Blocks from where he started his career as a community organizer, former President Barack Obama on Sunday returned to the Roseland/Pullman community to talk to young men about ways to curb violence in Chicago.
Obama was invited to a neighborhood center at 420 W. 111th by former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan is now a managing partner at the nonprofit Emerson Collective and working on projects to help reduce crime in Chicago by training and finding jobs for at-risk young men.
Obama “felt like he was getting back in touch with his roots,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said about the surprise visit.
Later on Sunday, Obama is hosting a dinner for his Obama Presidential Center and then spending the night in his Kenwood home.
He returned to his adopted hometown a day before his first post-presidential public appearance on Monday at the University of Chicago.
After flying to Chicago in a private plane, Obama headed to the far South Side to talk to the youths — some who have been in gangs or experienced violence in their lives or are struggling to find jobs.
Lewis said at the meeting, “Obama listened to the young men’s stories and shared some of the challenges that he faced growing up. He expressed that he was optimistic about their potential to positively contribute to their communities and support their families because of the services provided in the program. The young men reflected on how the program is already having a real impact on their lives.
“The president also asked the young men to share advice on how they think gang and gun violence can be reduced in Chicago. Several young men shared that they aspired to help reduce gang violence in their communities.
“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.”
Obama returns to Chicago as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former chief of staff, grapples with crime. President Donald Trump has been taunting Chicago for its inability to stop violent crime. At the same time, the Trump administration is taking steps to cut crime-fighting grants to Chicago because it is a sanctuary city.
This week kicks off Obama taking on a higher profile since he left office on Jan. 20.
The dinner is part of Obama’s ongoing efforts to nurture relationships potentially useful in what will be a massive fundraising effort to build and endow the center — a library, museum and event complex in Jackson Park.
The conversations Obama is having with youths about violence in Chicago — as well as with potential donors — are all helping to inform Obama about what programs he wants his foundation to develop and embrace.
Among those expected to attend the dinner are former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and her husband, Bryan Traubert.
On Monday, Obama will discuss civic engagement and community organizing at 11 a.m. at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
He will be joined in the “conversation” at the U. of C. with Chicago area students and one out of school.
Obama’s first post-presidential trip to Chicago was on Feb. 15 for meetings connected to his foundation, headquartered in Hyde Park. The foundation has a board meeting this week.
Obama’s Chicago talk will be followed by other high-profile events in the coming weeks in the United States, Milan and Berlin as he finally resurfaces in the public arena.