Join President Obama in Berlin:

On May 25, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel will join young leaders for a conversation about civic engagement at the Brandenburg Gate.

By Bernadette Meehan, International Programs, Obama Foundation

In his famous Day of Affirmation Address, Robert F. Kennedy called youth “the only true international community.”

While in office, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to dozens of countries with vastly different political systems, languages, cultures, and religions. No matter where they traveled, they made time to meet with young people — at town halls, entrepreneurship summits, civil society roundtables, and girls’ education events. And despite their different backgrounds, there was a common belief, a common sense of community, among the young people they met: that part of being a good citizen is being engaged locally and globally.

“I have been encouraged everywhere I go in the United States, but also everywhere around the world, to see how sharp and astute and tolerant and thoughtful and entrepreneurial our young people are … and so the question then becomes, what are the ways in which we can create pathways for them to take leadership, for them to get involved? Are there ways in which we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service? And if there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers.” — President Obama at the University of Chicago, April 24, 2017

That concept is one that the Obamas championed throughout their time in the White House, and it is now a cornerstone of the Obama Foundation’s efforts to support and develop the next generation of active citizens and emerging young leaders around the world. The Foundation will be based at the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, and will have projects, programs, and digital networks all over the world. Many of these will be formed in partnership with local organizations already doing great work in their communities. Our international programming will focus on creating space for a wide range of diverse participants to work together to solve local problems — individuals, civil society, governments, multilateral organizations, faith-based entities, the private sector, and academia. In doing this work, we hope we’ll be able to create pathways and knock down barriers for people working on issues that have been important to the Obamas — like connecting and empowering young leaders; catalyzing entrepreneurship; narrowing inequality; combating climate change and promoting clean energy; enhancing public health; empowering women and girls; and promoting inter-communal dialogue and conflict resolution.

One of the most important things we can do is provide momentum to lift up and empower the good work that people are doing, far from the spotlight, in their communities around the world. That’s why our first international event will be a collaborative one. On May 25 President Obama will participate in a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on the topic of “Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally.” Faith-based organizations play an important role in communities around the world, and the Obama Foundation is proud to sponsor this event with the German Protestant Kirchentag as part of celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

We believe in the power of connecting people who are working to improve their own communities, no matter where they live — that’s how you can take change at the local level and make it global.

So we are excited to be including in our event young leaders from a Kirchentag-related exchange program between Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and the Konkordiengemeinde — a Protestant organization in Mannheim. We selected four talented young people — teacher Sierra Sims and actress Imani Abernathy from the South Side of Chicago and social worker Filiz Kuyucu and student Benedikt Wichtlhuber from Mannheim — to join President Obama and Chancellor Merkel on stage for the second part of their conversation. We spent time with these inspiring young people over the past week learning more about their lives, their communities, and what civic engagement at a local and global level means to them. We were inspired to get to know them, and you will be too. Check out parts of those conversations:

As we design our international programs and events, we’ll continue to be guided by your experience and ideas. This Foundation is about you. When we asked you what you wanted President Obama and Chancellor Merkel to talk about in Berlin, your feedback helped us shape the event. As we think about how the Obama Foundation will be engaged around the world, we hope you’ll continue to share your ideas with us and tell us about young leaders and organizations that inspire you.

We look forward to hearing from you and telling you more about our work, our team, and our partnerships in follow-up posts.

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