The Obamas come home to promote the Presidential Center

By Isaiah Colbert, Staff Reporter

Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama returned to Chicago Tuesday to garner support for the Obama Presidential Center—including touting revisions to the design of the museum building—and to promote their agenda of economic development from the South Side to all corners of the globe.

“Chicago is a wealthy city in the wealthiest country on Earth, but there is a segment in this city that does not partake of that wealth the way it should,” said the former president while speaking at the Illinois Institute of Technology during the third Obama Foundation Summit.

“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,” he said.

The Obama Presidential Center will reimagine Jackson Park by converting roads back to parkland, adding new gardens and building playgrounds and scenic paths for walks—all while creating jobs and driving economic opportunity on the South Side and ultimately throughout Chicago, Barack Obama said.

“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,” he said.

The center will have a museum, forum, library, plaza and an athletic center.

Just days before the summit, the Obama Foundation released updates of the museum building to “appear more elegant and inviting as visitors approach from all directions,” according to a statement.

The design changes are in response to criticisms of an earlier design for resembling a stone monolith. The new design will include “an 88-foot expanse of glass that will have clear windows at the mezzanine level, and emit a soft welcoming glow,” the statement read.

In the museum, exhibitions will relive the moments that defined Obama’s presidency and feature a full-scale replica of the Oval Office. Visitors can experience a panoramic view of the Chicago skyline from above the museum.

The South Side is where Barack Obama got his start as a community organizer and where Michelle Obama was born and raised. For the former First Lady, this is not just about the Obama Presidential Center, it is about the neighborhood and  the South Side, where she grew up.

“Our intent and our purpose is not just for us. … The community needs an entity that’s a gathering place, a place for lifting up young people,” Michelle Obama said. “If we have to do it anywhere, we should do it in our hometown.”

Although the Obamas live in D.C., they see Chicago as their home.

Jacqueline Luttrell
The summit featured a multitude of special guests from high-profile journalists to musicians, singers and actors.

“Wouldn’t that be a powerful vision on the South Side … there will be programming and life brought to the lagoon … there will be more than just periodic uses of the park … a place where people around the world would visit,” Michelle Obama said.

“Places Reveal Our Purpose” was the theme of the summit, which included appearances by author, producer and director Ava DuVernay; actor Billy Porter; musician Mavis Staples; and journalist Isabel Wilkerson, among others.

The mission behind the Foundation’s program is to inspire, empower and connect people to their world.

“It’s the place we found our purpose,” Barack Obama said. “Now we hope to give something back because you never know where something that starts on the South Side might lead.”