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The Chicago Community Conversation


June 19, 2018

It was a big day for us at the Foundation as we hosted our first-ever Chicago Community Conversation to bring together people doing incredible work for communities throughout the City.

Watch highlights from the day in a youth-produced video by Free Spirit Media, an organization that is empowering teens and young adults in communities of color on Chicago’s West and South sides with hands-on media production experience.


This one-day event is dedicated to collective action and collaboration--using the wisdom of generations past and present to build stronger local communities across the city. Over 300 local grassroots leaders, educators, religious leaders, and innovators will soon join us on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. —8:30 AM CET

As participants begin to stream into the UIC Forum, we’re asking them to place a pin on a neighborhood where they’re working for change. —9:32 AM CET

An image of a white poster with small text that reads "What Are Your Resources" and below it reads " I Have" and "I Need'. There are green and blue stickers placed upon them with writing. A women with a light skin tone and blonde long hair stands in front of it

We’re also asking them to exchange what they have to offer their community, or what they might need in hopes of finding a match and forging new relationships. —9:34 AM CET

2 men stand on a stage with a medium to deep skin tone. One with a colorful attire and the other is black top and tan bottoms. Behind them is a large screen displaying a city with a sign that reads "Chicago" at the bottom

Lights down, mic check! Stark and the Law of HUEY Gang (and proudly from the Go!) start with a booming intro performance to kick off the day. —10:07 AM CET

An image of an older woman with a deep skin tone, short gray hair, and brown print outfit sits in a black chair on a stage.  A man with a light skin tone, light blue plaid button up, and short black hair also sit in a black chair on a stage. Finally, A man with a deep skine tone, black loc, and a dark blue button up sit in a black chair on stage as well. They all engage in conversation infront of a white sign that reads "Chicago"

Author Ben Austen and community organizers JR Fleming and Dolores Wilson discuss the history of the Cabrini-Green public housing project, where both Dolores and JR lived and advocated for public housing. “It’s only when people come together that change happens in this country,” Ben says. “President Obama is a reflection of that and I’m honored to share this stage and talk to the people of Chicago about that.” —10:38 CDT

President Obama shares a message at the Chicago Community Conversation, an event hosted by the Obama Foundation and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to bring together a diverse group of local grassroots leaders to discuss the role of citizens in creating stronger communities.

An older man with a deep medium skin tone, stands infront of a a clear podium as his cover his mouth with both hands into a ball

Legendary blues musician Billy Branch takes the stage to lead the audience through a history of Chicago Blues and its significance to modern music. —10:53 AM CDT

A man with a deep medium skin tone stands on stage in a spotlight in a front of a large sign that reads " Chicago" and a large white screen with an image of a map and text that reads "What Contribute To These Disparities". A group of people sit in chairs in a dark blue lighting

Dr. Robert Winn, Director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center gives a powerful talk about the health impacts of inequality. “The future is here,” he says “it’s just unevenly distributed.” Highlighting the difference between life expectancies in the Loop and West Garfield Park, he says: “You only have to go four stops to get a difference of 16 years in life expectancy.” —11:02 AM CDT

A woman with a light skin tone in all black attire stands behind a clear podium on stage. Behind her is a large sign that reads "Chicago" and a screen displaying coloful paitings

Up next is Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann who argues for the value of marrying religious tradition with activism. “When religious communities come together and throw all our energies and power behind the power of inclusion and love, we are mighty,” she says.” —4:52 PM CDT

2 men, with deep skin tone sit in chairs on stage along with a woman with a deep skin tone as they engage in conversation. One man wears a purplish pink jacket with black attire and the other man and woman wears all black attire. Behind them is a large white screen with their names and positions.

Tracie Hall from the Joyce Foundation is now moderating a session with artists Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal about the intersection of art and activism and in importance of building lasting friendships to create lasting change. “There is an intrinsic overlap between the art you create and the kind of values you hold as a human being,” says Rafael. —5:07 PM CDT

A man with a light medium skin tone dressed in business attire stands on stage in front of a clear podium. Behind him is a large white screen with text that reads "Community Conversation" and below it, the text reads "Rami Nashashibi" and "Inner-City Mulsim Action Network"

Rounding out the day is Rami Nashashibi, Director of Inner-City Muslim Action Network (and low key 2018 MacArthur Fellow). He’s speaking about the importance of calling out the injustices we see in our communities and calling up others to push back against them. He offers the audience a powerful lesson about Chicago’s legacy of reimagining itself to serve the needs of the community. —5:22 PM CDT

The camera focuses on a man with a deep medium skin tone and short, curly, brown hair playing a saxophone on stage. Surrounding him are his bandmates who vary in skin tones. They perform in front of a large screen displaying their names and positions,

Jazz impresario Isaiah Collier and his quartet the Chosen Few have taken the stage to close out an inspiring day. As the sax blares and the drums kick, local restaurants are setting up in the room next door to treat the participants to a final meal before ending this incredible day. —5:45 PM CDT