Read President Obama's reflection on our work, then read the full report.
A crisis has a way of sharpening our focus.
Part of this is human. When we suffer a loss, or become ill, we take stock of what’s important. We appreciate the parts of our lives that maybe we took for granted. We revisit our values and our relationships, and we think about how we might honor them if we had another chance; if we had more time. Crises force us to reflect.
But crises also reveal. A housing crisis reveals the shaky foundations of an economy that works only for those at the top. A mass shooting shows the ease with which weapons of war can be obtained by those who wish to inflict intolerable pain. A deadly pandemic hits our most neglected communities hardest, magnifying disparities in health, wealth, and access to care. A man is killed, face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota, and centuries of racial injustice and pain are thrown into high relief.
The crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, met soon thereafter by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, has led to changes in our day-to-day lives that are as profound as anything that most of us have seen in our lifetimes.
These events have forced all of us to reflect on what matters most. They have revealed what was already frayed in our social fabric. And they have sharpened our focus on what must be done to counter a pandemic, end police violence, and address the systemic discrimination and racial disparities that have been laid bare. They have spurred all of us to take action, in ways large and small, to move beyond the world as it is and create the world as it should be.
That’s something else a crisis does: unveils new leaders.
Doctors and nurses risking their lives to save ours. Protesters taking to the streets to demand that we live up to our highest ideals. Workers, who have always been essential, maintaining critical parts of our infrastructure and economy—keeping shelves stocked, lights on, and vital operations open. Community leaders cleaning up streets, looking after neighbors, and matching mutual aid to mutual need. Volunteers making masks and donating blood. Researchers racing to find treatments. Artists sustaining us with new creations. Musicians writing anthems to guide movements. People everywhere around the world calling and marching for change.
This is a time for real leadership in all walks of life. And I’m heartened that the things the world will need most as we emerge from these crises—empowered and enlightened new leaders, stronger and more closely-knit communities—are exactly what our Foundation is working to deliver.
The pages in the Obama Foundation’s 2019 Annual Report are full of voices that I know will play a part in leading us through these dark days and into the brighter future ahead.
Since leaving the White House, Michelle and I have always believed our best investment is in these leaders. If we can spotlight them, support them, and connect them to each other, we can create a generation of compassionate, ethical, empathetic leaders in nations throughout the world. If we can use the Obama Presidential Center as a place where visitors can find inspiration to lead in their own communities—all while investing in the potential of a vital but long-neglected area—we can lead a transformation that begins on the South Side of Chicago and extends globally.
So much of our work last year involved bringing people together for trainings and participatory education, and you’ll see that reflected in this year’s report.
This year will look different—we are breaking new ground on cultivating community virtually, encouraging social connection in a time of social distancing, and ensuring we use our resources to lift up and highlight vital acts of leadership in this new environment we’re all navigating together.
In response to these crises, we will sharpen our focus. We will examine how to best address the weaknesses that have been revealed. We will continue to fight for a more just world.
And we will unveil new leaders.