Culminating a three-year campaign by the Obama Foundation, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved measures to allow construction of the Obama Presidential Center. The approval, which came on a 47-1 vote, means the foundation can move forward into federal reviews of the project with city support as a badge of endorsement.
No public comment was allowed during the council meeting, and aldermen discussed the matter for just over an hour — a contrast to the extended and heated debate last week during a Plan Commission hearing. Hundreds of residents, activists and leaders of cultural institutions testified both in favor of the presidential center and against it. The commission voted overwhelmingly in support, as did the Zoning Committee on Tuesday, which paved the way for Wednesday’s City Council vote.
The City Council decision was just another step in a long process. Besides the federal review — which is required because Jackson Park, the site of the center, is on the National Register of Historic Places — the foundation still must secure a formal long-term contract to lease Jackson Park from the city. The foundation already has hired a collective of construction firms to build the center, but they have to develop and hire a workforce.
Netflix has secured a deal with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to produce series and movies for the streaming service. The former first couple will, according to an announcement Monday from the company, potentially work on scripted and unscripted series as well as docu-series, documentary films, and features under the multi-year deal.
“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” said Barack Obama. “That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix — we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” said Michelle Obama. “Netflix’s unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership.”
Signing the Obamas is the latest, and by far the biggest, in a string of moves by Netflix to lock up the entertainment industry’s highest-profile producers in exclusive production and development pacts. Last year, Netflix poached “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes from ABC Studios with a deal valued at more than $100 million. “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy jumped from his longtime home at 20th Century Fox Television earlier this year to also join Netflix. Murphy’s deal was reported at the time to be worth as much as $300 million. However, sources tell Variety that tally includes money that Murphy is expected to make from his current and former Fox series over the life of his Netflix contract, and that the true value of the deal is in line with that of Rhimes’.
It is unknown how much the Obamas’ Netflix agreement is worth. In March, Penguin Random Housesigned the couple to a joint book deal that pays them a reported $65 million for their respective memoirs.
“Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world’s most respected and highly-recognized public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. “We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities.”
Among President Obama’s most visible public appearances since leaving office was on David Letterman’s new Netflix series, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Obama was the first guest in the former “Late Show” host’s new long-form interview program.
Word of a possible pact between the former U.S. president and first lady surfaced in March, when the New York Times first reported that the couple was in talks with the streaming service on a deal to produce several high-profile projects.
Sarandos has a close relationship with the Obamas. His wife, Nicole Avant, served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas in President Obama’s first term in office.
Now that Barack Obama is out of the White House, he’s making a statement on support for Black businesses with a huge deal for the Obama Presidential Center.
The OPC is set to cost about $350 million, and an alliance of minority firms is set to get a large chunk of that. Powers & Sons Construction, UJAMAA Construction, Brown & Momen, and Safeway Construction, all part of the Presidential Partners consortium, have all come together as part of the Lakeside Alliance working on the presidential center, according toBlack Enterprise.
The minority companies will be getting a 51% stake, while Turner Company, which is one of the nation’s largest construction companies, will have a 49% stake. It’s a historic move, not just because of the companies involved but because most minority firms will be hired on as subcontractors and not given majority stakes like this.
“The Obama Foundation believes in creating opportunities for diverse and local businesses and building pathways to meaningful jobs for minorities and other underrepresented populations,” said David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation.
“The development of the Obama Presidential Center gives us an opportunity to make a major, unprecedented impact on the South Side in terms of hiring talented, local businesses and individuals. We look forward to working with Lakeside Alliance to achieve our goals, set new benchmarks and make the Obama Presidential Center a landmark that our neighbors can be proud of.”
It’s a big win not just for the companies but the communities, because the alliance of minority companies has promised that they will be employing minority workers and people who live in the surrounding area for the massive project. That way, the companies will be giving back to the community and the presidential center will be a boon to Chicago’s South and West sides.
Ground will be broken for the project later on this year.
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.
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.
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 theAndrew 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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.