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The Obama Presidential Center to Honor Civil Rights and Social Justice Heroes “On Whose Shoulders We Stand” in Newly Named Spaces

December 9, 2021 at 10:23 AM CST

On the heels of its announcement last month to bring more inclusivity to the traditional naming process, the Obama Foundation is announcing a new set of spaces within the Obama Presidential Center that will be named in honor of civil rights and social justice leaders whose significant contributions to society advanced justice and equality in America.

The Foundation believes named spaces at the Obama Presidential Center will send a message to hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to visit the Campus each year beginning in 2025 and inspire them to act in their own communities. Visitors will learn about the leaders and activists who worked to help create a more perfect union and on whose shoulders the Obamas, and so many others, stand.

“We are inspired to see so many leaders here in Chicago - but also around the country - who believe in the work we’re doing to move toward a more inclusive economy on Chicago’s South Side and create the next generation of leaders,” said Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett. “Many of these contributions reflect an appreciation for the shoulders on which we stand as we prepare the next generation of leaders to move our country and the world forward.”

In addition to the gift from Jeff Bezos that led to the naming of the Plaza after Congressman John Lewis, the following donors who are participating in the new naming approach include:

Foundation board member Michael Sacks and his wife Cari Sacks, who have opted to name a Museum exhibit on civic education and empowerment at the Center in honor of the late Timuel Black. Mr. Black was a Chicago native and civil rights leader who helped end segregation in Chicago Public Schools and housing in the 1960s through his work as an educator and administrator. Through immersive and interactive programs, the civic education exhibit illustrates the fundamentals of civics and the democratic process— empowering visitors to create change in their own communities.

"Cari and I are proud to support such a beautiful and meaningful way to pay tribute to Timuel Black—an educator and civil rights leader whose selfless contributions will have a lasting impact on our lives,” said Michael Sacks, CEO of GCM Grosvenor, Obama Foundation Finance Chair and Board Member. “My hope is this becomes a model used to name important spaces here in Chicago and around the country.”

Fellow board member Penny Pritzker and her husband Dr. Bryan Traubert, who will name the Auditorium, a signature space at the Center, in honor of Holocaust survivor and political activist, Elie Wiesel. Inspired by programming in the East Room of the White House during the Obama Presidency, the Auditorium is where the arts and humanities will come to life by showcasing dynamic speakers and performers from the South Side of Chicago, across the country, and around the world.

“Elie Wiesel endured the unimaginable evils of the Holocaust and emerged as the world’s conscience in the struggle for human rights,” said Penny Pritzker. “His unrelenting activism and prolific writing after bearing witness to such horrors is a call to each of us to never become indifferent. A more just and peaceful world is always possible.”

“It is a tribute to President Obama’s legacy that the Obama Presidential Center Auditorium is being named after his friend, my father, who deeply believed in his leadership,” said Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie Wiesel. “My father respected the President greatly, but was not afraid to stand apart from him when they found themselves on different sides of a pivotal issue, as they did with the Iran Deal. Honoring my father despite that is a powerful message that this space will be used to debate and discuss the critical issues of the day -- no matter how much our viewpoints may provoke or upset each other and test our friendships.”

Foundation board member Connie Ballmer and her husband Steven Ballmer, will honor Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady, activist, and diplomat, with the naming of the Fruit & Vegetable Garden to recognize her creation of the first garden on White House grounds, known as the Victory Garden. Inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden, the Fruit & Vegetable Garden will tell the story of Mrs. Obama’s health and wellness initiative— featuring a wide variety of accessible planting beds, a garden classroom, and teaching kitchen to engage the local community and visitors.

“Few people have demonstrated courage and inspired the world like Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Connie Ballmer. “She was a voice for civil rights, an outspoken advocate against racial injustice, and fought for expanded roles for women in the workplace in a time before such views were broadly accepted. Steve and I are so proud to honor her work and the doors she opened.”

Chicago Committee Co-Chair Mellody Hobson and her husband George Lucas, who have chosen to honor board member John W. Rogers, Jr. in naming Museum Exhibit Level 3 which features exhibit themes centered around working for the common good. Rogers is the founder of Ariel Investments, the United States’ oldest African American-owned mutual fund firm. On the third level of the Museum, visitors learn about the Obama administration’s leadership, collaboration, and actions while seeing the connections to the impactful stories of everyday people in the United States and around the world.

Exelon Corporation will honor Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space, with the naming of the Museum exhibit about changemakers for collective action. This engaging display shows the power of joining together in collective action and invites visitors to come face-to-face with changemakers, past and present, while empowering them to create change at home.

Alphawood Foundation and founder Fred Eychaner will name a prominent visitor overlook in the Museum Building in honor of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. Located in the grand three-story atrium, the space offers views to a vibrant programming space, the Courtyard, the Plaza, and beyond.

Additionally, the Foundation announced plans to include a Founding Donor Wall at the Center that will feature names of donors who have given in excess of $100,000 to the Foundation. A Founding Donor Wall list can be found at the Bring Hope Home Campaign webpage. The donors listed on the webpage were early supporters of the organization, committing to significant gifts before the Foundation officially broke ground on the Obama Presidential Center in September 2021.

The Bring Hope Home Campaign is in an effort to fundraise the remainder of the Foundation’s $1.6 billion goal to support the organization’s mission to inspire, empower, and connect people to change the world. This ambitious goal will support the Foundation’s work in three primary avenues: building the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago while supporting the Hometown Fund to strengthen economic development in the area, sustaining the Obama Foundation’s global programs and operations, and seeding an endowment to sustain the Obama Foundation’s work into the future.


Contact: Courtney D. Williams, [email protected]