Obama Foundation Annual Report 2018

Community Leadership Corps participant Chanelle Bell kicks off the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit.



Chanelle Bell was ready. Though she was about to introduce Janelle Monáe to the stage (something she called a “line on the resume moment”) and though she had just spent the previous two days attending the capstone gathering for the Community Leadership Corps, and though there were hundreds in the audience in Chicago and thousands more from around the world on the livestream, Chanelle wasn’t nervous and she wasn’t tired. She was collected. She was energized. She was ready. And she kicked off the 2018 Foundation Summit to a thunderclap of applause from a collective audience of hundreds of emerging leaders from around the world.

The Summit featured its share of notable names. Janelle of course, along with Zadie Smith, one of the world’s greatest living novelists. Orange Is the New Black actress Dianne Guerrero talked about translating her fame as an actress into a new role as an immigration and women’s rights advocate. And best-selling author Dave Eggers hosted a conversation with President Obama, where they discussed the power of the pen and their shared commitment to strengthening Chicago.

But it wasn’t the big names that shined at the Summit. It was emerging changemakers like Chanelle, who spoke on stage about the organization she founded to celebrate black excellence, Positively Melanin. And her fellow Community Leadership Corps member Emily Nordquist, who took the stage to talk about how her own experience with financial insecurity led her to offer financial literacy courses to marginalized communities.

Remember Obama Foundation Scholars Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero and Fatima Zaman? They were both on stage, talking about how their course of study was preparing them to make an even bigger impact once they returned home. So was Kiran Sahu, the young woman from Lucknow, India, who fought to pursue her education with the help of a grassroots education organization. And David Sengeh, the Chief Innovation Officer of Sierra Leone, discussed how innovation can come from the most unexpected place.

And then there was Obama Foundation Fellow Nedgine Paul Deroly, who kicked off the closing session with a moving discussion of the power of place.

In Nedgine’s case, it was that power which drew her to her birthplace of Haiti, to help give every Haitian their birthright of a quality education. And in the Foundation’s case, it was that power of place that led us to bring hundreds of our program participants—whether from the Caribbean, the Congo, or Columbia, South Carolina—to Chicago. The place where President Obama first began his career in public service. The place where Michelle Obama was born and raised. The place where, together, they started their careers and family. And the place where they’ve chosen to build their Presidential Center.

For the hundreds of Summit participants, the Chicago experience began before the first speech. The day before the Summit, we organized dinners at iconic restaurants across the South and West sides of the city, so that visitors could break bread with our neighbors.

The morning before it began, we invited a local Chicago bookseller and coffee shop to set up pop-ups outside our auditorium, imparting some local wisdom and flavor to the proceedings.

And it was here—in this city that has long served as a crucible for social change—that hundreds of people with different stories joined together to celebrate their common hope: a better future for their communities.

What would happen next?

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