have them be
inspired by that question not to look to their
left or to their right or to someone else, but to look first within themselves for the voice and the
power that they have, but then to begin to analyze what needs to be done in their community. That is their responsibility. We seek to empower them whether they are in South Africa, in Southeast Asia, or right here on the
south side of Chicago, not by giving them something
that they don’t already have, but with some tools and some support so that
they can be more powerful than they even imagine, and then more importantly, once we do that, we seek to connect them. We seek to connect this network of change makers together because there is a truth that all of you are seeing here at this gathering, that even though all of us have voice and power and agency, none of us do anything alone. The things that we accomplish together are far greater than what
we can do by ourselves, and so gatherings like this, you see it manifested digitally with our online tools, and our storytelling tools. And then one day, one day on the south side
of Chicago in Jackson Park at the Obama Presidential Center, there will be a place, a place that will be a beacon for people who, when
they ask that question, “What can I do where I am?” They know that there is a place on the south side of
Chicago where hope lives. That’s what we are doing, (audience applauding) and when you draw people together and you make connections like
the connections we’ve made, and you witness how important it is for a young person who is
beginning her leadership journey to be guided and inspired by someone who’s a little bit further along in their journey, you see now how where I am and what I can do becomes real for so many people, and so today, I am so proud
to introduce a conversation that will let you see how we do that. I’d like you to join me
in welcoming to the stage four of our Obama Foundation
program participants. I’d like to welcome DeAndre Brown, Samira Koujok, Mimi Gonzalez, and Awah Francisca Mbuli. Please welcome them to the stage, (audience applauding and cheering) and these powerful young people are gonna take part in
an amazing conversation with a brilliant young actor, organizer, and activist Yara Shahidi, and ladies and gentlemen, the 44th President of the
United States of America, Barack Obama. (audience applauding and cheering) (mumbling) (upbeat instrumental music) (laughing) – I don’t– – What’s going on out there? (mumbling) All right, settle down, all of you. (audience laughing) – Hello, everybody. I’m so honored to be here. Can we just see how has
everyone’s day been? (audience cheering) – Good, excellent. – It’s been pretty incredible, and I’m really honored to be here and share space with incredible leaders in their own right and start a fascinating conversation that continues in the vein of I think everything
we’ve heard this morning and everything we continue to hear about the importance of the individual and the importance of our
communities that raise us. And I think should we just jump right in? Is that okay– – Let’s just jump in. – Yeah. – Why not? – Well, what I loved is just
the theme of this conference talking about place because I think for me place is always really represented in interacting with your history and the legacy of where you are. One of the only tattoos on my body, this is a side note, but it will make sense in a second. – Mom’s wondering where
this is going right now. – We actually have tattoos
in the same place– – Oh, there you go. – She knows exactly where this is going, but it’s 1963, and it for me represents the
work that was done that year as well as the atrocities
that occurred that year from the bombing of the Birmingham Church and the assassination of Medgar Evers to the March on Washington, and more importantly a larger idea of people continuing to work towards a future they weren’t
necessarily guaranteed but deemed essential. And I know that ’63 was also
a pivotal year for Chicago as 200,000 students boycotted segregation of school policies, and so in talking about place, one of my first questions is just, how do we as a community continue in the legacy of the
work that’s presented to us? – Well, first of all, I am just thrilled with
this representation of amazing young leaders that I’ve had the
opportunity to get to know and to see and to learn from and be inspired by all around the world, and Yara, thank you for participating and helping to moderate this. The objective of the foundation is to create more and more platforms by which all of you
can thrive and succeed, and one thing to remember
about 1963 is that most of the leaders of
the Civil Rights Movement were your age. I mean, Dr. King, when he first started with the Montgomery Bus Boycott was 25, 26. Think about that. John Lewis, who is one
of the only remaining, in fact, I think is the only living person on the original program
that I have framed. It was given to me as a gift from the March on Washington, was just barely 20, 21, and so one place to start when you think about, where do we go next? How do we continue to bring about greater equality, greater justice, greater opportunity, is to remind yourselves that the same doubts, uncertainties, struggles, difficulties, challenges that sometimes
may weigh you down, they were going through, the same divisions and arguments about, how should we approach social change? Who should be in charge? What are our best tactics? They were having those same
discussions and arguments, and perhaps most importantly, I think it’s really useful to remind ourselves that they were part of a continuum just as you
are part of a continuum, so we were talking backstage about the notion of
non-violent resistance. Well, Dr. King and Civil Rights workers had learned the idea of
non-violent resistance by watching Gandhi in India and the movement to achieve
independence from colonialism, and so they were part of that continuum. They were part of a continuum
of Charles Hamilton Houston, one of the first African Americans to attend Harvard Law School, who helped to engineer the
strategy with Thurgood Marshall that ultimately led to Brown
versus Board of Education. That was another part of the river that they were merging with. Rosa Parks had learned to sit down not just ’cause her feet were tired but because the Highlander School, which drew on some of
the activist traditions dating back to the Great
Depression and before, that was part of the stream. So you’re part of that continuum, and the good news is that
when you start feeling that you’re a part of something larger, that you’re taking a
baton from somebody else, and then you’re running
your stage of the race, and then you’re passing it on, A, you don’t feel as alone. B, it also gives you
a sense of perspective and some patience because it is very rare where
change happens overnight. Now when you’re young, you’re supposed to be impatient. If you’re too patient, and you’re young, you may not get to where you want to go, but the danger of impatience is you can get discouraged if change doesn’t happen right away, and I think that the most important thing for all of you is to remember that the work you’re doing in this place at this moment is not
gonna be the beginning, and it’s not the end. And as long as you are doing
good work in that moment, at that time, and
helping people concretely move the needle a little bit, push that boulder up the hill just a bit, then you can take satisfaction with that, and that’s what builds over time, but I don’t know. Does that make sense? Mimi, what do you think
about the question? How do you think about being part of, as a really young person, and you’re trying to figure out in your specific community when you’re out there
bringing about change, are you thinking about the struggles of people before you, or are you just thinking, “Man, this seems hard, and, “How do I get this done now,” and what do you think? – Well, I’m not really focused on if it’s hard for me. – Tell us a little bit
about what you’re doing just so that people know. – So I’m Mimi. I’m in the Hartford
Community Leadership Corps. My project there, we are trying to create an organization called Wealthy Minds, so don’t think wealthy like money. Think wealthy like wellness, so Wealthy Minds, and basically what we want to do, so there’s a lot of resources in Hartford, but a lot of people don’t
know where they are. Maybe they’re have an access issue, or they just don’t know how
to get to these resources, so my group and I, we want to create a platform and a space where we can connect
these people in Hartford with the resources we already have, and while we do that, we also want to connect
it back to the arts because whenever there’s
something going on in the community, the way we express pain
is through the arts. Like sometimes we want to listen to music, or we want to do spoken word, or we go to see a film. Whatever it is, the arts provide an outlet for everybody, and that’s what we want to do, so we had our first pop up
event actually two weeks ago, and it was amazing. We had about 50 people come out, and we partnered with the
Jordan Porco Foundation, Hartford Psychological Services, and the Hartford Gay and
Lesbian Health Collective, and they provided resources
that we could give back to the people
already in our community, and we had a drag performer perform. We had a spoken word singer, and it just felt like a space of healing towards something better. – Excellent, fantastic. (audience applauding) Do you want to move on
to another question? ‘Cause I’ve got questions
for all these people. (audience laughing) – Yeah, then let’s– – ‘Cause they’re really much
more interesting than me, (audience laughing) or at least you’ve heard from me more than you’ve heard from them. – Okay, well, then for the sake of hearing from somebody else, let’s actually hear from
DeAndre who has a question about what catalyzes change. – Okay, so good afternoon. Got to be formal for the
television, you know? But my question is, I know what passion and drive it takes to work hard and change something, and to do something that
many other people can’t do. As a black man, what made you believe that you
can change an entire country or change things in an entire country in a place where you were, I have especially been
told that I can’t do it, and when did that happen? – I was dropped on my head as a child, (audience laughing) and so I didn’t have any sense. I think this actually connects with Yara’s earlier question about how do we sustain a movement. There’s a corollary to that, which is, how do we sustain our own sense of hope and drive and
vision and motivation, and how do we dream big? And for me at least, it was not a straight line. It wasn’t a steady progression. It was an evolution that
took place over time as I tried to align what
I believed most deeply with what I saw around me and with my own actions. One of the things that I used to do, trainings for community organizers, and we used to tell folks, if you want to know what
your values are right now, look at where you’re putting your time, your money, your energy. You may tell yourself that you
are really community minded, but if all your time, money, and energy is going into going to the club or playing sports, then that’s actually
what’s important to you. Now what happens is, as a young man, I’ve said before that I was kind of a goof off. When I was your age, I was not sitting on the stage talking in some serious voice about, (audience laughing) I was out there trying to get with some girl or playing basketball or doing things I
shouldn’t have been doing. But what started
happening was that I would read, let’s say, about Nelson Mandela and the struggles in South Africa, and I’m in a class, and I’m raising my hand, and I’ve some opinion, or a representative of the
African National Congress would come to campus, and they were my age, and they’re risking potentially
getting thrown in jail, or they’re in exile trying to struggle. And I’m saying to myself, hm, if I really do believe in that, then what am I doing about it, and what am I willing to give up, and what am I willing to sacrifice? And so there was this long process for me of aligning what I said I believed in with my behavior and then testing what I could change so that the world would align better with what I believed in and my values, and so the first stage is just kind of figuring out, all right, what do you really believe? What’s really important to you? Not what you pretend is important to you, but what is really important to you, and what are you willing to
risk or sacrifice for it? The next phase is then you test that against the world, and the world kicks you in the teeth, and says, “You may think
that this is important, “but you know what? “We’ve got other ideas, “and who are you? “And you can’t change nothing,” and so then you get through a phase of trying to develop skills and courage and resilience, and you try to fit your actions to the scale of whatever
influence you have, so I came to Chicago, and I’m working on the south side on trying to get a park cleaned up or trying to get a school improved, and sometimes I’m succeeding. A lot of times I’m failing, but over time, you start getting
a little bit of confidence with some small victories, and that then gives you the power to then analyze and say, “Huh, “here’s what worked. “Here’s what didn’t. “Here’s what I need more of “in order to achieve the vision “or the goals that I have. “Now let me try to take
it to the next level,” which means then some more failure and some more frustration ’cause you’re trying to expand
the orbit of your impact, and I think it’s that iterative process. It’s not you come up with a grand theory of here’s how I’m gonna change the world, and then suddenly it all just goes according to clockwork, at least not for me. For me it was much more me trying to be the person I
wanted to believe I was, and at each phase, challenging myself and testing myself against the world to see if in fact I could have an impact
and make a difference. Over time, you’ll surprise yourself, and it turns out that you can, and by the way, I took one particular path, but I would imagine those of you who, let’s say, are teachers, the first time you go in a classroom, those kids are going to say, “You clearly don’t know
what you’re talking about,” (audience laughing) and they’ll be bored, and they’ll test you, and you’re frustrated, and you’re depressed. I know because my sister is a teacher, and then over time you
gain more confidence. It’s the same thing. If you are running a health clinic or you are trying to engage
in human rights work, it’s this constant of fine tuning, of matching your values, your actions, and your impact, and that takes time, so you shouldn’t expect at 18 that you got a master plan. Samira, you’re doing extraordinary work in some of the most
difficult imaginable places with people who have
been severely traumatized by a terrible conflict. I’m assuming that you’ve had to go through this similar phase where there are a lot of times where you say to yourself, “How can I have any impact “in something this large?” Maybe you can share with people what it is that you’re doing and then describe how have you thought, because you’re slightly
older than DeAndre. You look the same age, but you’ve already been able to build up an organization
and focused your work, so you’re a little further down that path. Tell us a little bit about
what that’s been like. – Well, to start with, it’s exactly what you were talking about, the small victories that matters because, yes, we resist. We mobilize, and we fail, but we always find some
kind of small victories that gives us hope to continue and keep on going, but we learn from our failures. And I work in the field of missing persons from the Syrian conflict, and, as you know, I mean, conflict is all
over the Middle East, and what we do is we try to, one, allow people to have voice because it’s very important. It’s very important in
shifting narratives, and once we’re able to shift narratives, we’re able to mobilize more, to have solidarity with
different individuals who are going through the same things. At the moment, the fight continues because there is no peace yet in Syria, but the people are empowered. The people are empowered
through international advocacy, through different mechanisms
available for them, and through their own voice, the stories that they write, and here comes the
importance of human rights and education at the same time because it’s not only building on now, it’s building on the youth, and they are gonna actually
carry on in fighting this until we are able to
reach somewhere beautiful. (mumbling) (audience applauding) – I feel like what everyone’s saying also ties in to this conversation that’s being had of focusing
on impact over legacy, and part of action is living in such a consistent moment in the present that you’re not necessarily thinking about what you’re leaving behind, but part of appreciating
the small victories is acknowledging the impact that’s being made in every exchange. – Look, yeah, I used to have these sessions at the end of the White
House internship cycle where you’d get about
200 White House interns typically that had interned in various offices for about six months, and I would come in at the
end of their internship with a group session, and they’d ask questions, and these were all high achieving, type
A, gotten straight As. They did not act like
I acted at their age, so invariably, somebody would ask me, “Mr. President.” They wouldn’t be this bold, but it was basically, “How can I be president?” (audience laughing) In the sense of they were asking, no, in a sincere way, they were asking, “I’m inspired by the
idea of public service. “What path should I take? “How should I think about it?” And the thing I used to tell them, which was something an older friend of mine had told me back
when I was still organizing. I remember him telling me, and I relayed it to these young people. Worry more about what you want to do rather than what you want to be. Part of the problem of
politics is typically, whether it’s Washington, D.C., or any other capital around the world, a lot of people got there because they had an idea in their head of, “I want to be a congressman, “or I want to be a member of Parliament, “or I want to be X, Y, Z.” And first of all, you’re playing the lottery a little bit ’cause there’s a limited number of those seats available, but the other thing is when that’s your focus, you may spend 10 years just
trying to be something, and when you get there, it turns out that you have no idea what you want to do with it, so you have no moral compass. You have no issue or cause that you’re willing to
sacrifice everything for or lose your seat for. All that’s important to you is to stay that thing that you wanted to be, or to be the next thing on whatever the pecking order is, whereas if you focus
on what you want to do, the question you’re asking is, “How can I get these kids “who don’t have advantages
a great education?” And I may start off teaching, or I may decide I’m gonna
start an after school program, or I may decide that I’m going to mentor while I’m paying the rent, doing something else, or I may decide I’m gonna hire some of these young people and train them. And organically out of doing that thing, it may turn out that
your influence expands and you get expertise in that field, and suddenly you’re a leader in advancing the thing
that you cared about, and if you do end up
being in a high office or in a head of a big
organization, what have you, you’re very clear about
what you’re doing about it, and by the way, if it doesn’t work out perfectly exactly the way you planned, along the way, all these
people have been touched. All this good’s been done, and your life is full, so, yeah, chasing an office or a position is a little bit like just chasing money. I don’t want to belittle it in the sense of like, you need money to pay the rent. You need a job. That is honorable and right, but after a certain point, the people I find who end up being most satisfied, even if they’re in business, are the people who just, they were really
passionate about this thing they wanted to do. That’s what excited them, and as a byproduct of that passion, it turned out that they ended up being very successful in business, so, Awah, tell us about how
you’ve been thinking about your passion, and I know that you were
telling me backstage that some of the things you wanted to do haven’t gotten done yet, and so how do you process that, and how do you deal with that and keep on going? – Thank you, excellency. – And tell everybody– (audience laughing) – Being a survivor of human trafficking and coming from a community where everyone believes that we have to (mumbling) in life by traveling abroad, and then trying to dissuade people from that idea, it seems so difficult, but we have to break boundaries. I go about. I do my things my own way with female survivors as well because we are female led. We go through the communities (mumbling). We talk to people, showing them short videos, pictures of who were during that ordeal, and the present (mumbling). We have changed. That suddenness is no longer there. It’s very difficult to convince them, but our passion still lives. Your passion can be food, and if you don’t eat,
you will not be happy. My passion is to combat human trafficking, so if I don’t go there to make a change, I feel as if something in me is lacking, so always push forward. We push so hard that we don’t even feel the pain. We just feel the joy because we are realizing
what we are doing. From what we are doing, many people have learned what human trafficking is in my community because at first, as (mumbling), they saw it as a sign of prestige in their community or a source to a greater livelihood, but our work is making changes. It is cutting across boundaries. People are reaching back to
us with positive stories. We didn’t end there. We also start to do
some employment training because some people will say, “You don’t want me to do this. “You don’t want me to go out, “so what do I do?” We try to empower the women in economic employment
schemes, vocational training. They (mumbling) can, and they are doing well
in their community. They have now realized that the resources in their community can
also be put into use, so our passion has been satisfied, and the changes are being made. Thank you, excellency. (audience applauding) – Wow. – And so it feels like
there’s this connection of everyone in this room of remaining purpose driven and being united by our drive
to consistently be doing, and at the same time, we’ve also had this conversation on access and the importance of access and resources as well as the importance of
your personal circumstances influencing or feeling like they influence what you can or cannot do, which kind of ties into Samira’s question regarding what happens when
there are certain things that feel like they are impeding
you from the doing itself. – Samira, you had– – Actually, yeah, I have a question. Thank you, Yara. – Yeah, she teed you up. (audience laughing) – So you mention a lot the importance of peace and peacekeepers
in transforming communities, and we just spoke about the time it takes and the little victories, but sometimes there are peacemakers and peacekeepers who
jeopardize their safety when they are trying to step up and fight and resist, so what can we do when it comes to that? – Well, this is something that we’ve been struggling with in the Foundation. I struggled with it as president. There are parts of the world in which being an activist is not just a matter of
sacrificing higher pay or having longer hours or experiencing frustrations ’cause your issue isn’t advanced
as quickly as you’d like. There are parts of the world where you’ll be imprisoned. There are parts of the world
where you may be killed. There are parts of the world where even if you’re not
killed or imprisoned, your family may be threatened or lose their jobs and their livelihoods because you’ve been exercising your voice, and there are some
participants of this summit who are operating with
extraordinary courage in those circumstances. And part of what my personal advice to these advocates has been is that you do what you can, but this is a long path, and so if at any point the threats or dangers that are
presented from your work get to be too great, you should not feel as if
you are somehow compromised if you say strategically, “Okay, I have to be careful “about how I approach these issues.” I’ll give you an example. We used to have these young leaders forums around the world while
I was still president, and if we were doing it in most European countries, a lot of the young leaders
were overtly political. They’d be human rights activists, or they would be young parliamentarians, and they would be
challenging the status quo and protesting and, et cetera. When we went to Asia, so for example in Vietnam, we had a young leaders corps, I think eventually had
like 70,000 members online who would meet and discuss
strategy, et cetera. Most of them were entrepreneurs, so they were couching
their work as business in a country in which
business was welcomed. Entrepreneurship was welcome. Overtly political work
might be endangered, and so somebody who was concerned about environmental issues there, they might have a start up designed to figure out, how do we get clean
energy into a community, or how do we recycle, rather than directly say, “Government, you need to do X, Y, Z.” And I think that it’s useful to just remind ourselves that there are a bunch of different ways to have an impact. Now if what’s inside of you compels you to take great risks, then that is magnificent, and I, to the extent that I can, certainly when I was president, it’s harder now ’cause I don’t have some of those formal levers, want to create a ways of protecting. So those who do engage
in that kind of activity in countries where that is dangerous, my best advice is to make common cause so that you are not isolated. (mumbling) if you are a journalist in a country that exercises
severe censorship, you being a part of an international
journalist organization that knows who you are and sees you so that if you are suddenly not around are there to advocate on your behalf and can bring some
international pressure to bear, that becomes important. And that’s one of the reasons why what one of the functions
of the Foundation over time, my hope is that it creates
kind of sufficient connectivity between people who are
working on these issues around the world and inside this country that nobody is alone. When you’re alone, it’s tough. Going back to the point you made about the Civil Rights Movement, everybody was scared. You go out into Mississippi or Alabama in the early ’60s trying
to register folks to vote, it was scary. People were killed or beaten, which is why courage was generated from us collectively taking that leap. – Yeah. – What other questions do we have? ‘Cause I want to make sure
I don’t get into trouble. I’ll talk. (audience laughing) Who hasn’t had a chance to ask a question? – I have not. – Go ahead. – Okay, my question
(mumbling), your excellency. – Your excellency makes
me feel old though. (audience laughing) You know? You can call me Barack. Barack’s good, Mr. Obama, I guess, if you have to. – Okay, and I’m coming from Cameroon, and we have an ongoing crisis there. I’m not political, but my question (mumbling), how can we create economically
viable communities for the people who serve in places where conflict threatens progress? – Well, that’s a big question. – Yeah. – So maybe I’ll broaden
it a little bit to, one of the biggest challenges that all of us face in wanting to create a more just society is there is some bedrock
material necessities that people need to thrive. It’s not as much as those of us in wealthy countries think, but you do need food, shelter, healthcare, clean water. There are some basics, and one of the things even
on the south side of Chicago that used to be a challenge, there was a saying in the black church that it’s hard to preach
to an empty stomach, and so advocates on
behalf of social justice cannot ignore economic justice. – Of course. – And it is important for
us to constantly incorporate at least an awareness of what may be the economic
impediments to justice, so if you are advocating on behalf, that’s why the story you
were telling was so powerful about young women being
vulnerable to trafficking in part because they’re trying to figure out, how do I– – Get a life. – How do I live? And if somebody comes to me and says, “Oh, if you go overseas, “that’s the land of milk and honey.” – Of course. – And you’ve got nothing, you’re more vulnerable. – Of course. – Well, there are versions
of that everywhere. The young men who are in the drug trade just down a few blocks from here, it’s because they are in a community in which the fabric of regular work has been broken, and this is the economic
framework that they see, and so we cannot ignore
the economic elements. Now the strategies for
economic development in rural Cameroon are gonna be different than the strategies on the south side of Chicago. There is a basic prerequisite
for economic development, and that is you can’t have
people killing each other. Syria’s economy is not
gonna recover any time soon. Those countries around the world that are in the middle of ethnic conflict, their economies suffer because, I was talking to Bill Gates about some of the terrific work that his foundation does in terms of vaccinations and other organizations that do work developing these great seeds that can increase agricultural yields, but if all the farmers have fled because a bunch of kids have AK-47s and are shooting and robbing people, you won’t get economic development. So there is a basic just, people not dying or at war in order to build some sort of economic development strategies. I can speak here to, and this, by the way, is why place is so important. Let’s just take the example of the south side of Chicago. Chicago is a wealthy city in the wealthiest country on earth, but there is a segment of this city that does not partake of that
wealth the way it should. Part of the reason Michelle and I decided to locate the Presidential Center here is so that it can serve as a catalyst to stitch together the
economies of downtown Chicago and north side Chicago
with south side Chicago and eventually west side Chicago. (audience cheering and applauding) And by bringing a multi-million
dollar project here, one of our goals is to make sure that we’re able to create new opportunities for
the young people who live here. In one of the sessions, Charles Barkley was talking about how he gets frustrated that not enough young men in the African American community go into the trades, being a plumber or a electrician. Well, part of the reason historically is they were discriminated and blocked from joining the unions to
be part of those trades, but part of it is also
culturally we somehow think, well, that’s not like a cool career. It’s very cool to be a carpenter or a plumber or electrician, and you make a really good living, so when we started putting out bids for who potentially could do the work, we said, if you don’t have
a plan to get young people in this community on the path of training for these trades so that at the end of what will be a four year project, we don’t have just a building, but we suddenly have a
whole bunch of young people who suddenly now are able to work on the next building
and the next project, well, then you probably
won’t be working for us. (audience applauding) We’ve got small businesses. We’ve got small business districts in the surrounding community around the site where the
library will be located. Some of them are struggling. We anticipate 700, 800,000 people may come to visit the library and
the Presidential Center. Well, before it’s built, we need to be working with that small local restaurant or that local print shop or what have you to say, all right, they’re coming. What do you need in order to take advantage of this stream of customers that are gonna be coming? So that’s an example of being strategic. Our goal is to transform the world and the country and the
south side of Chicago, but in this place right now, I’ve got this building
that’s going to be built, and that is an engine, a mechanism for economic development. In rural Cameroon, it might be different. It might be the thing that is really gonna make a difference is if we can provide some
small loans to local farmers so they get a small surplus that allows them to buy a tractor that they can share among five farmers, which in turn increases their yield, and maybe after several seasons, they can now do their own processing of that sorghum or maize. And rather than have their profits taken away by the guy who owns– – The company. – The processing plant, they can do their own
processing plant on site, sell it directly to a store, and now they start
hiring a few more people, and now you start creating jobs. Each place is going to
have a different strategy. Now I have to say this is
not an easy thing to do because we now have global capital that can move around
the planet in a second, and the people who’ve got a lot of money want more money, and it’s easier for them
a lot of times to say, “Well, I’m just gonna invest “in some luxury stuff downtown, “or I’m gonna invest in the rich countries “and come up with an app “where a bunch of kids
will waste their money “on a game rather than invest in farmers “in Cameroon or a restaurant
on the south side.” So there’s a bunch of decision making that is global, and you’re trying to get some
of those resources local, and that’s where organizing and being strategic about how we do that is really important, and that’s why it’s important for social justice advocates to connect with local businesses and to connect with non-profits and connect with other institutions. If there’s a university somewhere, or there’s a school somewhere, how do we figure out, whatever resources we have in this place, how do we maximize that in order to get some leverage? And that’s a hard thing to do, but nobody said this was gonna be easy. I mean, (mumbling) if you’re looking for easy, you’re at the wrong summit. (audience laughing) – But your comments remind me of something that an activist named (mumbling) said to me, and they had basically said the importance of advocating for somebody or some people other than yourself is that if you only advocate for yourself, all you’re asking are for
colonial infrastructures to work in your favor. All you’re asking for
is a shift of privilege rather than this conversation of placing yourself as a
part of a global community, placing yourself as somebody who is responsible to people that it may not have interacted with because that’s a process
of de-privilegizing space in the first place, to make up a word. (audience laughing) – That’s a pretty good word, but, no, look. You’re making a really important point, and this is something that all
of us have to struggle with. I had to struggle with it. DeAndre, you’re gonna
have to struggle with. (audience laughing) No, you are talented obviously, and there are going to
be opportunities for you within the existing structure to do well by the standards that are sold to us. – Of course. – About what it means to be successful, and I think each of us have to make constant decisions about how we balance the need to pay the rent, and we want our moms to
kind of feel proud of us and know what the heck we’re doing. I remember when I told my mother and my grandmother, grandfather I was moving to Chicago to
be a community organizer. They’re all like, “Huh? “What?” (audience laughing) And then I explained to them, no, I’m getting paid $13,000 a year. Even back in 1985, that was broke. (audience laughing) I mean, even back then, even with adjusting for inflation, like I was eating tuna every night. I did not have an actual bed ’cause the place was too small, so I had this little futon
mattress that I rolled. Couldn’t afford the futon. Just had the ton. (audience laughing) I rolled that thing up, put it in the closet, rolled it back out. I was alone most of that year, waiting for Michelle, so, (audience laughing and applauding) where was I? I got distracted. It was so cold that year, but– – Oh, man, that was funny. – All my friends, ’cause I’d gone to a fancy school, and so all my classmates, they were all signed up for law school or business school, and there was a track that was set up, and I had the privilege because I wasn’t, my family was not wealthy. They were lower middle class, but we had enough, and I had a good enough education. I said, all right, if I ever need to get a job just to make money, I can, so I can take some risks. Some people don’t have that luxury, but to Yara’s point, each of us have to
constantly remind ourselves we’re born into a society. We can’t completely remake
society in a minute, so we have to make some accommodations to the existing structures. You are working as an actress as well as a student. Samira, even as you’re
doing your advocacy, you have to fund it, which means that you have to talk to some people who have money, and some of them may have money from places that, if you looked at it, you might say, “I’m not
crazy about what you do, “but thank you very much.” (audience laughing) We’re all kind of adjusting to here are the structures
that are presented, but this goes back to the
point I was making earlier about just constantly
testing ourselves about, does this feel like the
accommodation I’m making to this existing structure, am I contributing more or less to the things I want to change? Am I part of the solution, or am I part of the problem? And this idea of purity, and you’re never compromised, and you’re always politically
woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really
good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting
may love their kids and share certain things with you, and I think that one danger
I see among young people, particularly on college campuses, Malia and I talk about this. Yara goes to school with my daughter, but I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media. There is this sense sometimes of the way of me making change is to be as judgemental as
possible about other people, and that’s enough. Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, or then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself ’cause, “Man, you see how woke I was? “I called you out.” (audience laughing) I’m gonna get on TV. Watch my show. Watch “Grown-ish.” (audience laughing) That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not gonna get that far. That’s easy to do. (audience applauding) – I think speaking about the importance of media and social media being like a cornerstone of that, there’s also this large move of the importance of narrative, which actually ties into
what Mimi had wanted to ask. – She could be, (mumbling) oh, see, this is a Oprah level segues. – Those are really good. – You see how she’s working it? Go ahead, Mimi. – Thank you for that transition– – Very impressive. – Hello, so given our theme
for this year’s summit and how place reveals our purpose, the arts and film in particular can influence our purpose as a nation, so what is a film that
has greatly impacted you, and can you provide
advice to young leaders and filmmakers like me on how to leverage their craft to help shape our future? – Wow, well, we were talking about this a little bit backstage, that there’s a reason why we want to incorporate the arts into
the Presidential Center. One of our goals is to
create a recording studio where young people can
come and train with Yara or Steven Spielberg or
Chance the Rapper about, how do they use the arts to tell a story and to build communities? And be able to have concerts and readings and theater because most social change starts with a story. We go back to 1963 or even further. The reason the Civil Rights Movement got all that it accomplished was not because John Lewis and SNCC workers had an army behind them. At first, they didn’t even
have the laws behind them, but they did have a story behind them, a story about, do unto others, and a story about, we’re
all God’s children, and a story about, justice
rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. There was a story that they tapped into, and it proved to be more
powerful than armies and billy clubs and dogs. Just as I mentioned Gandhi earlier, he had a story about what
the Indian subcontinent was, and this 5,000 year culture, and that the people
who appeared to be poor were full of a life force that could not be matched
by the great British Empire. Stories start things off. The Berlin Wall comes down. No missiles are fired. The other side had a better story, so our goal is to make sure that the Presidential Center incorporates that understanding of stories. Now to your question about, I’m gonna broaden it not just to films because I’ll tell you. When I was a black kid
and growing up in Hawaii, films that influenced me were like “Shaft” influenced (singing) because there were not
a lot of brothers around who were cool. That had an influence. I was all like, man, look
at Richard Roundtree. He’s a bad. (audience laughing) For those of you who are not familiar with (mumbling), probably the things that changed me the most were novels or essays, James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” or the autobiography of Malcolm X. There were books about the
complexities of politics and change and how individuals
get caught up in society, books like “All the Kings
Men” by Robert Penn Warren or “In Dubious Battle” by John Steinbeck. There were books like “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison that changed my understanding of the beauty of a very specific place
that people may not see or the beauty of lives that are forgotten, or there were books like, some of the most powerful
things that changed me were books of people who were not like me, so I read “The Golden
Notebook” by Doris Lessing. It’s a novel. It’s actually a woman of British
background in South Africa who moves to London back in the ’60s and ’70s, but it was one of the early books to show women as not the
love interest or sidekick, but as somebody who’s complicated and challenging her roles and feels agency, and it helped me get out of my own stuff because that’s the only problem. You watch “Shaft,” and then like that doesn’t necessarily help you with how you think about women. There’s all these ambiguities that you got to figure out. That’s the thing about the arts. If you are reaching out and looking at enough different stuff, I started reading Latin
American writers like Cortazar or Fuentes or Rulfo, and suddenly you realize, “Oh, in Mexico or Argentina, “they’re going through
stuff I’m going through.” – That’s right. – That’s interesting, so that stuff is probably
what changed me the most. I will say, but I mentioned “Shaft,” but it could have been a whole host of things, Sidney Poitier. For African Americans of my generation, representation of black men
in positions of authority or for black girls seeing, like Diahann Carroll recently died. She had a show on television, the first black woman who had a show where she wasn’t just a maid or the help or the best friends of, but was actually the central figure. That stuff ends up being important, and so when you think about the arts in whatever community, thinking about, how are
kids imagining themselves? I was going through our house. We found an old book my mother used to read to me called, “The Snowy Day.” Now some of you know. See, everybody (mumbling). For those of you who don’t know the book, it’s just your classic children’s book. It’s about a little boy. He runs out. It’s winter. He wants to build a snowman. He gets like this snowball, puts it in his pocket. He gets really close to it. It melts. He’s a little sad about it. It’s a very simple story. It’s sort of a collage. My mom read it to me when
I was like three or four, but it’s the first children’s book by a major publisher, the little boy was black. Wasn’t commented on, it wasn’t like, oh, ghetto boy. You are in the snow. (audience laughing) It was like, no, no, it’s
just a boy growing up. He happened to be black, and I didn’t even remember it until I looked at the book years later, and I was like, huh. That was probably important, so that’s how art moves me, and in fact, going to children’s books, I’ve said this before. I believe this. I think pretty much
everything you need to know is in Dr. Seuss books. (audience laughing) If you read about the Lorax, then you know about climate change. If you’re reading about Lazy Mayzie and “Horton Hears a Who,” you kind of know, man,
don’t be Lazy Mayzie. Work. Dr. Seuss covers most things. That’s not the answer
you expected, I’m sure. (audience laughing) I mean, I love “The Godfather,” and I can give you a list
of movies I love, but, (audience laughing) all right, what else (mumbling)? How we doing on time? – Time, we’ve fallen just a little bit, but I think I want to kind
of close out this session. You’ve already talked about
the Presidential Center, and we’ve had a sneak peek of all of the incredible
things that are here to come, but I think thinking of
the larger Obama Foundation and how much you’ve done
to not only maintain a sense of local community and continue to invest in local community, but also connect local with global, all of the global initiatives
that you’re doing. And so as somebody that
is black and Iranian, has family who is actually here from the south side of Chicago, who I think to me
encapsulates what it means to be a leader and what it means to invest in community, I think I wonder how
the Presidential Center is another form of doing that, of making this a space for
young leaders to connect and for us to create change? – Well, I think you’ve described it well, but Michelle and I, when we decided, what
are we gonna do next, there are a bunch of issues we care about and we’ll work on, but the most important
thing we figured we could do is pass the baton to as
many people as possible and cultivate as much talent
as possible at every level. And so all of you are a part of that initial effort to build a platform where not only can we
provide training and ideas and offer some experience about how to bring about social change, but also how can you connect and learn from each other, which is even more powerful? And how can you make
sure you’re not alone, and how can you recognize how your work connects with somebody maybe on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, or maybe just on the
other side of the city? And that’s how our
programming is designed. What we also realize, though, and this goes to the importance of place, that for us just to have some
office downtown somewhere from which we issue reports and occasionally
travel for photo ops wasn’t gonna cut it because you can’t understand how to change a world if you don’t understand
how to change a country, and you can’t understand
how to change a country if you don’t know how to change a city. You can’t know that unless you know how to change a neighborhood– – That’s right. – Because so much of what
has become our politics and our movements is virtual, which is great. It’s a tool, but it’s not that person right there. It’s not you and me in a conversation. It’s not me seeing what
you’re going through. It’s not me experiencing what it’s like with some broken glass under that little boy’s feet where there should be a playground, or stepping off and seeing the trash that’s floating through a river where all the fish are dead and the fishermen’s livelihoods
have been taken away. You have to know that, so our thought, okay,
we got to have a place, and our place had to be the place where I came of age and where Michelle was born and raised and where our babies were born and where we got married just down the road, and where I taught law school and Michelle was a dean and where I ran my first campaign. So this was gonna be the place, and we joke about it a little bit like this is the mother ship, but another way of thinking about it is we want this to be a university for activism and social change and a convening place for re-imagining how we solve the problems that your generation will confront, and we will connect the
satellites and nodes and branches all around the world, but this is gonna be the heartbeat. This will be the beacon from which we are
sending out a signal that the values we believe in are shared, and that they’re strong, and that they can overcome those who would try to undermine them, and that we can make progress. And the great thing about Chicago and the south side of
Chicago in particular is that same hunger for change and hope and progress that exists in communities
and neighborhoods all around the world, that same hunger exists here, and the same barriers that
exist around the world. People who are greedy, or powerful people who
are abusing their power or neglecting places because they’re not historically populated with the people who people in power care about, or this is a laboratory for us to be able to make those changes. – That’s right. – And as I indicated earlier, we can also use the center as a driver and an example
of the kinds of changes that Awah and others were talking about in terms of creating economic
opportunity and jobs, and by transforming that landscape and connecting it to other places, it becomes of, not just we’re talking about change. We actually have a concrete
manifestation of it, so that’s our goal, and our hope is though, most importantly, that this then becomes the center around which people
like Samira and DeAndre and you and Mimi and Awah that, because you have 1,000, a million counterparts around the world. – That’s right. – Maybe not as advanced as you are on their journey, but they feel what you feel, and our hope is is that over time, what starts off with 1,000 grows to 10,000, grows to 100,000, grows to a million of young people who are
connected and know each other and have a place that they
can always use as home base for the work that they’re doing, and if they get in
trouble in their country, they’ve got suddenly an activist network of millions of peers who are gonna say, “Hey,
what’s happening there?” And if they need to
help advertise an issue that’s important like human trafficking, suddenly we’re pulling everybody together. (mumbling) That’s the goal. Plus we’ll have some
really good concerts here, (audience laughing) and, you know, some pretty fun park land because I said earlier, if you’re looking for easy, you came to the wrong summit, some of this stuff also has to be fun. Michelle reminded me often that, and she still teases me about like, oh, if it’s fun or it tastes good, he doesn’t want it, (audience laughing) which is a little cruel, but there’s a little bit of truth to it. There have been times in my life where I just feel like I’ve got to take myself so seriously and grind, and she helped me to
lighten up a little bit, and just as she’s done so much for me, so maybe that’s a pretty good cue. Should we? – Let’s do it. – Hey, Michelle Obama, how
about coming up on stage? (audience cheering and applauding) (upbeat instrumental music) Oh, did we catch her? Oh, here she is. Did you meet everybody? – Hi, (mumbling) I’m Mimi. Nice to meet you. – Hi. – Hey. (mumbling) – So I had to bring Michelle on stage just ’cause you all
wanted to see her again, (audience laughing) but also because we just
wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. First of all, how smooth
was Yara as a moderator? – Great. – Let’s give her a big round of applause. (audience cheering and clapping) How remarkable were the
members of our conversation? (audience applauding and cheering) They were outstanding. To all of you who have taken the time to be a part of this, to those of you who were on other panels, who flew in, we don’t pay, so they’re just doing it out of the kindness of their heart. For those who helped
to organize the event, to all the volunteers and young people who helped shuttle people around, make sure credentials were passed out, put everything together, we are so grateful to you. This is always a team
effort and a collaboration, and you guys made us proud once again, and to the city of Chicago and to the south side of Chicago, I just want to say thank you for once again embracing us. Our hope is that you are as excited and jazzed by this vision that we have for the Presidential Center as Michelle and I have been, and we can’t wait to continue to provide opportunities
for the young people in this particular community, but also around the world to achieve their full potential, and as a consequence
help lift this world up, so you guys have been wonderful. Thank you so much. God bless you. Appreciate you. Great job.

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