Dec 9, 2021 - Rauner Family YMCA

Former President Barack Obama surprises South Side Y youth and teens at private basketball clinic

Before making history as our nation’s 44th commander-in-chief, former President Barack Obama was a Hyde Park resident who occasionally shot hoops at the South Side YMCA. Last Thursday, in a surprise visit to a private basketball clinic for South Side Y youth and teens, President Obama imparted some words of wisdom while returning to the center’s familiar hardwoods.

“I used to bring the girls here when they were just itty bitty things,” President Obama recalled fondly, referring to his daughters Malia and Sasha. “This was a community center and a place of refuge for kids ... [and] I wanted to make sure that we stop by to let you know that it’s our intention to partner and work with this Y right here, that we’re doing everything we can to amplify and support great programs like the ones that are taking place here every day.”

And amplify he did.

Youth representing the South Side Y, Simeon Career Academy’s Girls Basketball Team, Champs Male Mentoring Program, and the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance enjoyed a thrilling itinerary of DJ-led dance-offs, basketball drills, and a Q&A session with Chicago Bulls starting forward Patrick Williams and General Manager Marc Eversley. Little did they know that President Obama would stop by and join them in the afternoon’s festivities.

For teen participant Antoine C., the shock and wonder of last week’s events hasn’t worn off: “I thought I was just coming to a basketball clinic until President Obama walked in,” he said. “Being able to meet Obama was the best thing that has ever happened in my life, especially knowing that he is a ballplayer like me. I loved every minute.”

Local youth weren’t the only ones inspired by President Obama’s love for basketball and affinity for the Y.

“Last Thursday was a full-circle moment for the South Side Y,” said Executive Director Kenne’quia Howell. “To have President Obama return to his old stomping grounds and surprise our community’s youth was truly amazing.”

Howell also reflected on how President Obama’s South Side roots and current work with the Obama Foundation give her—and the many families the South Side Y serves—a palpable sense of hope for the future.

“The Obama Foundation’s mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world,” Howell said. “And at the Y’s core, that’s what we do, too, through every life-saving skill we teach, every safe space we create, every story we share. As we align resources to magnify our collective impact, we not only give South Side families the tools that they need in the moment but more importantly equip them to create a better, more equitable community for generations to come.”

Clad in black slacks, dress shoes, and a white button-down shirt, President Obama attempted a jump shot from the right side of the basket. With Benny the Bull and a group of awestruck South Side teens as witnesses, it went in.

“That’s what I do!” President Obama exclaimed, just a beat after his basketball swished through the net to thunderous applause.

And at that moment, the former president reminded us of what we all can do, working together toward the shared aim of creating positive change in the South Side, throughout Chicagoland, and everywhere.