Recently, I had the privilege to travel to Chicago to attend the first ever Obama Foundation Summit. It’s not often that a young person gets the opportunity to fly across the country to attend a summit full of leaders from around the world, including the historic 44th president of the United States.
During my flight to Chicago I had a million thoughts in my mind. What should I expect? Will I look out of place at the summit? How different is Chicago from Fresno? I was excited at the opportunity to be in this space, but for some reason I was feeling butterflies in my stomach as I got closer.
When I landed in the Windy City, the first thing I realized was that I felt like I was going to freeze. My body was too used to Cali weather that I underestimated the weather in Chicago.
When I got to the hotel I met up with Vanessa who is a strong leader from Los Angeles and is involved with the Brown Issues organization. Supporting us would be Amanda and Carlos from The California Endowment who both made sure we got the best of our leadership experience in Chicago. Surrounded by these awesome people, I knew this experience was going to be great!
Tuesday morning came around and we were all starving! We started our day off by having breakfast at Ms. Biscuit, which is a restaurant in the Southside of Chicago that was recommended to us by a local. Going from Downtown Chicago to Ms. Biscuit was a whole different view of the city. Being amused at all the tall buildings in Downtown made me forget about fact that a lot of cities around this country have communities which carry rich history, culture and potential, but are often forgotten about. I made connections with my hometown in Fresno. I’ve always thought my community was a tale of two cities and I realized that Chicago’s Southside was very much like Fresno’s Southside: underserved.
Efrain in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago.
We ended up in Pilsen, which is a Chicago neighborhood filled with beautiful families and amazing art. Not only is the National Museum of Mexican Art located here, but there were also lots of great murals that represent the community in an artistic way.
Tuesday night Dean joined Vanessa, Amanda, Carlos and I. Dean is another great leader from Kern and is also a fellow PYC (President’s Youth Council) member for The California Endowment. Dean, Vanessa and I were very excited for Wednesday morning as we would all be joining Day 2 at the Obama Foundation Summit!
As we arrived to the Summit, we ran into Dolores Huerta while she was having breakfast. It was amazing to start off our experience by meeting a very bold leader who helped fight for the rights of many farm workers.
From left: Efrain, Vanessa, Dolores Huerta, Dean and Unknown.
The summit itself was very powerful and moving. The fact that I was surrounded by civic leaders from all around the world made me feel the presence of all our allies who struggle every day in order to bring social change in today’s society. I was settling in and getting ready for Michelle Obama to speak. Mrs. Obama spoke about her childhood and her journey to get into the position she’s in now. She stated that as an advocate it is hard to balance personal life when we are always trying to do for others. This reminded me that as advocates in our own communities, we have to make sure that we ourselves are healthy enough before we go out of our way to help others.
Very informative breakout sessions followed Michelle’s talk. The two breakout sessions I attended were related to the My Brother’s Keeper initiative launched by Barack Obama to support young men of color throughout the nation, and the other was on how art can be used as a tool to advocate efficiently.
Throughout both sessions I was able to listen to all the brainstorm ideas that many leaders shared out. It was important for me to listen and find a way that I can apply ideas when I got back home.
In my second breakout session President Obama caught everyone by surprise as he joined us to listen to artist tell their stories about the power of advocacy. This experience was full of ideas and insight from some top social justice leaders who think in creative ways to bring equity to underserved people. I opened my heart, eyes, and ears in order to be able to take in as much as I can.
As I reflect on the trip now, the question to myself is how can I take these creative ideas and make change in my community? However that is, I know that this summit empowered me to keep working more efficiently and smarter. In this fight for social justice there is no rest. Take care of yourself so you can be healthy enough to help the person next to you. Be strong, be bold.
Peace, Efrain Botello.