Speaking at a community roundtable forum on Wednesday, former president Barack Obama made a public pledge that'll definitely hit him in the pocketbook: the Obamas will donate $2 million to a Chicago jobs program this summer. He made the announcement while giving some updates and essential timelines on the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, which is slated to be built in Chicago's Jackson Park.
And although the actual building is still some years away from being completed ― Obama estimated it'll take four years until completion ― he made it clear that he and Michelle don't want to wait all that time to start doing the work they want to do.
It's gonna take about four years to build, because this is a big project. But I want to emphasize today that even though the buildings themselves, and the landscaping, and the parks will not be completed for another four years, the programming we intend to start this year. We don't want to wait for a building, because this isn't just about buildings. ... What Michelle and I want to do is start now, and I'll just give you one example. One of the things that we will be starting this year is Michelle and I personally are going to donate two million dollars to our summer jobs programs here in the community, so right away young people can get to work, and we can start providing opportunities to all of them.
The move comes amid some recent controversy for the former president, with some progressives upset by his agreeing to give a top-dollar speech to a Wall Street firm ― reportedly a $400,000 speech, to be exact. These kinds of speeches became a sore spot for some progressives within the Democratic Party, with many voters (supporters of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in particular) viewing them as both emblematic and enabling of a toxic coziness between major financial institutions and ostensibly liberal politicians.
Although Barack and Michelle's decision to donate $2 million doesn't render a verdict on the rightness or wrongness of that decision one way or another, it does strike a community-oriented, socially aware public posture.
As the first black president in American history, the overseer of a hyper-competent and relatively scandal-free administration, and the most popular Democratic leader in the country today, Obama continues to be a treasured and revered figure among countless voters key to the success of the Democratic coalition.
As such, even as a private citizen, his actions and decisions can carry a decidedly political weight. To say nothing of the basic goodness of putting one's own money towards a worthy charitable cause ― needless to say, the extra millions will be a boon for the people it serves in the city of Chicago.