Obama Foundation Annual Report 2018

Rendering of Obama Presidential Forum

The Obama Presidential Center

We were founded by community organizers, so our work will always be organized around communities. And that starts right here on the South Side of Chicago with the Obama Presidential Center.

The Center will be a historic addition to Chicago’s storied architectural and civic landscape. When completed, it will feature a world-class museum, vibrant public gathering spaces, a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, an athletic center which will also host activities and programs, and a variety of community spaces, from a recording studio to an auditorium to a sledding hill. It will reconnect and revitalize Jackson Park, returning more parkland to local residents than it will occupy. And it will generate billions in economic opportunity for families and businesses in the community that gave Barack and Michelle Obama so much.

But before a shovel hits the ground or a beam is raised, we’re consulting and engaging with our neighbors every step of the way. We’re taking feedback from them and making real commitments to them. We want them by our side, at every step.

It’s just who we are.

Our Community at the Center

It was the crack of dawn, but many of our neighbors showed up. On a brisk, sunny morning in May, they rallied in front of Chicago’s City Hall to show their support for the Obama Presidential Center. A little sleepy, but all smiles, their cheers and dancing took over the morning rush hour amid sounds of horns honking in support. Shortly after, they put in their names—some after waiting for hours—to testify before the city about why they believed the Center belonged on the South Side.

Juanita Butler was one of those early risers. Born and raised in the South Suburbs of Chicago, Juanita did not grow up with access to the resources she deserved. She contracted lead poisoning as a young girl and was often teased for her disability. She lacked the safe public spaces that other neighborhoods had—spaces that would welcome her and give her a chance to grow.

In her eyes, the Obama Presidential Center will be that place. And in her testimony to the Chicago Plan Commission, the public body responsible for reviewing the land use and zoning proposals for large developments, she made that known. “I fear that you guys won’t understand how important this is for people that are shut out and don’t have representation that they need and I needed as a kid,” she said.

Juanita and a few dozen others took turns offering their support for the Center, the culmination of several months of community meetings, hundreds of stakeholder conversations, and a call for support that resulted in thousands of postcards and letters.

Bolstered by the testimony, the Chicago Plan Commission approved our zoning application to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park by a vote of 49-1.

This was a tremendous milestone—a moment of hard-earned celebration—but it also marked one of the final few days we had with someone incredibly important to our team, Desiree Tate, known to most as Dez.

Simply put, Dez was a powerhouse—an influential and recognizable leader with deep roots on the South Side who was greatly admired across the city and instrumental in bringing the Center to Chicago. Beyond serving as a critical advisor to us in our earliest stages, Dez was kind. She was present. She laughed with us, danced with us, and helped us get started on the right path. We still miss her.

Months later, in a turning point for our future in Chicago, the City Council unanimously approved several other agreements, solidifying the relationship between the Foundation and the city.

Dez would have been proud.


I fear that you guys won’t understand how important this is for people that are shut out and don’t have representation that they need and I needed as a kid.”

—Juanita Butler, in Public Testimony About Obama Presidential Center

Lending Our Ears, Rolling Up Our Sleeves

Public Support For The Obama Presidential Center At City Hall

We’re not just headquartered in this community, we’re part of it. That’s why engagement, stewardship, and volunteerism are central to our work.

From Pilsen to Chatham to Woodlawn, we’ve spent the past two years engaged in dynamic conversation with Chicagoans about our plans to bring the Obama Presidential Center to Jackson Park. But once the Chicago City Council approved our zoning application, we realized it was time to begin another kind of listening tour—one that shifted our attention to how Chicagoans wanted to use and enjoy the future Center.

In June of 2018, we held our first ever Chicago Community Conversation at the University of Illinois at Chicago to get things started. The event brought together 300 local grassroots and community leaders to reflect on Chicago’s rich history of organizing and delve into ways we could all work together to improve our city.

And that was just the start. In the months after, we began gathering small groups of our neighbors for informal dinner conversations to discuss our changing city.

Then in July, we forged a partnership with The Honeycomb Project in Chicago to help us connect with our neighbors through acts of goodwill and service. Together, we’ve packed lunches for the homeless and organized beach clean ups. And we’re still rolling up our sleeves to do more.


Postcards Submitted


Letters Presented


Speakers Who Testified

Our Mission Obama Presidential Center: The Museum