You are America
Explore the text that will appear on the exterior of the Obama Presidential Center Museum and its important meaning.
You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there is new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
Dr. Louise Bernard, Director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center, reflects on this moment
Today—56 years after marchers armed only with their courage crossed a bridge in Selma, Alabama, determined to fight for a more just future—we unveiled the quote that will appear on the exterior of the Museum at the Obama Presidential Center. I wanted to share more about what these words represent and why we selected them.
The quote above draws a meaningful line between the history that made the Obamas’ story possible, the narrative we’ll tell in the Museum, and the ongoing work of the Foundation, which will be rooted at the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago.
The words are taken from President Obama’s speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, and will be carved into the structure in such a way that visitors will be able to look out through the words onto the South and West sides of Chicago.
The President has described his speech at Selma as one of his most meaningful because it best captures his idea of what America should be, and the need for each generation to take up the baton and advance the work of those who came before. That idea is central to the mission of the Obama Foundation, where we seek to inspire, empower, and connect the next generation of global leaders to embrace the “glorious task” of making change in their own communities.
The quote also mirrors the narrative of the Museum at the Center. The Museum will focus on the story of the Obama administration. But it is a story that’s also deeply rooted in this broader, nuanced contextual history, where moments like Selma form the building blocks of American democracy making possible the election of America’s first Black President.
The exterior showcases one of the themes of this museum: the power of words. As President Obama notes in this video:
“The story of Selma is one of the epic stories of America…part of the reason why we thought that this excerpt was appropriate to be etched in the building itself is because it speaks to the priorities of the Foundation. Our goal is not to just create a monument to my presidency, but rather to describe for anybody who visits how Michelle and I and so many others stood on the shoulders of those who had fought the good fight before us. And hopefully, that then will inspire a new generation of activists.”
We want people to take away from their experience at the Obama Presidential Center that history is a living thing. Stories like Selma are what led Barack Obama to become a community organizer. And in the Museum, visitors will learn more about the history that inspired him to come to the South Side, see how that history shaped the Obama presidency, and be asked to reflect on how they, too, can create lasting change.
The museum itself is not a static place—we want people to understand the role anyone can play in changing their community. In that sense, the words on the exterior serve not just as an homage to the past, but as a call to action for today. When Chicagoans and visitors look up and see, “Oh what a glorious task,” we hope they feel inspired to continue the work that so many before them undertook to make our world a better place.
Check out additional reflections on the Obama Presidential Center from President and Mrs. Obama and others.