CHICAGO (AP) – Former President Barack Obama met Sunday with at-risk young men and boys in his hometown of Chicago before his first major post-presidency speech.
The former president spent time at a roundtable with youth from Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny located in the Roseland/Pullman neighborhood in South Side Chicago, where Obama started as a community organizer at age 25.
The CRED program provides job skills and employment opportunities for at-risk young adults.
Spokesman Kevin Lewis said Obama listened to the young men’s stories and shared some of the challenges that he faced growing up. Obama “was optimistic about their potential to positively contribute to their communities and support their families because of the services provided in the program,” Lewis said.
The program was founded by Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, who also attended the meeting.
“The president and Mrs. Obama look forward to working with similar organizations through the Obama Foundation and the My Brother’s Keeper initiative that are already committed to bringing much needed expansion of opportunities in Chicago neighborhoods,” Lewis said.
Obama will speak Monday to young community leaders and organizers at the University of Chicago, where his presidential library is planned.
Obama’s first public engagement comes as President Donald Trump nears his 100-day mark in office.
Obama dishes on leadership
Obama’s used his first major public appearance since leaving office to dole out advice to young people on leadership, managing social media and even marriage. What he didn’t do was mention his successor.
At a forum Monday for students at the University of Chicago, adjacent to where his presidential library will stand, Obama talked about his formative experiences as a community organizer and as a young politician running for office in Illinois. But for much of the panel event, he listened.
“Although there are all kinds of issues that I care about and all kinds of issues that I intend to work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world,” Obama said during event, which was invite-only and streamed live online.
He told the hundreds of area students in the audience that his focus after holding the nation’s highest office will be civic engagement with young people, and he that he hopes his presidential library, which will stand near the edge of campus, will be part of that mission.
Since delivering his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago in January, Obama has kept a low profile. He met privately Sunday with a group of at risk young men, talking about gang violence and opportunities for jobs.
But Obama shied away from addressing specific policies or his own two terms as president. When it came to current events, like immigration, he stuck to generalities.
He also gave advice.
When a college student panelist asked how to conduct a project involving interviewing day laborers, Obama told him to ditch the clipboard. When others asked about being young in the age of social media, Obama advised them to limit photos posted online, including being “more circumspect about your selfies.”
He also dropped in a marital tidbit, saying it’s best to “listen to understand” instead of listening “to respond.”
“I learned that in marriage,” he said to laughs from the audience. “That’ll save you a lot of heartache and grief.”
He encouraged students to talk to people who have opposing viewpoints, asking a college Republican panelist to discuss his campus experiences.
Obama said his work as a young organizer, which included meeting with Chicago public housing residents, laid the foundation for his time in office. He said he’s been reflecting as he works on a book chronicling his political career.
“This community gave me a lot more than I was able to give in return,” he said. “This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important.”