A-listers in Chicago for the launch of the Obama Foundation. There was but one French woman among the five hundred guests, the activist, essayist and journalist, Rokhaya Diallo. She shared her impressions with LIBERATION.

When i asked myself after the presidency how could i have an impact. When i asked myself after…turning 56. It’s not too late you can still have an impact.” This question doesn’t come from just any early retiree but from he who, not so long ago, was president of the number one world power. Barack Obama organized the first meeting of the Chicago Youth Leadership Summit of the newly created Obama Foundation, on October 31st. In so doing, at a major hotel, in front of a handpicked audience, that I was part of, he marked his grand return to the public stage. Five hundred of what are considered to be civic leaders eagerly took in the speech of the former undeniably relaxed American President. Among the activists chosen by the staff of the Obama Foundation from over twenty thousand applicants, four hundred were from the US and one hundred from sixty other countries. Bernadette Meehan, International Director of the Foundation, former diplomat in the Obama Administration, supervised the selection of participants. I was surprised to be the only attendee from France, my name having been proposed by the leadership program European Young Leaders. And my statement was chosen to introduce the opening video of the Summit.

Barack in the gym

Arriving in Chicago, the political birthplace of Barack Obama, I felt like I was attending a UN conference dedicated to activism. I rode from the airport with Asmaa Abumezied, a Palestinian woman who worked with the NGO Oxfam to improve the economic autonomy Gaza Strip residents. Checking in at the hotel, I ran into the Zambian dancehall singer and rapper, B Flow, a global anti-AIDS ambassador. He enthusiastically recalled the 2015 Barack Obama speech when he paid homage to B Flow’s use of music against violence done to women. The next morning, I went down to the gym, my eyes unfocused, running along a path with no destination when my treadmill daydreams were interrupted by none other than Barack Obama himself, who had come to do his morning exercise routine under the watchful eye of his trainer.

Train the successors

 At breakfast, Ozan Yanar, originally from Turkey and elected at the age of 27, self-described as the “only immigrant in the Parliament of Finland” – invited me to join his conversation with Kirsten Bosbol, ex- Danish Environment Minister. Seated not too far from us was Dani Laurence, Hungarian refugee who grew up in Switzerland, and founder of I Am Your Protector, a campaign to solve conflicts between communities, in situations ranging from harassment to violence. Marco Gualtieri from Milan, reflecting on fighting famine, explained how technology can facilitate food production. Marko Gregovic brought up the NGO he created, Brodoto, to promote fair tourism practices in his country, Croatia. All these activists went through extreme vetting, being chosen by the Obama Foundation from among thousands of applications! The goal? To train the next generation of leaders who will guide social change. Accompanied by his wife, Michelle Obama, and armed with his legendary charm, he sincerely believes: “Ordinary folks who are active in their local communities can accomplish extraordinary things if given the chance.” And to inspire this potentially extraordinary generation, the Foundation went all out.

Soft cool power

A succession of speakers from everywhere, beginning with Matteo Renzi the former President of the Italian Council of Ministers to Prince Harry… Away from the main stage breakout sessions covering subjects from women in spheres of power to sensitizing young people about human rights causes, as well as the entrepreneurial ecosystem in emerging markets. Moderating the sessions were well known faces such as actor, Rashida Jones, Quincy’s daughter and TV star.

Among the activists, were also upcoming committed stars such as Young Paris, signed by Jay Z’s label, Emmy winning actor and screenwriter, Lena Waithe (Master of None) and political commentator, Sally Kohn, all paying close attention. Although he has retired politically, Barack Obama seems intent on remaining present. He can certainly count on these young minds, many of whom will become leaders of non-profits, businesses or politics. All in all, nothing new, soft cool power is an old family recipe of American leaders.

 Translated by Alberta Wilson