President Barack Obama came home to Chicago – briefly – Aug. 3 for a fundraiser at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, and to celebrate his 50th birthday. The event was sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.

President Barack Obama came home to Chicago – briefly – Aug. 3 for a fundraiser at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, and to celebrate his 50th birthday. The event was sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.

But as jubilant of an occasion as it should have been, the president was also taking a quick breather from the rancor in Washington. In the days before he arrived in Chicago, the president was in a showdown with Republicans and was putting forth what he called “urgent efforts to avoid default and reduce our deficit.”

Default would have meant the U.S. would not have been able to pay its bills, cut Social Security and veterans’ benefits checks, or pay contractual obligations. The president conceded that what was going on in Washington was “a mess.” Then with time running out to avoid default, on July 31 Obama announced that Congress had broken the impasse and a debt ceiling deal was struck.

But at the Aragon Ballroom, as he referenced the current Washington wrangling and reflected back on the country he took command of in 2008 – one on the cusp of a historic economic recession – Obama admitted things were a bit tougher than he expected.

“I have to admit, I didn’t know how steep the climb was going to be,” the president said to the audience where people were briskly fanning themselves to stay comfortable in the muggy hall.

But, “you did not elect me president to duck the tough issues,” Obama said.

A lot of what the president said at the event was a repeat of other speeches. He itemized some of the issues that were before him at the start of his presidency and he went on to provide a bulleted list of how his administration had dealt with them. And again, as he did in last fall’s midterm elections, he asked his supporters for more time – in the form of 2012 reelection – to continue the work he has started.

“So it’s been a long, tough journey. But we have made some incredible strides together. Yes, we have. But the thing that we all have to remember is that as much good as we’ve done, precisely because the challenges were so daunting, precisely because we were inheriting so many challenges, that we’re not even halfway there yet,” the president said at the Wednesday fundraiser. He added that “these challenges weren’t made overnight and they aren’t going to be solved overnight.”

Clearly Obama was among supporters, with some paying $50 and others paying over $35,000 to attend the fundraiser inside the Uptown community venue. Musician Herbie Hancock and R&B singer and actress Jennifer Hudson were among the night’s performers. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, introduced the president to the stage.

The roster of elected officials in attendance included Gov. Pat Quinn, Sec. of State Jesse White, Sen. Dick Durbin, former state Sen. President Emil Jones and city Treasurer Stephanie Neely.

Support for the president in his hometown was inside the ballroom and out.

In the face of Tea Party Republicans set on making Obama a “one-term” president, and some African American leaders and columnists who point to an Obama and Democratic Party too quick to compromise, many who lined the streets outside the Aragon Ballroom told the Defender they are set to give Obama the second round in the White House he is campaigning for.

“I think he’s facing a hard situation and not necessarily one that he created,” said Mark Kowal, 32, a single, white male who plans to vote for Obama next year. Kowal looked skyward to find a criticism of the president but could only come back to his belief that Obama has acted “to the best of his ability” since taking office.

Kowal lost his job last year and was out of work over eight months. He’s newly re-employed and feels things are “getting better.”

Obama spoke on immigration at the fundraiser, explaining that the U.S. was a nation of “laws and we are a nation of immigrants. And we want to … have a legal immigration system that works for everybody.”

That would bode well for Rose Adigbli of Togo, who has been in the U.S. for seven years. Speaking limited English, the mother of four explained that she is “working hard” to get on a path to citizenship. Adigbli points to education and said the system here is better than in her African homeland. She said she is proud of Obama and if she were able to vote, she would cast a ballot for him. “God put him there,” she said with a big smile.

Unemployment in the U.S. still hovers at 9 percent and is at 16 percent and over for African Americans – especially males – and young adults age 16 to 19, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Job creation heads the agenda of politicians, community activists, Obama supporters and his critics alike.

Femi Idreez, 24, pursued the American Dream and thought that his college degree would land him a job soon after graduation. But Idreez, a single, African American male, told the Defender outside the fundraiser that he finally found a job after a yearlong hunt that followed his December 2009 graduation from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. His bachelor’s degree in economics didn’t give him an immediate leg-up in the tough economy, he said. The government job he was able to get, though, was not in his major.

Still, he supports Obama, he said.

“I think he’s trying his best,” Idreez said of the president. “I wish that (the wars) would stop” and that money would be put into education and jobs.

Obama ended his speech sounding like a preacher delivering a Sunday morning sermon.

“For all the frustrations and the challenges and resistance we have to bringing about change, when I’ve got you guys behind me, when I’ve got the American people behind me … we’re joining hands, Black and white and Hispanic and Asian and Native American and gay and straight, when the American people join together, we cannot be stopped.”

The deafening applause was his amen from the crowd.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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