Detroit Evening Report: Former President Obama makes surprise Detroit appearance during Kresge Foundation centennial celebration at DIA

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President Barack Obama participated in a fireside chat with Kresge CEO & President Rip Rapson as part of the foundation’s centennial celebration on June 11, 2024, in Detroit.

President Barack Obama participated in a fireside chat with Kresge CEO & President Rip Rapson as part of the foundation’s centennial celebration on June 11, 2024, in Detroit.

The Kresge Foundation celebrated its 100th anniversary Tuesday night with a special event at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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Hundreds of Detroit notables showed up at the Detroit Institute of Arts to honor the foundation’s efforts since 1924 to move the city…and humanity forward. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Kresge has made a real difference in the city.

“In that hundred years ,they’ve given away $5 billion. A billion of it in the city of Detroit.”

Guests watched a short film on the history of the philanthropic organization started by Sebastian Kresge — founder of the Kresge and Kmart stores — and listened to musical performances by Detroit blues singer Thornetta Davis and the Detroit Youth Choir.

But the highlight of the evening was a conversation between Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson and a surprise special guest — former President Barack Obama.

Obama said cities like Detroit are more important than ever because of the way they bring people of different backgrounds and different viewpoints together.

The Kresge Foundation has played a key role in the creation of the QLine light rail system and the Marygrove Conservancy, which turned the former college into an education center in Northwest Detroit.

The foundation was also a key player in the “Grand Bargain” that saved pensions for city employees and prevented the sale of artwork at the DIA during Detroit’s bankruptcy a decade ago.

The 44th U.S. President acknowledged how far the city has come since his days in the White House.

“Mayor Duggan came in, and congratulations to him for having exactly the attitude that the city needed at that point, which was not an ideological blocking — fixing street lamps, getting abandoned, dangerous buildings pulled down, revitalizing with the limited resources to the city and parts of the city that really needed help. And I could not have been prouder of the progress that was made,” Obama said during his conversation with Rapson.

However, Obama stated there is still progress that needs to be made.

“I think everybody here, including your report, can acknowledge there’s still more progress to be done — you’re looking at 30 to 40 years of disinvestment and racial conflict and decisions that were often made from outside the city that made it more difficult for residents in the city to access opportunity. Some of those legacies still exist today.”

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  • Jerome Vaughn
    Jerome Vaughn is News Director at 101.9 WDET. His interest in news reporting began when he was five years old, after his mom bought him a yellow Panasonic ball and chain radio.