CHICAGO: Barack Obama travels to Chicago for his farewell speech Tuesday, returning to the town where his meteoric rise to become America’s first black president all began. The third largest US city is also important to his post-presidency: it will be home to the Obama presidential library and foundation. Obama began his political career in the Windy City, working first as a community organiser in poverty-stricken black neighbourhoods, then serving in the state legislature before becoming a US senator from Illinois. “I came of age, I understood my mission, when I moved to Chicago,” Obama said on Thursday in a TV interview with Chicago’s CBS affiliate. As a community organiser, he worked in poor neighbourhoods, witnessing “frustration and hope,” as he put it in his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father.
Obama wrote of the signs of decay among Chicago’s predominantly black neighbourhoods, which were “shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle-class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth.” In the state legislature, he looked for ways to help, including expanding access to health care and reforming law enforcement practices. While still a state senator, he also famously opposed the Iraq war and won the US Senate seat in 2004. Just four years later, when he made history as the first African-American president, Obama chose Chicago on election night as the place to celebrate that singular moment. Decades earlier, a young Barack Obama met his wife Michelle when they were both working at a law firm in 1988. They married in 1992 at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Both of their daughters were born here.
The Obamas lived in a wealthy enclave in Chicago’s south side, near the University of Chicago where the president taught law. His presidential library will be located nearby, which will keep the Obamas tethered to the city. “I will always be a citizen of Chicago,” the president said in the TV interview. “I will be investing a huge amount of effort and time and energy to making (the library) a world-class center in a world-class city, to help train the next generation of leaders to bring about social change,” Obama said. And in a presidency with many important moments, two of the most iconic took place here.
It was in Chicago’s expansive Grant Park that Obama first spoke publicly after winning the White House for the first time. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama told a crowd of more than 100,000, some in tears, on that chilly November evening. Four years later, he made his re-election victory speech at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention centre. — AFP