Obama Foundation Annual Report 2018




Dejah Powell grew up splitting time between the South Suburbs and the South Side of Chicago. As a young girl she noticed that the mostly African-American neighborhoods she grew up in didn’t have the same resources as the mostly white neighborhoods on the North Side. There were fewer parks and places to exercise. Access to wellness was also limited, from counseling services to yoga studios. And grocery stores were hard to find and poorly stocked.

A couple states over in St. Paul, Minnesota, Emily Nordquist’s family found itself on uncertain footing after years of financial stability. Her mother passed away and soon after, her family lost their business and eventually had to sell their home. Financial stress dramatically changed her family’s life and the way they approached the world.

As Dejah and Emily grew older, those early experiences stuck with them. Dejah wanted to ensure her community could access the wellness resources she saw in other parts of the city. After moving to Chicago, Emily wanted to help young women achieve the financial wellness she struggled to find in high school. And though they both cared about their communities and were eager to grow as leaders, there wasn’t a clear path for turning their intentions into action.

The Community Leadership Corps was designed exactly for people like Dejah and Emily: young, community-minded, and full of leadership potential. For six months, selected applicants are given in-person trainings, get access to online coaching and project funding, and are connected to the broader Obama Foundation network to help them design, implement, and launch community projects.

Portrait of DEJAH POWELL

The Foundation has provided the structure and accountability for my team to take our dreams and passions and turn them into a reality. We’ve now blossomed into an exciting group of people embodying our mission of integrating wellness into the black community in Chicago.”


In 2018, we launched the Community Leadership Corps in three cities: Phoenix, Arizona; Columbia, South Carolina; and right here in Chicago. That’s where Dejah and Emily first met—and first started work on their projects.

Dejah recruited two of her best friends to found black&well, an organization committed to integrating wellness into the black community in Chicago. black&well helps create a space for the community to talk about health issues. At events across the South Side, they’ve offered wellness education, yoga, guided meditation sessions, and conversations about improving access to nutritious food. Emily also founded an organization, Penny, along with two other Corps members. Penny helps young women throughout Chicago find ways to build healthy relationships with money by offering financial literacy education and tools.

During the six months she spent in the Community Leadership Corps, Emily connected with mentors, with peers, and with the young women she was trying to support. By listening to them, she shaped Penny into an organization that was truly responsive to the financial needs of young women in Chicago.

Together, Dejah and Emily have teamed up, hosting workshops aimed at furthering the goals of both their organizations.

Thanks to the Community Leadership Corps, two young women with different passions were both able to kickstart their careers in community change. And by working together, they’ve been able to expand the impact they would have made on their own.

Portrait Emily Nordquist

I was given both the confidence and community to really build on my passion to help young women change their relationship with money and help my community take the first steps together to achieve financial wellness.”




This two-day introductory event is where participants take part in training activities that encourage selfreflection and help them build a basic organizing framework. After the kickoff event, participants are asked to recruit two other people in their network to join their project team in order to tackle an issue they identify


The three-day bootcamp is where participants and their project teams got feedback on their plans, trained on the specific skills needed to implement their action items, and identified the resources needed to support their work.


The six-month long program culminates in a two-day long event where participants from all three cities celebrate, reflect, and expand their network of emerging community leaders. We also put the mic in their hands; half of all workshops are led by the participants themselves, and event speakers are recruited based on the requests of Corps members.

By the Numbers

After completing the Community Leadership Corps, we surveyed participants about their experience.


reported that they plan to continue working in their communities


felt they knew the next step to
making change in their community


felt personally connected to young
leaders who are making a change in
their community



Every generation has a chance to remake history. But if you’re a young person who wants to change your community, your country, or even the world, where do you start?

We created Community Leadership Training Days to answer that question. In Dallas, Oakland, and Oklahoma City, we hosted day-and-a-half sessions that brought together 100 18-to-25-year-olds to learn the skills to lead. Passionate young people learned how to tell their own stories and how to use those personal narratives as a blueprint to define the change they wanted to make. They also met with local leaders and community organizations to help put their ideas into action.

Attendees told us they left these sessions uplifted, but we were the ones who came away inspired, hopeful that an emerging generation of leaders was stepping up to make their communities better. Leaders like Tiara Cooper, a single mother who lost her own mother as a teenager and has committed herself to making sure people in her community have better access to the things they need; Hanlyn Tyler, a student who is fighting for transgender inclusivity on their campus and beyond; and Danielle Carty, a young pharmacy technician who dreams of starting her own nonprofit to help her community manage high drug prices.


“My experience was groundbreaking— and honestly shocked me. We were given the opportunity to be ourselves and not who we are on paper. I was expecting things to have a boardroom feel, but this experience helped me look deeper within myself as to why I care so much about my community. I am now accepting the fact that I ʻbelongʻ and that my community needs real voices and direct representations of who we are, what we can be, and what we plan to do!”


“I learned how to better organize and execute plans to empower my community. I am meeting with my school’s pride alliance to set up a transspecific mentoring program to help the younger or inexperienced trans students on campus know that they can do anything and they are not alone.”


“The Training Day helped me to connect with others who share the same level of passion for the community. I was able to be myself and navigate key skills to further my goals. I was also able to share my story, identify my values, and understand what I have to offer my community and the world.”
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