What They're Saying: South by South Lawn

Last month, the White House announced the first-ever South by South Lawn (SXSL), a festival to celebrate the spirit of innovation and bring together creative thinkers and entrepreneurs from across the country to discuss how we can tackle some of our biggest challenges. Since then, we have received over 20,000 nominations of people who are helping to improve the lives of their fellow Americans and people around the world. 

SXSL is an opportunity for us to celebrate the inspiring work of changemakers across the nation, and to leverage our collective efforts into creating positive change going forward. Get more details here. 

In anticipation of SXSL, take a look at what people are saying:

“President Obama’s willingness to actively engage with millennials and make his policies accessible to younger generations through participation in the culture is one of the qualities that has separated him from other leaders.”

Obama confirmed himself as commander-in-cool with the announcement of the South by South Lawn festival https://t.co/BVwK2uMHQr

— Salon (@Salon) September 27, 2016


Vogue: Leo DiCaprio Is Going to the White House to Discuss Climate Change With President Obama

“DiCaprio’s visit and screening is part of the White House’s upcoming South by South Lawn, a.k.a. Obama’s version of the renowned Austin festival, which will take place on October 3 and will feature panels on ‘ideas, art, and action.’ On the lineup is a diverse group of visitors and events, including DiCaprio’s screening, a talk by artist James Turrell, music by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, as well as a student film festival featuring an appearance by the creators and cast of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things.”

South by South Lawn is the festival we didn’t know we needed. https://t.co/06ECMkmdLP

— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) September 26, 2016

Mashable: Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘Stranger Things’ cast headed to the White House

“Leonardo DiCaprio will join President Obama to speak about climate change as part of South by South Lawn at the White House in October. The President will speak with DiCaprio, a long time climate change activist, and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.”

Revolt TV: The White House’s ‘South by South Lawn’ lineup has been announced

“Earlier this year, the Obamas went to SXSW (or South by Southwest), Austin’s annual music, film, and media festival. And they must have been impressed with what they saw because the First Couple decided to bring their own version to the White House come October 3.”

Will you be heading to D.C. next week for The White House’s ‘South by South Lawn’? https://t.co/I00ElGaGEf

— REVOLT TV (@RevoltTV) September 26, 2016


Rolling Stone: Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘Stranger Things’ Cast Headline South by South Lawn Fest

“In March, President Barack and Michelle Obama visited the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, where they spoke about topics including education, civic engagement, creative thinking and entrepreneurship. The new fest ‘[celebrates] that spirit of innovation.'”

President Obama announces Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Jones, #StrangerThings kids will headline #SXSL fest https://t.co/GR9UwBX4HY pic.twitter.com/7KcHGS172i

— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) September 26, 2016

Bustle: President Obama & Leonardo DiCaprio Are Teaming Up For A Surprising, But Important Reason

“Here’s a riddle: What do Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common? On the surface, not too much — other than the fact that they’re both well-known figures. One is the President of the United States, while the other is an Academy Award-winning actor. But guess what? They share a common belief in improving the environment. The White House announced on Twitter that Obama and DiCaprio are working together and hosting a conversation about climate change. They’re equally passionate about saving the planet.”

Hello Monday:

Great initiative by @WhiteHouse – South by South Lawn: https://t.co/2hpTBxe1t0. Follow it live on October 3rd: https://t.co/SyptDqrwUd pic.twitter.com/Angf0iFzi9

— Hello Monday (@hellomondaycom) September 27, 2016

Condé Nast Traveler: The Obamas Go Out in Style With South by South Lawn

“SXSL wants to be more about social impact and civic engagement than pure entertainment. To do so, the festival will jam three components—the kind of multimedia events usually spread over week-long festivals—into a single day: a series of interactive panels featuring cultural influencers, tech innovators, and community organizers; the White House Student Film Festival, featuring student-made films around the theme ‘The World I Want to Live In'”

Billboard: White House Announces ‘South By South Lawn,’ SXSW-Inspired Micro Festival

“Like its counterpart in Austin, SXSL will be comprised of three parts: Interactive, Film and Music, with the latter featuring a lineup of both well-known and emerging artists. The film portion will feature the 3rd Annual White House Student Film Festival, for kids K-12. The interactive section will include panel discussions with ‘influencers who are using their platforms to bring about positive change.'”

White House announces “South By South Lawn,” SXSW-inspired micro festival https://t.co/TWT8ZaOxie pic.twitter.com/ZNiRqSsJIK

— billboard (@billboard) September 2, 2016

 Join us on October 3rd on WhiteHouse.gov and Facebook and share what you are doing to help make a difference by using #SXSL.

Jazmin Kay is an intern in the Office of Digital Strategy. 


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Arctic Indigenous Leaders Share Priorities in Advance of White House Arctic Science Ministerial

Getting a hands on demonstration from salmon fisherwomen. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Getting a hands on demonstration from salmon fisherwomen. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) 

President Obama visited Alaska in 2015 to observe first-hand the extreme disruptions affecting the Arctic region due to climate change and highlight the role of science in understanding and responding to these changes. While there, he spent time listening to the people who live in Alaska, to learn how climate change is impacting their way of life. Communities around the world are dealing with the effects of climate change, but changes are happening most rapidly and dramatically in the Arctic region. Alaskan communities that have relied on traditional ways of life for centuries are seeing their homes threatened by storm surges and coastal erosion, their land altered by thawing permafrost, and their food security at risk as changes to the ecosystem threaten subsistence hunting and gathering. As President Obama said in Kotzebue, a town that sits 26 miles north of the Arctic Circle: 

“I don’t need to tell people here in Alaska what’s happening. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to make the rest of the country more aware of a changing climate, but you’re already living it… I met Alaska Natives whose way of life that they’ve practiced for centuries is in danger of slipping away.” –President Barack Obama, Kotzebue, Alaska, September 3, 2015.

Moved by what he had seen in the Arctic, President Obama called for the convening of the first-ever Arctic Science Ministerial, to discuss Arctic research and drive forward the pace of international efforts to understand climate effects in the Arctic region. Tomorrow, delegations from 25 governments will meet in the White House to discuss how to respond to Arctic-science challenges; strengthen Arctic observations and data-sharing; expand regional resilience; and incorporate Arctic science in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Alaska Native and Indigenous leaders shared their concerns and priorities with the U.S. delegation to the Arctic Science Ministerial. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)
Alaska Native and Indigenous leaders shared their concerns and priorities with the U.S. delegation to the Arctic Science Ministerial. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)

Today, in order to inform discussions at the Ministerial and continue the important dialogue President Obama has had with Alaskans, more than 30 Alaska Native leaders and representatives from five Indigenous organizations from across the Arctic shared their concerns and priorities with the U.S. delegation to the Ministerial— Dr. John Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Dr. France Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation; and The Honorable Fran Ulmer, former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska and Chair of the Arctic Research Commission.

Attendees of the briefing represented organizations, communities, and issues spanning the Arctic. The unique opportunity for an open dialog with the U.S. delegation to the Arctic Science Ministerial highlighted the importance of science in addressing issues of ecosystem changes and food security. Beyond these fundamental issues, attendees drew attention to the need for increased capacity building to advance rural power production, sanitation, and economic opportunities. As an Arctic Nation—one of only eight—the United States must continue to advance global understanding of the changes taking place in the Arctic and how those changes impact people living there and worldwide.

Tomorrow’s Ministerial seeks to deepen international scientific collaborations while promoting an inclusive approach to decision making in the Arctic, ensuring that policies and actions are based on scientific evidence and the input of Indigenous peoples. Today’s meeting with Arctic Indigenous leaders highlighted the need to deepen collaborations with Alaska Native and Arctic Indigenous people in research and priority-setting. There is an urgency to the issues facing people of the Arctic and all Americans that makes it necessary to sustain and expand the momentum of research and the dialog with Alaska Native and Arctic Indigenous peoples. Only by working together can the emergent issues and challenges facing Arctic people, and all people, be addressed. The Administration’s dialogue with Alaska Native and other Arctic Indigenous peoples is critically important in order to inform ways to address the problems facing the Arctic region as a result of climate change.

Renee Crain Wagner is Policy Advisor and Executive Secretary of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

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Email from Jonathan Swanson: Helping our pros get covered

President and co-founder of Thumbtack Jonathan Swanson sent the below message to a White House email list during the Millennial Outreach and Engagement Summit. Didn’t get the message? Make sure to sign up for the latest updates.

Like most business owners, I spend a lot of time looking at numbers. Are revenues up? Are costs down? The business owners we serve have many different professions — roofer, caterer, personal trainer, to name just a few — but we all share one thing in common: we are all our own accountants.

Health care is one of the most expensive aspects of running a new business. So when we started to survey the professionals we serve, particularly the young professionals, who are starting a new business, I was not surprised to learn that one in three say that health care is on their minds.

That’s why I’m excited to join a conversation about health care at the White House today on how we can help get more young professionals get covered. 

You can watch this event live here:

Availability of benefits like health insurance is a major obstacle to individuals looking to start their businesses. Many of these small business owners continue to struggle to find and keep coverage and are still uninsured in greater numbers than other Americans.

By helping de-couple benefits from traditional employment arrangements, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made a huge difference to many of our professionals, including young entrepreneurs, who are now able to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until the age of 26 or to buy affordable coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or HealthCare.gov. As Joe, a photographer from Maryland, told us, “Before Obamacare, I never would have been able to start my business.”

We understand that the ACA has stirred passions from all quarters, but there is no question that making benefits like health care available to more individuals makes it easier for people to start and run their own small businesses. As Nicole, a wellness professional from California, told us:

“I have several pre-existing medical conditions and had been without health insurance for quite some time. When the new system came out, I was finally able to get coverage. Knowing that I will always be able to see a doctor has lifted a giant weight off my shoulders.”

At Thumbtack, we are honored to be part of helping entrepreneurs like Nicole step out on their own — and it benefits our economy as a whole. And it’s why we’ll keep sharing information about health care and the upcoming Open Enrollment period starting on November 1 with them.

You can watch today’s conversation here.

Jonathan Swanson
President and Cofounder, Thumbtack.com

Need health insurance? Find out if you qualify today.

Get Covered

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Engaging Campuses to Help Americans #GetCovered

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 20 million more Americans have gained coverage, and the nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever. At the same time, we have seen the slowest growth in the price of health care in 50 years. Access to affordable, quality health care is critically important for young people as they reach adulthood and enter the job market. It gives them peace of mind that allows them to focus on their studies, helps them stay healthy as they join the workforce, and is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class. Since the ACA was enacted, over 6 million young adults have gained coverage.

As the President’s Chief of Staff, I have spent a lot of time working on health care, and especially on reaching out to young folks.  During past open enrollment periods, I dedicated many hours to calling into sports radio shows in the hopes of connecting with young men, who all too often have something of an invincibility complex and don’t get covered.  I know something about that because I felt the same way when I played football at St. John’s University.

While we’ve made tremendous strides, we have more work to do, given that the remaining uninsured are disproportionately young. And we know, anecdotally and through research, that the perceived lack of affordability may hinder them from buying health insurance. Millennials may not realize they can probably get a Marketplace plan for $75 a month or less – cheaper than their cell phone bill.

Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace is just five weeks away, starting on November 1 and running through January 31. Ahead of that, today at our first-ever Affordable Care Act Millennial Outreach and Enrollment Summit, we are excited to launch the White House Healthy Campus Challenge.

A joint effort between the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education, the Challenge will engage college and university campuses in enrollment efforts nationwide. We will work with administrators, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local community leaders and elected officials to reach the uninsured both on campus and in the surrounding community, sharing best practices with them that have worked during prior open enrollment periods.

This Challenge asks campus organizations to commit to by November 1 and act on by December 15 a set of enrollment best practices, such as hosting open-enrollment activities on campus and sending reminder emails to students and others around deadlines. And if campuses do so, they will be recognized by the President as a Healthy Campus and will be entered into a lottery for a chance to attend Healthy Campus Day at the White House in January in our final push towards the January 31st open enrollment deadline.

While we will work with all types of colleges and universities, we will focus our attention on community colleges, since community college students may not be able to get covered through their college or may not have access to coverage through parents’ plan.

More broadly, the Healthy Campus Challenge is a natural fit with the work President Obama and this Administration has done to expand access to educational opportunities for young adults, including by championing free community college. After all, access to a high-quality education and affordable health care are the foundation of the path to the middle class. So we are hopeful that this Challenge will succeed in empowering campuses across the country to enroll young Americans not just for the semesters ahead, but for years to come. 

Today, no millennial has to learn the hard way what can happen without health insurance. Millennials have boundless opportunities before them. They’re more educated and more diverse than any other generation. They’re technologically savvy and highly innovative. And thanks to the ACA, they have better health insurance options than their parents did when they were young – options that are accessible, affordable, and high quality.

Learn more about the Healthy Campus Challenge.

Sign your schools up for the Healthy Campus Challenge here.

Sign Up

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Asked and Answered: A President for Indian Country

This is the latest post in our “Asked and Answered” series, in which we periodically feature an exchange between the President or a Senior Administration Official and an American who wrote him. If you’d like to write the President yourself, you can do so here.

As a candidate visiting the Crow Nation in Montana in May 2008, President Obama pledged to host an annual summit with tribal leaders to ensure that tribal nations have a seat at the table when facing important decisions about their communities. Today, the President hosts the eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference of his Presidency.

We’ve made historic progress to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship and build a more prosperous and resilient Indian Country—helped by countless tribal leaders and youth who have worked alongside the President to make change. One of those leaders is Lindsay Early, a member of the Comanche Tribe who has dedicated her career to lifting up her community, and who wrote the President earlier this year.

Read the letter from Lindsay:

Lindsay Early's letter to President Obama

Lindsay's letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,


I am a proud enrolled member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma and a recent graduate of the University Of Oklahoma College Of Law. I wanted to take a few moments to thank you for all of the hard work you and First Lady Michelle Obama have done on behalf of Indian Country. As the end of your second term is quickly approaching, I wanted to offer some native insight on just how effective your policies have been in Indian Country.


Like you, I came from very humble beginnings. My single mother did the best she could to raise me. We struggled with many problems that are common to Native Americans; poor healthcare, poverty, lack of access to jobs, and addiction were prevalent in my community. We lived with different relatives and friends, and sometimes even lived in our car. I worked hard and excelled in school, and was fortunate to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship and went on to become the first in my family to graduate from college. During my freshman year of college, my best friend and I skipped our classes, put on our Barack the Vote tee-shirts, and scrounged up enough gas money to travel four hours to Dallas to go see the promising young Senator from Chicago.


At the rally, we met people of all ages, races, and creeds. Despite our different circumstances, we were all united by the common hope for change and better opportunities. When it was time for you to speak, the crowd grew quiet, anxious to hear your plans for this great country of ours. In the speech, you promised you would always do your best to represent all Americans. When you mentioned plans to represent African Americans, the crowd erupted. When you spoke about the importance of the Latino vote, the crowd once again let out a roaring cheer. Lastly, you mentioned that you would do your best to represent Native Americans. Two little voices screamed as loud as we could from the balcony. You answered back, “I hear you girls, and when I am elected, I won’t forget you!”


We were absolutely ecstatic. You see, President Obama, this was the first time we had ever heard any presidential candidate mention Native Americans. This was the first time any presidential candidate had made us feel that we mattered and our voices were important. You made me feel that through hard work and determination, anyone can achieve the American dream, and you were right.


After law school, I returned home to my tribe and accepted a position advising the Comanche Nation Chairman. My position requires me to keep our tribal leaders apprised of federal policies and proposed legislation regarding water rights, economic development, sovereignty, natural resources, and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Because of this, I know firsthand how your policies have reinvigorated Indian Country and allowed tribes the opportunities to continue working hard to improve the lives of our citizens.


Just as witnessing you speak in Dallas changed the course of my life, your presidency has positively changed how Indian Country interacts with our national decision makers. By vetoing the Keystone Pipeline, you helped us protect our sacred sites. By tackling climate change head on, you have insured that our planet will be safe for generations to come. The passage of the Affordable Care Act provided critical healthcare to members of tribes who otherwise might not be able to afford it. The Tribal Law and Order Act allowed tribes increased jurisdiction to prosecute those that threaten the safety and welfare of our citizens. By speaking out against the Washington football team name, you have reminded us that we deserve the same treatment as any other group in this great nation of ours. The Generation Indigenous initiative has ensured that our Native American youth reach their full potential, teaching them that their contributions are important to this country and that they too are worthy of achieving the American Dream. The White House Tribal Nations Conferences have given tribes what we have so desperately fought for- a seat at the table, a chance for our voices to be heard. I can visibly see and feel the differences in Indian Country in the seven years you have been in office, and for that I want to thank you.


You have managed to do for Native Americans what no president has done before, President Obama. You promised during that speech in Dallas that when you where in office, you wouldn’t forget about us. Thank you for keeping your promise! I am so proud to call you my President. May the Creator continue to bless you and your family, and continue to bless the United States of America.



Lindsay Early,

United States Citizen and Member of the Comanche Nation


The President’s response to Lindsay:

President Obama's response to Lindsay

Dear Lindsay:

I read the letter you wrote earlier this year, and it meant a lot that you took the time to send it. You’re right that I’ve worked pretty hard to fulfill my campaign promises—I’ve always believed that the success of our tribal communities is tied to the success of America as a whole, and it’s heartening to hear that my Administration’s efforts to build a true nation-to-nation relationship with tribes like yours have made a difference.


It sounds to me like you’ve been working hard to make a difference too, and I trust you take pride in how far you’ve come since your freshman year of college. It’s a tremendous privilege to serve as your President, but far more than my being in Office, I suspect it’s the passion and dedication of folks like you that have truly changed our country for the better.


Thank you for writing, and for everything you’ve put into reaching for the brighter future we all deserve. Voices like yours give me great hope for what’s to come, and I trust you’ll keep at it!


All the best,

President Obama


We’ve come a long way together—but there’s still work to do for Indian Country and for all Americans. Let’s keep moving forward. Tune in to live coverage of the Tribal Nations Conference throughout the day today, including remarks by the President.

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South by South Lawn: An Interactive Discussion

South by South Lawn

South by South Lawn, an event inspired by South by Southwest, is bringing together creators, innovators, and organizers who work day in and day out to improve the lives of their fellow Americans and people around the world. Join the conversation on Monday, October 3 to be part of the discussion on how we can leverage what we know to create the change we want to see. 

Alongside interactive booths on new technologies and innovations, don’t miss the panel discussions throughout the day that will explore topics including Fixing Real Problems, Feeding the Future, LA: A Case Study in Innovation, and How We Make Change.

Here are the details: 

President Obama in Conversation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

President Obama will join a conversation with Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about the importance of protecting the one planet we’ve got for future generations. 


Leonardo DiCaprio is an Academy Award-winning actor, producer, and activist.

He founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998 for biodiversity and habitat conservation, and climate change solutions. He is as a UN Messenger of Peace for Climate, and a recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award and the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. DiCaprio serves on the boards of World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, Oceans 5, and International Fund for Animal Welfare.


President Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States. 

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is an accomplished climate scientist from Texas Tech University who has been named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people, Foreign Policy’s 100 global thinkers, and Politico’s 50 visionaries transforming American politics. Her new PBS Digital Studio series, Global Weirding: Climate, Religion and Politics, defies stereotypes about the politics of religion and science to explore the connection between our values and our response to our changing climate.

Obama and Leo panel
Leonardo DiCaprio, President Barack Obama, Katharine Hayhoe

Breakfast Session at the Newseum

Hard Things are Hard: A Conversation with James Turrell and David Adjaye  

On the President’s desk there’s a plaque that reads, “Hard things are hard.”  For artist James Turrell and architect David Adjaye, taking on the hard work has motivated them to push physical limits, build audacious structures, and consistently challenge the standards of art and architecture. For over half a century, Turrell has worked with light and space to create works that challenge the limits of human perception. Since the late 1970s, he has been working on Roden Crater, a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone in Northern Arizona. Adjaye, has designed innovative structures around the world including to London’s Rivington Place, the Nobel Peace Center in Norway, and D.C’s newest landmark, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To kick-off SXSL, Turrell and Adjaye will discuss the challenges and rewards of taking on the “hard things” through their groundbreaking projects. 

Fixing Real Problems

How can we harness technology to solve our biggest, most stubborn problems?

At South by Southwest earlier this year, President Obama called on the tech community to focus its attention on making America and the world more tolerant, fair, healthy, and full of opportunities. This panel will explore the work of entrepreneurs and social innovators who are leveraging new technologies to address some of our most critical challenges – and ask you to think about how you might lend your own time and efforts toward lasting change.


Jenna Wortham is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine where she writes on a wide range of topics, including technology and culture. She also co-hosts a podcast, “Still Processing,” with Wesley Morris.


Stewart Butterfield is the co-founder and CEO of Slack, a messaging app for teams that’s used by 3 million people every day, including teams at eBay, Conde Nast, and Airbnb. 

Stewart has built a distinguished career as a designer, entrepreneur, and technologist. He co-founded Flickr in 2003, was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine and one of BusinessWeek’s Top 50 Leaders, and has been featured in hundreds of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, BBC, and the Financial Times.

Jukay Hsu is the founder of Coalition for Queens (C4Q), which creates pathways out of poverty through technology in the world’s most diverse community. C4Q increases graduate income from $18,000 to $85,000. After graduating from Harvard, he served in the U.S. Army and earned the Bronze Star medal in Iraq. He serves as Trustee of the Queens Public Library; Director of NYC & Company, New York City Water Board, and Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector.

Chris Redlitz is the Managing Partner of Transmedia Capital, a venture firm located in San Francisco. In 2010, Chris and his wife Beverly Parenti co-founded The Last Mile, a California based technology training program for incarcerated men and women, the most progressive prison training program in the United States. Their goal is to expand The Last Mile nationally within the next 5 years.

Nina Tandon is CEO and co-founder of EpiBone, the world’s first company growing living human bones for skeletal reconstruction. She is the co-author of Super Cells: Building with Biology, a book that explores the new frontier of biotech. Her PhD research focused on studying electrical signaling in the context of tissue engineering, and she has worked with cardiac, skin, bone, and neural tissue.

Tech panel bios
Jenna Wortham, Stewart Butterfield, Jukay Hsu, Chris Redlitz, Nina Tandon

Feeding the Future

How will we sustainably feed ourselves in the coming decades?

Ballooning populations, evolving diets, and a changing climate present serious obstacles to our future food supply. This panel will introduce us to some of the people leading the charge to make food more accessible, sustainable, and healthy, as well as explore the role you can play  to best prepare for the future of food in your own community. 


Danielle Gould is the founder of Food+Tech Connect, the site of record for the world’s largest community for food tech and innovation. Food+Tech Connect’s newsletter, website, events and consulting help entrepreneurs, executives and investors transform the food industry. Since 2010, Danielle has been the leading voice for leveraging new technology, investment and business models to create a better food future. She is also a founding member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Business Leadership Council, a member of the Google Innovation Lab For Food Experiences and mentor for AccelFoods and Food-X. In 2015, Danielle was named one of the ‘Most Innovative Women in Food’ by Fortune and Food & Wine Magazines. 


Will Allen is the founder and CEO of Growing Power, a not-for-profit center for urban agriculture training and building community food security systems. Growing Power is involved in more than 70 projects and outreach programs in Milwaukee, across the United States, and throughout the world. In 2008, Will was awarded the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” and named a McArthur Fellow. 

Maria Rose Belding is a food insecurity researcher and writer currently serving as the co-founder and executive director of the MEANS Database, a nonprofit communications platform for food pantries and their donors in 46 states and D.C. Maria Rose is an undergraduate student in public health and pre-med at American University.

Caleb Harper is the principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAG) at the MIT Media Lab. Under his guidance, a diverse group of engineers, architects, urbanists, economists and plant scientists (what he calls an “anti-disciplinary group”) is developing an open-source agricultural hardware, software and data commons aiming to create a more agile, transparent and collaborative food system.

Nikiko Masumoto is a farmer on the Masumoto Family Farm.  Born in the Central Valley of California, Nikiko spent her childhood slurping over-ripe peaches on her family’s 80-acre organic farm. She has never missed a summer harvest and now works full time on the farm. She returned to farm with degrees in Gender & Women’s Studies (UC Berkeley) and Performance as Public Practice (UT Austin). Her passion for arts and activism is woven with her love of the land and dreams of a sustainable future.

Food panel bios
Danielle Gould, Will Allen, Maria Rose Belding, Caleb Harper, Nikiko Masumoto

How We Make Change

What role do citizens have in bringing real and lasting change to our country?

“America is not the project of any one person,” President Obama said in Selma last year. “The single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’” Indeed, unelected citizens seeking change—people channeling the power of “We”—have been behind some of the biggest social and economic movements of the past eight years, from achieving landmark victories in the struggle for LGBT rights to shining a new light on the enduring struggle for civil rights. These agents of change have transformed hashtags into movements and delivered real progress in our society. Find out how they did it, and what you can do to bring about the change you want to see in the world.


Representative John Lewis is a civil rights leader and the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, which he has served since 1987.


Anil Dash is an entrepreneur, activist and writer who advocates for a more humane, inclusive and ethical technology industry. He cofounded Makerbase, an online community for people who make apps and websites, and Activate, a boutique management consultancy which defines strategies for companies in media and technology. Anil serves as a board member for companies and non-profits aligned with his advocacy: Stack Overflow, Data & Society Research Institute, NY Tech Alliance, Cash Music, and the Lower East Side Girls Club. He also advises major startups and non-profits including Medium and DonorsChoose.


Brittany Packnett is an educator and activist from St. Louis, MO. She has been a teacher, legislative advocate, education executive, and currently serves as Vice President of National Community Alliances at Teach For America, building the organization’s first-ever civil rights and equity agenda. Committed to ending injustice, Brittany is a protestor, sits on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,  and co-founded Campaign Zero. She is one of TIME’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership and one of Politico’s top 50 influencers of 2016.

Carmen Rojas is the CEO of The Workers Lab, an innovation lab that invests in entrepreneurs, community organizers, and technologists to develop new ways to build power for working people in the US. The Workers Lab invests capital, offers business development training, and connects ventures to a broad network of supporters.  She has over 15 years’ experience working with organizations to test revenue models & exploring the range of capital vehicles that can scale power building.  Carmen holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the UC Berkeley and was a Fulbright Scholar.

Evan Wolfson was the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign that won marriage for same-sex couples in the U.S., and is widely considered the architect of the strategy that led to nationwide victory in 2015. Having achieved the goal he pursued for 32 years, Wolfson now advises and assists diverse movements and causes in the U.S. and globally, eager to adapt the model and apply the lessons that made the Freedom to Marry campaign so successful.

Change panel bios
Congressman John Lewis, Anil Dash, Brittany Packnett, Carmen Rojas, Evan Wolfson

LA, a Case Study in Innovation

How do we foster innovation and collaboration in cities and local communities?

Los Angeles offers some good lessons. While the city owes part of its dynamism to the growing presence of new tech and media firms, its progress has been driven by leaders in non-profits, government, and social innovation working together to brighten the future for the City of Angels. Find out how they’re doing it, and get inspired to improve the dynamism and resilience in the community where you live. 


Jonathan Gold is the Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. He was formerly the critic at LA Weekly and Gourmet. He is also a regular on KCRW’s Good Food radio program. Jonathan has a reputation for being a curious eater, and his portraits of restaurants off the beaten path have helped introduce Los Angelenos to new cultures and new cuisines.


Yael Aflalo is the founder and CEO of Reformation, a leader in sustainable fashion. Yael began her career as a designer before going on to launch her first clothing line, Ya-Ya, in 1999. During her time at Ya-Ya, Yael took notice to the environmentally destructive norms of the fashion industry – from overprinting look books to overseas production. Yael is dedicated to transforming the prevailing, harmful retail practices of the fashion industry and is paving the path for how the fashion industry defines green.

Krisztina ‘Z’ Holly is an MIT-trained engineer and tech entrepreneur. She’s the host of The Art of Manufacturing podcast and Chief Instigator of LA Mayor Garcetti’s MAKE IT IN LA initiative. She created the first ever TEDx (TEDxUSC) and founded MIT and USC innovation centers that launched dozens of faculty startups. Her early startup days were at Stylus innovation (acquired by Artisoft), Direct Hit (Ask Jeeves) and Jeeves Solutions (Kanisa). She lives and plays in Los Angeles.

Oscar Menjivar is the founder and CEO of URBAN Teens Exploring Technology (URBAN TxT), a nonprofit organization that helps inner-city youth develop leadership, coding and entrepreneurial skills through the use of technology. Oscar’s work as a social innovator has put him at the intersection of technology and education, including work as a consultant for The Riordan Foundation advising school executives on how to implement technology in the classroom. Oscar received his Master’s degree from Pepperdine in learning technology and his Bachelor’s in Science in Computer Information Systems.

Brian Mullins has consistently been on the forefront of technology and is a pioneer in the field of Augmented Reality (AR), Human Machine Interface, and Computer Vision. Prior to DAQRI, Brian worked at the Computer-Aided Operational Research Facility operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and spent time as a consultant to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego. Brian holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

LA panel bios
Jonathan Gold, Yael Aflalo, Krisztina “Z” Holly, Oscar Menjivar, Brian Mullins

SXSL: Get the Details

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Congressman John Lewis on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Congressman John Lewis sent the below message to the White House email list — if you didn’t get the message, you can sign up here for updates.

Watch Rep. John Lewis and President Obama speak at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I’ve been waiting to see this day for 15 years — and in some ways, my whole life.

I’ve loved history ever since I was a little boy. Growing up in the oppressive shadow of Jim Crow, my teachers would ask me to cut out photographs I found in magazines and newspapers of Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and other marchers for justice. I read about Booker T. Washington, reveled in the sounds of the Jubilee Singers, and prayed for a King to reach the mountaintop.

To me, history is the foundation of a powerful legacy, and it is important to tell the stories of the millions of black men and women, boys and girls, who labored and sacrificed, and continue the struggle, to build this great nation.

When I learned of the decades-long effort to establish a national museum dedicated to preserving that too often untold story, I readily joined the effort. Every session of Congress for 15 years, I introduced a bill to create this national museum.

While the journey has been long, today the history of African Americans will finally take its place on the National Mall next to the monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson — exactly where it belongs. 

It is important that The National Museum of African American History and Culture tells the unvarnished truth of America’s history — a story that speaks to the soul of our nation, but one few Americans know.

It’s a reminder that 400 years of history can’t be buried; its lessons must be learned. By bringing the uncomfortable parts of our past out of the shadows, we can better understand what divides us and seek to heal those problems through our unity.

If we look at the glass-topped casket that displayed the brutalized body of Emmett Till and hear his story, we may better understand the exasperation and anger Americans feel today over the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice.

If we see that an everyday leather wallet is what’s left of Harry T. Moore —  a man who fought for the right to vote and died in a bombing meant to silence his activism on Christmas Day in 1951 – perhaps we will see why so many are fighting to protect any encroachment on that most sacred right today.

And as we look at the exhibit dedicated to an African American who now leads the free world from a White House built by black slaves, we can better understand the unshakeable optimism that has defined his belief that — with dedicated work and a little good trouble — we can help create a society that is more fair and more just, which benefits all Americans.

This museum casts a light on some of the most inspiring — and uniquely American — heroes who were denied equal rights but often laid down their lives to defend this nation in every generation.  Often they profited least from the struggle they were willing to die for because they believed that the promises of true democracy should belong to us all, equally and without question.

I hope you will join me and President Obama for the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today.

When you hear about the heroes memorialized in its halls, you may discover the depths of the invincible American spirit. As we learn and confront this history together, we can begin to build one inclusive, and truly democratic family — the American family.

Rep. John Lewis

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Weekly Address: Celebrating the National Museum of African American History and Culture

In this week’s address, President Obama commemorated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The President recognized the museum for celebrating the many accomplishments of the African American community – and for telling the fuller story of America by facing the uncomfortable truths of our Nation’s history all while embracing the knowledge that America is a constant work in progress.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture not only tells the African American story – it tells the American story. By telling the fuller account of the American story, the President said, the museum will give all of us a chance to reflect and set the course for generations to come.

Transcript | mp4 | mp3



Celebrating African American History at the White House

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Celebrating African American History at the White House

Watch President Obama speak at a White House reception for the Museum of African American History & Culture at 4:20 pm ET.

Tomorrow, President Obama will welcome our newest addition to the National Mall: the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a museum dedicated to telling a fuller story of America through the history of African Americans.

As we celebrate the central role that African Americans have played in the life and history of our country, we also celebrate the African Americans whose labor and service helped shape one of the most powerful pillars of our democracy – the People’s House.

Ahead of the dedication ceremony, President Obama will deliver remarks at a White House reception for the museum’s opening. Here’s a look at some of what guests who are attending the reception will see as they walk through the residence and experience the African American history of the White House.

The Slaves and Servants Who Built and Served the White House

The White House was built by slaves. Some of the slaves’ names were Peter, Tom, Ben, and Harry, some were skilled carpenters, and two of them were enslaved to the chief architect of the White House, James Hoban.

The Diplomatic Reception Room was known as the “Servant’s Hall,” where African American slaves and servants lived. One of the most well-known slaves who worked under President James Madison was Paul Jennings, who wrote an early White House memoir and was involved in an 1848 plan to undertake a large-scale escape of slaves from Washington, D.C. aboard the schooner Pearl.

Dolly Johnson, Paul Jennings, Elizabeth Keckley
The White House kitchen and several servant rooms were located on the ground floor of the Executive Mansion in the 19th century. Dolly Johnson, President Benjamin Harrison’s cook, can be seen in this photograph in the family kitchen. Johnson came to the White House in 1889, with the Benjamin Harrison family and stayed through four presidential administrations. Often damp and moldy, the ground floor was a difficult place for the White House staff to work and live. (1584) (Library of Congress)

Front Seat to History

For years, the White House has recognized filmmakers and actors who have influenced American history by showcasing notable films in the Family Theater, hosting screenings at the White House, honoring recipients of the Presidential Medals of Freedom and Arts, and organizing other events featuring aspiring youth talent. President Obama has continued that tradition by honoring creative works that have brought about conversations on race and inclusion in America. From screening of Red Tails for retired Tuskegee Airmen, to honoring Sidney Poitier, to hosting panel discussions on shows that address slavery such as Roots and Underground, the White House has highlighted the importance of recognizing America’s past, no matter how dark, and how it has helped to shape our future.

Red Tails

Sidney Poitier
President Barack Obama hugs Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient actor Sidney Poitier during the award ceremony in the East Room of the White House, on Aug. 12, 2009.


Keeping the Drum Beat Going

Throughout history, the White House has hosted performances from African American artists who, through music, have expressed the full range of the American experience.

Before there was Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, Thomas Greene Bethune, also known as “Blind Tom,” was a musical prodigy and the first African American artist to have performed at the White House at the young age of 10 for President James Buchanan. Born a slave in 1849, Tom was known to have played the piano like Beethoven and Mozart and could repeat long sheet music after only hearing it once.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers — a choir from the Fisk School in Nashville, Tennessee that first opened its doors during the Civil War for former slaves — became the first African American choir to perform at the White House in 1882. One of their songs, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” was said to have moved President Chester A. Arthur to tears. The group was awarded the 2008 National Medal of Arts during the Administration of President George W. Bush.

Blind Tom
Blind Tom
Fisk Jubilee Singers
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choir from the Fisk School in Nashville, Tennessee that first opened its doors during the Civil War for former slaves, became the first African American choir to perform at the White House in 1882. They performed spiritual songs that were known to possess deep “emotional beauty.” One of their songs, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” was said to have moved President Arthur to tears. The group was awarded the 2008 National Medal of Arts during the Administration of President George W. Bush. (Library of Congress)
Grace Bumbry
President John F. Kennedy talks with mezzo-soprano opera singer Grace Bumbry in the East Room following Ms. Bumbry’s performance at a dinner in honor of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives John W. McCormack, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. (1962) (John F. Kennedy Library)
B.B. King
This photograph shows iconic American blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter B.B. King performing in the East Room for a celebration of Black Music Month on June 26, 2006. His performance focused on music of the Gulf Coast. (George W. Bush Presidential Library/National Archives)
Duke Ellington
This photograph by the National Park Service’s Abbie Rowe is of President Richard M. Nixon and Duke Ellington and was taken on April 29, 1969 during a program honoring Ellington’s seventieth birthday. Ellington (1899-1974) was a prolific musician, composer and band leader who wrote numerous songs that became classics of American jazz. At this celebration, Ellington was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to American music. (National Archives)
Dizzy Gillespie
This photograph of President Jimmy Carter on stage at a White House jazz concert was taken on June 18, 1978. Carter appears in the photograph with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (center) and percussionist Max Roach (right), performing Gillespie’s tune “Salt Peanuts.” (White House Historical Association)
Ella Fitzgerald
President Gerald R. Ford Congratulating Jazz Singer Ella Fitzgerald Following Her Performance at a White House Concert for Members of the Diplomatic Corps to Celebrate the American Revolution Bicentennial, 7/20/1976.
Stevie Wonder
This photograph by an unknown photographer is of American singer, musician, and Motown icon Stevie Wonder performing at the White House. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2014. (William J. Clinton Presidential Library)


Protect and Serve

African Americans have been an integral part of protecting our safety and that of the President of the United States. Although many who served were not recognized at the time and faced hurdles because of the color of their skin, that didn’t stop them from honorably fulfilling their duties for this nation. From the veterans who risked their lives for comrades, to the first African American members of the Armed Forces who stood alone amongst a regiment of all white soldiers, to the slaves who fought for the promise of equality, to the Secret Service members whose sacrifice often went unrecognized, these heroes believed in a brighter future even when the odds were stacked against them.

A list of African American Medal of Honor recipients is on display in the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

Edward Williams (right) of St. Louis, Missouri, exchanges a handshake with his Commander-in-Chief, President Harry S. Truman (left), at a casual meeting during the President’s morning walk. Williams had been in the Air Force nine years at the time of this photograph. October 12, 1950.

Historic Meetings

An invitation to the White House has held both symbolic power and a platform to voice the American experience.

This photograph shows President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with members of the civil rights movement and leaders of the March on Washington in the Oval Office. (1963) (John F. Kennedy Library/National Archives)
Rosa Parks
William J. Clinton presents Rosa Parks the Medal of Freedom in the Oval Office (She was awarded in a special ceremony since she was unable to attend the larger ceremony held 9/9/96 due to weather issues with her flight to DC). September 14, 1996.
Eisenhower and MLK
Dwight D. Eisenhower receives a group of prominent civil rights leaders. Left to Right: Lester Granger, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., E. Frederic Morrow, DDE, A. Philip Randolph, William Rogers, Rocco Siciliano, and Roy Wilkins. June 23, 1958.
Wilma Rudolph
This photograph taken by the Department of State shows President John F. Kennedy meeting with American athlete Wilma Rudolph in the Oval Office. Rudolph was a triple Olympic gold medalist in track and field during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. She was considered the fastest woman in the world, and at the time of this photograph, was also a student at Tennessee State College in Nashville.

Presidential Appointments

The quiet sacrifices White House staff members have made in service of our country often reached beyond the long hours and high demands of their jobs. In face of the challenges they faced, their perseverance to show up every day to work and see their contribution as part of a vision larger than themselves paved the way for change.

Clifford Alexander
President Carter greeting Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander, July 19, 1980. (Ronald Regan Presidential Library)
E. Frederic Morrow
E. Frederic Morrow
Andrew Hatcher
Associate Press Secretary Andrew Hatcher under President John F. Kennedy (1961) (John F. Kennedy Library)

“The Butler”

African American butlers and housekeepers have served the White House for decades. Their dedication and resilience behind the scenes inevitably empowered others, as portrayed in Lee Daniels’ film adaptation of the experience of African American butlers in the White House.

BLOCK QUOTE: “The most memorable moment I had at the White House is seeing my mother walk up North Portico, all alone, to visit me and George and Barbara Bush in their personal quarters…She was so nervous, but enjoyed herself. I said to myself well, my mother is just as important as all those kings and queens. I’m going to have my queen do it.” – Former White House Butler George Hannie

Eugene Allen
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy attends a luncheon for senators’ wives in the State Dining Room of the White House, Washington, D.C. Pictured here: White House butlers, Johnny Johnson, John W. Ficklin, and Eugene Allen. (1962) (John F. Kennedy Library)
Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith, North Portico, c. 1889 – Jerry Smith started working at the White House during the the Ulysses S. Grant administration in the late 1860s, and served as butler, cook, doorman, and footman until his retirement some 35 years later. He was often seen with his signature feather duster. Shortly before dying at age 69 in 1904, Smith was visited at his home by President Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress)
Maitre D’ John Ficklin
Matire D’ John Ficklin


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A Six-Year-Old's Letter to the President: "We Will Give Him a Family"

This summer, the world was shocked by a photo of a young Syrian boy, sitting silently in an ambulance after an air strike on Aleppo, covered in blood and dust. The boy, Omran, became an iconic image of the toll the conflict in Syria is taking on its people and the ongoing refugee crisis it has created. 

In a politically caustic environment, it is not surprising that some have reacted with fear and suspicion to the idea of welcoming refugees to our shores. But not Alex. Alex is six years old and lives just outside of New York City with his mom, dad, and little sister Catherine. When Alex saw what had happened to Omran, he sat down at his kitchen table and wrote President Obama a letter. “Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home],” he asked. “We’ll be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother.” 

In the Leaders Summit on Refugees this week, President Obama shared that letter with the world leaders that had gathered together to discuss what they could do to solve the global refugee crisis. 

The humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from, or how they look, or how they pray, and who just understands the notion of treating somebody that is like him with compassion, with kindness — we can all learn from Alex.


The President also shared his story on Facebook. 

You can read the full letter here: 

Alex letter page 1

Alex letter page 2

Alexletter page 3


Dear President Obama, 

Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan.

Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won’t bring toys and doesn’t have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine’s lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn’t let anyone touch it. 

Thank you very much! I can’t wait for you to come!


6 years old 

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