The location of the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center — on the South Side of Chicago, in the city's Jackson Park neighborhood — is as much a part of former President Barack Obama's history as the artifacts that will be on display, he said in a new interview.
"You have the home where Michelle grew up, you have my first apartment. So part of the reason we're here is because just about everything that's important to me in my life started here," Obama, 60, told Robin Roberts on Tuesday on Good Morning America.
Ahead of the center's groundbreaking Tuesday afternoon, Obama offered a behind-the-scenes look, sharing some of the items that will be on display.
"Obviously, one of the things that makes history real for people is when they can see the objects that were part of that history," Obama told Roberts.
Among the items will be a marriage certificate for Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, the gay couple whose Supreme Court appeal led to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage.
"One of the themes that we hope with the presidential center is that all of us have a role to play — in our neighborhoods, in our local communities," Obama told Roberts. "This I think is a wonderful symbol [of] quiet activism that happens every day to make our country better, and our world better."
Michelle Obama/Instagram Michelle Obama (inset) and the future Obama Presidential Center
The long anticipated groundbreaking is being celebrated in several ways this week.
On Monday, the former president hosted a fireside chat via Zoom with David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett, two former aides, for alumni from the Obama presidential campaigns and administration.
During the chat, Obama said the center was tied to a larger goal of his post-White House legacy: "The thing that I figured I could do best … would be to think about how to inspire, recruit" what he called "the next generation of leaders."
"The same energy that we tapped into in '08, that's still out there," he said.
And on Tuesday afternoon, the former president and former First Lady Michelle Obama will join Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for a small groundbreaking ceremony.
The center will include a 235-foot tower with a museum and a branch of the Chicago Public Library. Outside, the Obama Foundation said the center will also include a Nike-backed athletic facility complete with a dual football and soccer field, an auditorium, a restaurant, public meeting spaces, a park and a wetland area as well as a vegetable garden, children's play areas and more.
"There will be at the top an incredible room where people can look out over the Chicago landscape. We'll have a branch of the Chicago library here. We'll have classrooms and recording studios where young people can learn how to tell their stories," President Obama told Roberts on GMA.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Barack Obama
Elsewhere in the interview, he said that he hoped the location of his eponymous center would be transformative not just for visitors, but for the lives of some of the young people in the area.
"[In the neighborhood] there's young people who are enormously talented but often forgotten and so for us to be able to build a world-class institution that will attract millions of people — hopefully it will send a signal that those young people count, those young people matter," he said.
Speaking to Roberts, the former president also briefly touched on his personal life post-presidency, which he said has been "fantastic," as it has allowed him more time with Mrs. Obama and with their college-age daughters, Sasha and Malia.
"We have been very excited about the programs that our foundation has launched," he told Roberts.
He also waded into the politics of his former vice president, Joe Biden, saying that, despite Republican criticsm, the current president's sweeping Build Back Better spending proposal is "something that America desperately needs."
Obama added that those pushing back on the $3.5 trillion plan — which calls for a tax increase on those who make more than $400,000 per year — are making an "unsustainable" argument.
Skeptics include some moderate Democrats as well as Republicans who have balked at the level of spending.
"They can afford— we can afford it. I put myself in this category now," Obama said on GMA. "I think anybody who pretends that it's a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that a single mom gets childcare support or so that we're doing something about climate change for the next generation — that's an argument that's unsustainable."