Barack Obama to hold first public event since leaving office, Monday in Chicago

Former President Barack Obama will speak to young people at the University of Chicago on Monday, returning to the city for what will be his first public event since leaving the White House.

Obama and young leaders will hold a conversation on civic engagement and discuss community organizing at the university's Logan Center for the Arts, his office announced Friday.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend, chosen from area universities that were given tickets for distribution, said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president. About six young people will appear on stage with him for the 11 a.m. discussion, he said.

The event will be a homecoming for Obama on multiple levels. He formerly taught constitutional law at U. of C., and his family has a home nearby in the Kenwood neighborhood. He gave his farewell address in January in the city that launched his political career. And the discussion with students lets the former president, who came to Chicago to work as a young community organizer, fulfill one of the commitments he set out for his post-presidential years: to engage and work with the country's next generation of leaders, Lewis said.

"This event is part of President Obama's post-presidency goal to encourage and support the next generation of leaders driven by strengthening communities around the country and the world," an advisory said.

Obama is expected to arrive Sunday, then depart Monday not long after the U. of C. event, the only public appearance planned.

Less than a month after his term ended, Obama made a largely under-the-radar visit to Chicago on Feb. 15 to meet with several civic leaders to discuss his future presidential center in Jackson Park. That visit was announced to the press with few details late that day, and he made no appearances before the general public or television cameras.

This time, by contrast, the Obama team's announcement of Monday's event ensures it will get a higher profile, particularly because it comes a few days before President Donald Trump is poised to mark his 100th day in office on April 29. This event is not being sponsored by the Obama Foundation, which leads planning for his eventual center on the South Side.

"He's really excited to go back to Chicago and have a conversation about community organizing and civic engagement," Lewis said.

No tickets remain for distribution to the general public, but the event will be televised. Former first lady Michelle Obama is not expected to accompany her husband on the trip, Lewis said.

The participants on stage with Obama are expected to range from high school to college to recent university graduates. According to Lewis, they have all been chosen and are from the Chicago area, but their names were not released Friday.

Besides the host university, the schools given tickets include Harold Washington College, Malcolm X College, Kennedy-King College, Columbia College, Chicago State University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, Kenwood Academy High School, Northwestern University, DePaul University and Loyola University. City organizations that work with minority residents also were given tickets, Lewis said.

At an unrelated event Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he welcomed the attention from the former president. He served as Obama's first chief of staff.

"I would say to you my general attitude as the mayor is I'm immensely proud that his last speech as president was here in the city of Chicago, and his first major address in his post-presidency is here in the city of Chicago," Emanuel said. "And I think it reflects his emotional as well as his intellectual commitment to this city, and seeing this city as his home in that effort."

Obama has been writing his memoirs amid a succession of celebrity-filled vacations intended to allow him and the former first lady to decompress. Reports have had him as far away as Tetiaroa, a French Polynesian island once owned by Marlon Brando.

Now, the timing of the Chicago event suggests an increasing public profile for the former leader. On May 7, he will be in Boston to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. It's being called the centennial award because Kennedy was born 100 years ago.

Chicago Tribune's Hal Dardick contributed.

kskiba@chicagotribune.com

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