Obama Summit Reflections

Obama Summit Reflections

On October 31 and November 1, 2017, the Obama Foundation invited civic leaders from around Chicago, the U.S., and the world to participate in an immersive two-day event to exchange ideas, explore creative solutions to common problems, and experience civic art, technology, and music from around the world. Some partners of the Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago attended the summit. We asked them to reflect on the experience.

Obama Summit Reflections


As an African American female in Aviation, I often times feel alone. After a decade of fighting what has most certainly felt like an uphill battle, creating equity in the access to aerospace education and training, I have now come to the realization that the impact we've made is extremely significant. Not that I didn’t think it would be, but being singled out as a pioneer in my field and a leader in my community for inspiring youth to take flight, seemed unlikely at the onset of this endeavor. 
At the Obama Summit, I met young leaders who were strangers, yet so familiar to me. Their passion, their cause, their resourcefulness and their fight, were all so similar.  From all over the globe, thought leaders, civic activists, entrepreneurs and real life superheroes showed up to strategize on how to change the world.  And I was in the room with them!  That made me one of them. Humbling. The experience was beyond words. Awe-inspiring. To be in the room with one of the greatest world leaders of all time, President Barak Obama, and know that you were invited to collaborate with him to move his new vision forward, is something that you can’t fathom. The inspiration was palpable. The confidence in us, tangible. And the resources shared through experience and wisdom were substantial. From refugee camps, to schools for girls, and parliament decisions and royalty revitalizing impoverished communities, everyone had a mission impossible. And everyone had accomplished them! 
Incredible stories shared at community supper, by guests from America, Brazil, South Africa and Fiji, seated at my table, inspired me to become more engaged with the world around me. I am now inspired to seek out individuals who share our story of oppression because we share the same skin color on different continents.  I’m inspired to know that against impossible odds, young leaders have found ways to create technology, funds, platforms and mediums for social change with little to no buy in from the mainstream. The work of AeroStar has never been more important for Chicago. In finding common ground at the Obama Summit with other leaders, I’ve found that we can also find common air through sharing the tools and resources needed to change the face of the aviation and aerospace industries, one child at a time.  



Inspired to create the youth empowerment group Chasing23 after his mentor was killed, Darius is building respect and unity among young people in Chicago and introducing them to essential life-skills. He shared his thoughts on the Obama Summit experience on video.

Darius Ballinger, Founder and CEO, Chasing 23



Coming into events like this, my biggest worry is that it will be a place to "be seen" - an ego stroll. Those quickly need to come to an end for the sake of our people, and I was pleased that the Summit was quite more than that. It was a chance for me, as the leader of an organization, to meet others doing the good work, build relationships, and we even made some plans to work together moving forward. What made this setting special were the voices and ideas of people across the globe working on classic problems in innovative ways. Not celebrities (well, a couple celebrities), but regular people doing the work. To hear them speak, and then have direct access to them afterwards, was a real gift. The challenge is how this level of access can be made available to everyone - not just those with privilege - and from what I hear from the President and Mrs. Obama, that seems to be their aim as well.  


Since Kelly Fair founded Polished Pebbles in 2009, she has mentored more than 2,000 girls, aged 7-17, to become effective communicators at home, school, and the future workplace, instilling them with confidence to face daily life challenges. Hear how Kelly's experience participating in the inaugural Obama Summit in Chicago inspired her.

Kelly Fair, Founder and CEO, Polished Pebbles
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