Many fans on Twitter were missing former President Barack Obama more than ever as he delivered his first public remarks since leaving office during a forum in his adopted hometown of Chicago on Monday.
At the event, which was held at the University of Chicago, Obama reflected on how he got his political start as a community organizer in the city more than 30 years ago, and facilitated a town hall-style forum on community organizing and civic engagement with young leaders from area schools.
He opened his remarks with a joke, asking the crowd: “So uh, what’s been going on while I’ve been gone?”
“On the back end now of my presidency, now that it’s completed, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what is the most important thing I can do for my next job?” he continued. “And what I’m convinced is that — 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 prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”
The former president added that he has been “encouraged” by the “tolerant and thoughtful and entrepreneurial” young people he has met in his travels around the country. So the question now, he says, is: “Are there ways in which we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service? And if there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers. And to get this next generation and to accelerate their move towards leadership.”
Obama’s first public event of his post-presidency was met with an outpouring of love and support on Twitter, with many comparing him favorably against his successor, President Donald Trump. Here’s what some people are saying:
Though Obama has indirectly criticized Trump since his inauguration, he did not mention his successor during the forum. A source told The Hill earlier this month: “It’s not in anyone’s interest … for [Obama] to become the face of the resistance or narrate the Trump presidency. He’s acutely aware that when [Trump] speaks, he sucks up all the oxygen, and that suppresses the next generation of leaders from rising.”
Obama’s two-day trip to Chicago marks his reentry into public life and comes after a series of vacations with family and friends — including trips to Palm Springs, California, Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands, and an exclusive resort in French Polynesia.
On Sunday, Obama began his Chicago visit by meeting privately with at-risk young men on the South Side to talk about gang violence, jobs skills and employment, a spokesman told the Chicago Tribune. The meeting, which was not open to the media, was with members of a program created by Obama’s longtime friend and former education secretary, Arne Duncan, the newspaper reported.
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Obama’s next public outing will come on May 7, when he will visit Boston to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. The former president will also meet with his one-time “closest ally,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Berlin next month — on the same day President Trump is set to meet with other NATO leaders in Brussels.
Obama’s wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, is also returning to the public spotlight soon. She and former President Bill Clinton will both participate in the 2017 Partnership for a Healthier America Summit to end childhood obesity in Washington, D.C. May 10-12.