The Day I Met President Obama…

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Caption: Me with Joy & Hakim, two members of my Donda’s House Team

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend the inaugural programming event hosted by the Obama Foundation. The event gathered 175 youth from Chicago in order to provide them with Civic Engagement Training. One component of the day was the Engagement Fair, and Donda’s House was invited to participate in that. I was joined by two members of my team, our Communications Director Hakim, and one of our amazing volunteers Joy.

Caption: Some of the Obama Memorabilia I’ve collected over the years. Some of the stuff I actually purchased during the campaign! The newspapers are from the day after he won the first term! I also have two books about First Lady Michelle Obama. 

I’ll never forget President Obama’s first campaign. At the time I was living in Chicago, so we were all incredibly invested in the campaign. I was also still teaching, so I was able to incorporate many of his speeches and other non-partisan content into my curriculum. At the time I was also working at Whitney Young High School – the school that First Lady Michelle Obama attended! I’ll never forget the feeling in the air… and in our hearts… To think that we as a country could elect the First African American President was a testament to how far we had come… and it was incredibly inspiring to think about what that meant for my students and for my community.

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Caption: Some of the buttons I owned during the campaign and a letter I received from First Lady Michelle Obama!

I truly enjoyed following President Obama’s campaigns (both of them), and I truly enjoyed following him and his family while they were in the White House. It was always my dream (like so many other Americans I’m sure) to meet him face-to-face. I’ve known people who were invited to some of the forums and workshops at the White House, who attended some of the epic parties and social gatherings and who were able to engage with President Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama and his team regularly. I attended a couple of events where both President Obama and First Lady Obama spoke, but I never had the opportunity to shake their hands or speak with them. The day he gave his “Obama, Out” speech, I still kept hope in my heart that one day we’d meet. 2017 has been an incredible year of manifestation for my husband and I… I plan to share more about that before 2017 ends.

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Caption: Donda’s House at the Engagement Fair for the Obama Foundation. 

You can imagine my excitement when I received an invitation to participate in the inaugural Obama Foundation Event because of my work with Donda’s House AND to be able to connect with youth in the 18-24 demographic. When you run a non-profit, so much of the work you do is to create awareness about the work that you do. When I meet people and I mention Donda’s House, it is incredibly affirming to hear that they not only know about Donda’s House, but they respect and often applaud the work that we do. So when we received the invitation to participate in the Obama Foundation Event, it meant the world to me because it was an affirmation that our work was being seen and heard by a group of people that were acting on the behalf of President & First Lady Michelle Obama.

Affirmation matters in philanthropy, because I spend so much of my time making a case for the work. Many of my conversations are centered around:

(A) Why all young people, especially youth on the South Side of Chicago and from low income communities deserve access to the arts…

(B) Why the push for STEM in educational institutions has often meant relegating the “A” “arts” to the margins… Why STEAM over STEM is a better approach to curriculum development.

(C) Why African American youth deserve more than just sports & recreational programs in their communities…

(D) Why indigenous leadership in low-income and communities of color is essential… (not negating diversity which is important but arguing that people need to see people that look like them & that come from where they come from in leadership positions…)

In many instances we get more “no” responses than we get “yes” responses and when the “we are not able to provide funding at this time” letters pile up it can be disheartening because not receiving the support does not dismiss or remove the need for support. The youth that we serve expect, anticipate and need the programs that we provide. Hard stop. That means that we have to and we must do what we can to fulfill those expectations. And we try to do so, without putting a burden on the youth that we serve because we don’t want them to worry about (and frankly, they have enough to worry about!) our ability to provide services for them.

So anytime an individual or an organization says they’re familiar with our work and they’re interested in collaborating it is a huge “win” for us and for the youth that we serve. 5 years ago, Donda’s House was just a dream. An idea that we had to provide targeted support to young Creatives. We wanted to target youth who came from the same community as us, because the arts were an essential component of our lives growing up. When we started working, we quickly realized the disparities between nonprofit organizations lead by people of color and more specifically African-American lead organizations and we started advocating for capacity building support for Donda’s House and the countless organizations like ours lead by African Americans.

We had an incredible day connecting to young people yesterday – all of whom were interested in changing the world and making a positive impact on their communities. Many of the youth were artists, and were interested in pursuing careers and social change in the arts & culture sector. When we were surprised by President Obama, it was special because as the organizational leaders met him he wanted to know two things, our names & the organizations we were representing. As I shook President Obama’s hand and I said, “Donnie Smith and I’m with Donda’s House,” it was an incredibly emotional experience because I was realizing my dream BECAUSE of helping young people realize their dreams. I didn’t meet President Obama for the first time at a social event… I met him because of the work that I’ve committed my life to doing and because someone recognized the value in that work and that mission.

I can only hope & pray that we continue to find ourselves in the rooms that we need to be in and that I, as the Captain of the Ship that we call Donda’s House, find myself in the rooms that I need to be in, in order to continue to move the work forward. This is coming from a girl who doesn’t look like what she’s been through. My tests have become my testimony and I pray that my life continues to be an example of God’s grace & that I leave the spaces & the people that I touch better than I found them.

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For more information about the Obama Foundation click here.

Learn more about the event yesterday here.

Check out the Donda’s House feed here, my instagram feed here, and check out the hashtag #trainingdaychi on all Social Media channels to see more reflections from the day!

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