Tag: Barack Obama

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama Portraits Unveiled at National Portrait Gallery

Kehinde Wiley has set Mr. Obama against greenery, with flowers that have symbolic meaning: African blue lilies for Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine for Hawaii, where Mr. Obama was born; chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, for the city where his political career began. (Credit: Kehinde Wiley)

by Holland Cotter via nytimes.com

With the unveiling Monday at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. of the official presidential likenesses of Barack Obama and the former first lady, Michelle Obama, this city of myriad monuments gets a couple of new ones, each radiating, in its different way, gravitas (his) and glam (hers).

Ordinarily, the event would pass barely noticed in the worlds of politics and art. Yes, the Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, owns the only readily accessible complete collection of presidential likenesses. But recently commissioned additions to the collection have been so undistinguished that the tradition of installing a new portrait after a leader has left office is now little more than ceremonial routine.

The present debut is strikingly different. Not only are the Obamas the first presidential couple claiming African descent to be enshrined in the collection. The painters they’ve picked to portray them — Kehinde Wiley, for Mr. Obama’s portrait; Amy Sherald, for Mrs. Obama — are African-American as well. Both artists have addressed the politics of race consistently in their past work, and both have done so in subtly savvy ways in these new commissions. Mr. Wiley depicts Mr. Obama not as a self-assured, standard-issue bureaucrat, but as an alert and troubled thinker. Ms. Sherald’s image of Mrs. Obama overemphasizes an element of couturial spectacle, but also projects a rock-solid cool.

It doesn’t take #BlackLivesMatter consciousness to see the significance of this racial lineup within the national story as told by the Portrait Gallery. Some of the earliest presidents represented — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson — were slaveholders; Mrs. Obama’s great-great grandparents were slaves. And today we’re seeing more and more evidence that the social gains of the civil rights, and Black Power, and Obama eras are, with a vengeance, being rolled back.

On several levels, then, the Obama portraits stand out in this institutional context, though given the tone of bland propriety that prevails in the museum’s long-term “America’s Presidents” display — where Mr. Obama’s (though not Mrs. Obama’s) portrait hangs — standing out is not all that hard to do.

Amy Sherald’s take on Mrs. Obama emphasizes an element of couturial spectacle (with a dress designed by Michelle Smith) and rock-solid cool. (Credit:  Amy Sherald)

Mr. Wiley, born in Los Angeles in 1977, gained a following in the early 2000s with his crisp, glossy, life-size paintings of young African-American men dressed in hip-hop styles, but depicted in the old-master manner of European royal portraits. More recently he has expanded his repertoire to include female subjects, as well as models from Brazil, India, Nigeria and Senegal, creating the collective image of a global black aristocracy.

In an imposingly scaled painting — just over seven feet tall — the artist presents Mr. Obama dressed in the regulation black suit and an open-necked white shirt, and seated on a vaguely thronelike chair not so different from the one seen in Stuart’s Washington portrait. But art historical references stop there. So do tonal echoes of past portraits. Whereas Mr. Obama’s predecessors are, to the man, shown expressionless and composed, Mr. Obama sits tensely forward, frowning, elbows on his knees, arms crossed, as if listening hard. No smiles, no Mr. Nice Guy. He’s still troubleshooting, still in the game.

His engaged and assertive demeanor contradicts — and cosmetically corrects — the impression he often made in office of being philosophically detached from what was going on around him. At some level, all portraits are propaganda, political or personal. And what makes this one distinctive is the personal part. Mr. Wiley has set Mr. Obama against — really embedded him in — a bower of what looks like ground cover. From the greenery sprout flowers that have symbolic meaning for the sitter. African blue lilies represent Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine stands for Hawaii, where Mr. Obama himself was born; chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, reference the city where his political career began, and where he met his wife.

Mrs. Obama’s choice of Ms. Sherald as an artist was an enterprising one. Ms. Sherald, who was born in Columbus, Ga., in 1973 and lives in Baltimore, is just beginning to move into the national spotlight after putting her career on hold for some years to deal with a family health crisis, and one of her own. (She had a heart transplant at 39.) Production-wise, she and Mr. Wiley operate quite differently. He runs the equivalent of a multinational art factory, with assistants churning out work. Ms. Sherald, who until a few years ago made her living waiting tables, oversees a studio staff of one, herself.

At the same time, they have much in common. Both focused early on African-American portraiture precisely because it is so little represented in Western art history. And both tend to blend fact and fiction. Mr. Wiley, with photo-realistic precision, casts actual people in fantastically heroic roles. (He modifies his heroizing in the case of Mr. Obama, but it’s still there.) Ms. Sherald also starts with realism, but softens and abstracts it. She gives all her figures gray-toned skin — a color with ambiguous racial associations — and reduces bodies to geometric forms silhouetted against single-color fields.

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/arts/design/obama-portrait.html

Portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama
At the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington; 202-633-1000; npg.si.edu.

Professor and Poet Elizabeth Alexander Named President of Mellon Foundation

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Elizabeth Alexander (photo via elizabethalexander.net)

by Robin Pogebrin via nytimes.com

Elizabeth Alexander, whose memoir was a finalist in 2016 for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and who wrote and recited an original poem at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural, will be the next president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the country’s largest humanities philanthropy.

“All of the things that I’ve cared about my whole life and worked toward my whole life Mellon does,” said Ms. Alexander in a telephone interview, citing areas like higher education and scholarship, arts and cultural heritage, and diversity.

She added that “arts and humanities are not the most protected entities right now.”

Ms. Alexander succeeds Earl Lewis, who has served since 2013. She will start in March, becoming the foundation’s first female president.

“She has deep experience in cultivating partnerships that extend and amplify creative vision,” Danielle Allen, the foundation’s chairwoman, said in a statement, adding that Ms. Alexander “brings an artist’s forward-looking energy to institutional purpose.”

Ms. Alexander, who has written six books of poetry and two essay collections, was most recently a humanities professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Before that, she served as the director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she helped design Agnes Gund’s $100 million Art for Justice Fund.

“This appointment is a milestone in the history of American philanthropy,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. “It’s the combination of being both rooted in the arts and grounded in the humanities and understanding philanthropy that is going to make her a success.”

Ms. Alexander has also worked closely with the Poetry Center at Smith College; the nonprofit Cave Canem, which trains aspiring poets; and Yale University, where she spent 15 years on the faculty and helped rebuild the African-American Studies department.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/arts/design/mellon-foundation-president-elizabeth-alexander.html

Obamas Are Still Two Of America’s Most Admired People According to Gallup Poll

Michelle and Barack Obama (photo via tvguide.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to vibe.com, although Barack Obama is nearly a year out from his two-term Presidency, Gallup reports he’s still the country’s “Most Admired” man.

The numerical proof of Obama’s popularity came Wednesday (Dec. 27) when Gallup released the results of their yearly “Most Admired Man and Woman” poll. In the survey, the publication, known for statistics, asked Americans who is the public figure they admire the most, and for the fifth time since 2013, Obama topped the list.

Obama edged out the current president – gaining 17 percent of the votes to Donald Trump’s 14 – making this year one of the few times in the poll’s history where the sitting president did not acquire the title.

That paired with Obama’s status as the most admired man and the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, being named Gallup’s second most admired woman (behind Hillary Clinton by 2 percent), makes them the nation’s most admired couple.

To read more on this, go to: The Obamas Are Still Two Of America’s Most Admired People

THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis

(Photo via thechildbirthprofession.com)
by Dena Crowder

Kyira “Kira” Dixon Johnson and her husband Charles seemed to have it all: a healthy baby boy, flourishing entrepreneurial careers, and vibrant health. Which is why no one could have predicted that 24 hours after welcoming their second son into the world, Kyira would be dead.

The Johnsons represent an alarming reality that’s only recently gained attention in the national media: African-American women are dying in childbirth at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts. When I first read the statistics, I was stunned. “This isn’t the 19th century!” Yet facts prove otherwise.

For a recent Essence article, Meaghan Winter wrote:

“In some rural counties and dense cities alike, the racial disparity in maternal deaths is jaw-dropping: Chickasaw County, Mississippi, for instance, has a maternal death rate for women of color that’s higher than Rwanda’s. In New York City, Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die of pregnancy-related causes—and the disparity has more than doubled in recent years.”

While experts agree that the causes are multi-faceted, and include factors such as diet, poor pre- and post-natal care, existing high-risk conditions (like hypertension and diabetes) and lack of access to properly trained medical staff, by far the most troubling thing I heard was this comment from Darline Turner, an Austin-based physician’s assistant and certified doula:

“This goes across socio-economic status. Even a high achieving Ph.D. – who is a six to seven figure earner – still has worse birth outcomes than a white woman without a high school education who is smoking,” she said during a phone interview.

“How is this possible?” I wondered.

Darline explained that the “issue no one wants to talk about” is the experience of chronic mental, physical and emotional stress experienced by black women living in modern America, and its negative impact on birth outcomes. (For more thoughts on this topic from Darline Turner, click here.)

Disturbed by the seeming nonchalance at what should be declared a national health emergency, she began the Healing Hands Doula project, a grassroots effort aimed at supporting healthy pregnancies and births for women of color in Texas.

Her belief that “we’ve got to return to community” is borne out by scientific studies from a variety of fields. “We know that loneliness is a major factor in disease.” According to her, a mom who isn’t connected to a strong and vital community offering robust emotional and medical support is more susceptible to complications.

The good news is, with proper care, the statistics can be reversed. This fact is demonstrated by Jennie Joseph of Common Sense Childbirth, a prenatal clinic, birthing center, and school of midwifery in Florida where she applies her holistic maternity care model. The results are astoundingly positive and are changing the status quo. By making a difference, Joseph is not only increasing the well being of the families she serves, but also her own. To learn more about her and her mission, visit her website here: http://www.commonsensechildbirth.org. (Additional resources can be found via Sister SongCenter for Reproductive RightsBlackMamasMatter and The Afiya Center.)

The kind of purpose-driven work that birth professionals like Turner and Joseph are doing on behalf of women of color falls into the category of purposeful contribution. Over the past few years, research has shown that when you answer the “call” to do good for others, you actually strengthen your immune system.

What about those who lack a sense of purpose? They develop genetic patterns equivalent to people under constant stress. (This correlation between chronic stress and purpose is based on studies done at UCLA, The University of North Carolina and in the work of Dr. Mario Martinez.) The only cure for what ails the purposeless is to give meaningfully. Continue reading “THIS WAY FORWARD: Community-Based Solutions for the African-American Childbirth Crisis”

Barack Obama’s Name to Replace Jefferson Davis’ on Mississippi Elementary School

Former President Barack Obama speaks in New York on Sept. 20. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

by Dan Corey via nbcnews.com

A public elementary school in Mississippi named after the president of the Confederacy will be renamed to honor the first black president of the United States.

Davis Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary in Jackson, which is named for Jefferson Davis, will be renamed Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary beginning next school year, the school’s PTA president, Janelle Jefferson, said at a Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night. The prospect of changing the name of what Jefferson called the best elementary school in Mississippi was raised by a student, she told NBC News. “They know who [Davis] was and what he stood for,” she said. “This has a great impact on them, because [Obama] is who they chose out of anybody else they could. This is the person that the whole school supported. He was their Number One choice.”

The PTA asked the Davis Magnet community to submit suggestions for the new name, Jefferson said. Parents, students and school staff were given two weeks to submit recommendations, and they voted using paper ballots on Oct. 5. Students from every class researched and gave presentations about their candidates at an assembly before the vote, Jefferson said. The decision to name the school after Obama was made on Oct. 6. School buildings must be named “for persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system,” according to the school board’s facility-naming policy. “A facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons.”

“Every generation has a right to choose how it represents itself,” Jake McGraw, public policy coordinator the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, told NBC News. “Having a school where there was input from parents, teachers and students — along with the school board — it seems like a model for how these decisions should be approached across the country.” About 98 percent of current Davis students are black, Jefferson said. The students chose Obama because they were alive during his administration and felt that he shared their principles, Jefferson said. McGraw said: “It shows that we don’t need to shy away from exploring these controversial topics. It’s important not just in the symbolism of an elementary school, but here we’re having a real genuine examination of our history in an elementary school — within the broader school system in Jackson — which is exactly where it needs to happen.”

To read more, go to: Obama’s Name to Replace Jefferson Davis’ on Mississippi School – NBC News

Illinois Officially Designates August 4 as “Barack Obama Day”

Barack Obama (photo via essence.com)

by Veronica Hilbring via essence.com

Former President Barack Obama has been honored with his very own holiday in the state of Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Friday a measure to designate August 4th as “Barack Obama Day.” The holiday will be celebrated statewide on President Obama’s birthday, beginning in 2018. Gov. Rauner praised the commemorative holiday but stopped short of making it a legal holiday. “It’s incredibly proud for Illinois that the president came from Illinois. I think it’s awesome, and I think we should celebrate it. I don’t think it should be a formal holiday with paid, forced time off, but I think it should be a day of acknowledgment and celebration.”

Senate Bill 55 reads the holiday will be “observed throughout the State as a day set apart to honor the 44th President of the United States of America who began his career serving the People of Illinois in both the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate, and dedicated his life to protecting the rights of Americans and building bridges across communities.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. Emil Jones III who helped launch Obama’s Senate campaign in 2004. Jones also considers himself to be Obama’s political godfather.

To read and see more, go to: Barack Obama Day | Essence.com

Obamas Pledge $2 Million for Summer Jobs, Apprenticeships for Chicago Youth

Michelle and Barack Obama (photo via chicagotribune.com)

by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz via chicagotribune.com

Barack and Michelle Obama are donating $2 million toward two Chicago programs that provide summer jobs and apprenticeships, setting the stage for the coming Obama Presidential Center‘s mission to help employ and train South Side youth.

One Summer Chicago, which is the city’s summer jobs program, and the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, a collaboration of foundations and corporate funders focused on employment equity, each will receive $1 million from the Obamas. The former president made the donation announcement Wednesday when unveiling early design plans for the Obama Presidential Center, a complex with a museum, library and public park to be built over the next four years in South Shore’s Jackson Park.

While the center itself aims to boost employment in the community — through jobs, during construction, and once open, through youth-focused employment programming — “we can’t afford to wait four years to start working together,” Barack Obama told the audience at the South Shore Cultural Center.

He cited the city’s violence and the need to “reach young people who might be at risk if they don’t have something to do during the summers.””We want to make sure that some of those young people can get trained so people don’t say, ‘Why didn’t you hire anybody from the neighborhood?’ And the contractor says, ‘We didn’t have anybody who was trained.’ Well … let’s start the pipeline now, so that we can start getting some of those folks trained,” Obama said, according to excerpts of his remarks provided by his office.

To read more, go to: Obamas pledge $2 million for summer jobs, apprenticeships for Chicago youth – Chicago Tribune