tv Barack Obama on Fatherhood Leadership and Legacy AC360 Special CNN December 25, 2021 1:00pm-2:00pm PST
welcome to this ac 360 special, barack obama on fatherhood, leadership and legacy. after leaving the white house prdz mostly stayed out of politics though he did campaign for president biden. the former president and former first lady have signed production deals with netflix. they both started podcasts and mr. obama has continued his work with the program he launched while he was in the white house called my brother's keeper. it is now part of the obama foundation. its mission is to provide support for what it calls pathways of opportunity to young men of color. it's a deeply personal mission for president biden who grew up
hardly knowing his own father and who by his own account didn't find his way until his late teens. he writes about that as well as how he balanced governing on being a husband and a dad in the book "the promiseland." he was visiting with a group of young men who was part of my brother's keeper who talked about their lives and the challenges they face. >> are you going back to community organizing? >> well, i -- probably i'm a little too gray-haired and old to be going door to door like i used to be and plus secret service still follows me around so i'm pretty disriuptive, but am going back to what inspired me to get into public life. >> one of the things that inspires former president barack obama these days are meetings like this one. >> hey, people! ? hey, hey. >> it's called a bam circle. bam stands for becoming a man, a
program that started in chicago in 2001 to mentor support boys and young men. >> how is everybody doing? >> the idea is to create a place for them to safely and honestly share their struggles and successes, issues at home, in school or on the streets. president obama first joined a bam circle in 2013. that's when he met james adams, lazarus daniels and christian s champagne. today in the same classroom they sat in, on the south side of chicago, mr. obama is catching up with them again. >> it was so crazy that first period they went to class it was, like, i'm going to meet the president at my lunch and that was the most inconceivable thing you can think of and my heart was racing and when he just walked in, i'm forever grateful and it changed the trajectory of my life dramatically. [ applause ]
>> that meeting had a big impact on president obama, as well. one of the things that led him to launch an initiative called my brother's keeper which he announced at the white house in 2014. christian, lazarus and james were there. >> when you went to d.c., that was your first time out of chicago, right? >> so that was my first plane ride and that was really my first time being out of my neighborhood. >> good afternoon. >> good afternoon. >> christian champagne was 18 years old at the time. >> he sat down with us and shared your story and to my surprise, he was just like me, growing up without a father, and sometimes not too concerned with school. [ laughter ] >> okay. that's pretty nice that this is a black president grew up without a father and some of the guys grew up without a father is
relatable and it's not just oh, he had it made from the jump and he's the president. i can relate to him. mr. obama has been candid about the struggles of his youth. he hopes sharing his story will inspire other kids to believe they, too, can accomplish great things. >> i made bad choices. i got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. >> you said you were a lackadaisical student, passionate basketball player of limited talent and an incessant dedicated partier. no student government for me, no eagle scouts and local interning. >> no -- i was -- i have to be careful not to overstate. i was not, you know, going around, you know, beating kids up. >> i get it. >> and setting things on fire, but i understood what it meant to not have a father in the
house. i understood what it meant to be in an environment in which you were an outsider and in a way one difference between me and these young men is there were not a lot of black people generally, at the time. >> you also were growing up in indonesia as an outsider. >> i'm also an outsider in indonesia, and so there was mixed in with the teenage hormones and the usual stuff that teens go through, that sense of what's my place? and how do i raise myself to be a man? what does that entail? what responsibilities there are? what obligations do i have? what i try to record in the book is the sense in which, in part the values that my mother and grandmother instilled in me even if i wasn't always following
them when i was a teenager led me to the realization around 20, a little later than some of these guys that to be a full-grown man meant not acting out and not being cynical, but taking on some responsibilities. >> not just for yourself, but also for the world around you. >> helping boys and young men become full-grown men is what bam is all about and the obama foundation supports bam programs in several cities through the my brother's keeper alliance. >> do you think you would have benefited from having this as a teenager? >> i'm sure i could have. when we came here three other guys here were still in school at the time and part of what i shared with them was -- and i think this surprised some of the guys was, my life wasn't that
different than yours. i wasn't that different from you. the main difference is i was growing up in a gentler environment. in hawaii. so the violence and drugs and some of the issues that the guys were dealing with day to day were different, but the mistakes i made, the struggles i was going through were similar, and i think it would have been useful for me at that time to have just this circle in which you can talk, and i think that one of the things we all learned from the pandemic was that human connection matters. that we are not all by ourselves and we don't accomplish midwest of the things we accomplish by ourselves. it requires a community and i think particularly for boys and
young men of color, many of whom grow up without fathers and many of whom also live in relative isolation were the communities because of safety issues and economic issues and folks don't have as many resources around them it becomes that much more critical to be able to have some place to come and say listen, i'm struggling with this or, you know, i'm confused about that or, you know, these are the kinds of pressures i'm dealing with and have somebody who either is their peer or somebody older and you can say, yeah, man. that's something i went through also. i'm struggling with this, too. this is something i'm confused about and then being able to talk it through. >> president obama says he found his purpose and ambition in life through community service and eventually a career in politics. becoming a father to daughters
sasha and malia gave him the chance to be the kind of father he never had. james and lazarus, the three of you were in the program and you're in the school and now you guys have moved on. two of you are now fathers. >> yes, sir. >> and both of you have daughters. >> proud. >> he's still in diaper changing mode, other than changing diapers, how has that changed your perspective and how do you think about it because, look, being the president, you know, that's cool, but it's not life changing in the same way that being a parent is. >> before having a daughter i was able to make stupid decisions, but now that i have a daughter, i have to think about her. i have to think about her mother, her sister because now i'm the man of the house, and everything that i do is pretty
much revolved around her. so i want to be that father that's always there. i want to be the one that you come home from school to that brightens up your day. anything that you need you can always come to me. i didn't have that growing up. i didn't have a father. it was one point in time i didn't see my father for, like, ten years. so i want to be there for her through everything. >> fantastic. how about you? >> being a father is -- it's amazing to me. my baby girl got a great, big smile full of energy, full of life, full of joy. >> bam counselors often act not only as mentor, but also father figures to the young men in their the group. they check in on their grade, their health and safety. >> president obama has checked in with him over the years since they met more than his own father has. >> what's going on, man?
things going well? >> okay? >> staying strong like you were supposed to? >> i know experience and excellence is possible, and i need to strive for that. although sports are important to me, i focus on my gpa and i will get it back to a 3.8. [ applause ] >> what's your life been like since that meeting? you went to morehouse. >> yeah. i went to morehouse for, like, a semester and then i realized i couldn't pay for it so i had to come back home, but before i wasn't even really thinking about going to college, to be honest, because i was always worried about could i pay for it? would i be accepted, you know? i think after the first visit you made here i worked a little harder on my grades. i stopped playing around and i thought maybe i could do something else. maybe i could go to college. >> when you sit in a circle like
that, you know, the obstacles these kids are facing and able to overcome is really, troerd near. >> yeah, you know, the first time i sat down with these guys the most important thing for me to communicate at that time, and i was the president of the united states was you guys in many ways are ahead of me, of where i was at your age. i just had certain advantages that you guys don't. i could make a mistake and land on my feet. >> but even, christian, single mom -- i think he had five or six brothers and sisters. if he'd gotten to morehouse and had to drop out because of money and now he hoping to get back to school. ooh not a question of not
working hard enough or being motivated enough. and that where my personal journey intersected with are broader question, question, however eat setting up a society. >> that's what led me to be a community organizer was that sense that, look, when i walked down the street of the south side of chicago and they okay and remind me of me or michelle and a combination of circumstance allowed us to succeed, but these kids are just as talented. they're just as smart. they could achieve just as much if we've got an education system, a social safety net, job opportunities that expose them and give them a chance, and i
think the single most important thing i learned as an organizer when i was here in chicago was the line between success or failure in the society so often is dictated not by anyone's inherent merits. it has to do with the circumstances in which they're in. that doesn't mean they don't have any individual responsibility and they hurt them and i have to do our part. we also as as issity continues to -- from even before i was born. ist reading the speech request gave f you grew up in the low-income family dpruf you've heard 30 million fewer words. >> which means by the time yoi
show up in first grade you are significantly behind. the good news is it turns out as you're learning as a parent that kids are amazingly resilient and they can catch up, but it also means that we have to make investments to ensure they catch up. how many other kids are there who aren't even in that room? >> one of the things we really liked about this program, becoming a man was they didn't focus on the superstars, right? when they deliberately target not the kids who are in the most trouble or are either most successful in defying the odd, but the kids who are right there and sort of in the middel that can tip in either direction that if they get an encouraging adult, if they are able to, as
lazarus was expressing themselves and talk out when they're feeling they can succeed, and that's part of what i think made this conversation wonderful is these kids aren't one in a million. this is -- what you just heard was young black men all across this country. that's who they are. >> they're not prodigies or savants. >> no. >> they are brimming with potential. >> yes. so if we have a society that is afraid of them we need to listen and hear them because they're no different than you or i in so many ways except for the opportunities that they have or don't have. mr. obama will be writing another book about his final years in the white house and
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>> it's been more than four years since the obamas left the white house. it was a moment the former president describes as bittersweet in his book. >> hello, everybody. partly because they were leaving and partly because of what might happen to the country. >> you talk about dark spirits which had long been lurking in the edges of the republican party coming center stage. did you ever think it would get this dark? >> no. i thought there were other guardrails institutionally, that even after trump was elected
that you would have the so-called republican establishment who would say, okay, you know, it's a problem if the white house doesn't seem to be concerned about russian meddling or it's a problem if we have a president who is saying that neo-nazis marching in charlottesville that are marching that there are good people on both sides that that's a little bit beyond the pale, and the degree to which we did not see that republican establishment say, hold on. time out. that's not acceptable. that's not who we are, but rather be cowed into accepting it and then finally culminating in january 6th, which originally
was don't worry. this isn't going anywhere, we're just letting trump and others vent and then suddenly you now have large portions of an elected congress going along with the falsehood that there were problems with the election. >> and the leadership of the gop, briefly for one night when they still had this sort of scent of fear in them. >> yeah. >> going against the president -- >> and then -- poof. suddenly everyone was back in line. the reason for that is because the base believed it. the base believed it because this had been told this them not just by the president, but by the media that they watch and nobody stood up and said stop. this is enough. this is not true. i won't say nobody. let me correct it. there were some very brave people who did their jobs like
the secretary of state in georgia who was then viciously attacked for it, and all those congressmen started looking around and they said, you know what? i'll lose my job. i'll get voted out of office. another way of saying this is i didn't expect there would be so few people who would say well, i don't mind losing my offers because this is too important. america is too important. >> some things are too important. >> our democracy is too important. we didn't see that. now, you know, i'm still the hope and change guy. so my hope is that the tides will turn, but that does require each of us to -- to understand that this experiment in democracy is not self-executing. it doesn't happen just
automatically. it happens because each successive generation says these values, and these truths we hold self-evident. this is important and we'll sacrifice for it and we'll stand up for it even when it's not politically convenient. >> we need to explain to each other who we are and where we are going. as somebody who has dedicated myself to story telling, that resonates with me, but i wonder, are we as a country still willing to listen to each other's stories? >> this is the biggest challenge we have is that we don't have the kinds of shared stories that we used to. there's always been a division along lines of race. we have 400 years of whites and blacks not being able to have shared experiences because of slavery and segregation and so forth, but even within, say the
white community, right? the stories of kids who are growing up in manhattan and the stories of kids who are growing up in abilene, texas, and the stories of kids who are growing up in montana. those stories no longer meet partly because of the siloing of the media, the internet, entertainment. we occupy different worlds and it becomes that much more difficult for us to hear each other, see each other. the thing i learned first as an organizer and then as an elected official as a politician is when you start hearing people's stories you always find a thread of your own story in somebody else, and the.that recognition happens, that becomes the becausis for a community. >> but it does seem like something has changed so that it's become so extreme that
we're not even allowing ourselves to get into a position where we can see that commonality. i've heard in the past you talk about when you were starting out in politics you would go down to southern illinois to very conservative districts. >> they'd give me a hearing. >> yeah. i think that's changed. part of it is the nationalization of media. the nationalization of politics. the fact is that, you know, you used to have a bunch of local newspapers, local tv stations, people weren't having these highly ideological debates and they were more focused on what's happening day to day and part of it is also the structure of our economy and our communities. it used to be that a high school. the average high school in america, the average public high school you would have the banker's kid and the janitor's kid in the same school and they'd interact and their
parents would be both going to the same football game and would have to know each other and if it turned out that there was a talented kid of a janitor who also happened to be on the football team the banker president might say hey, why don't you come work at the bank here because he knew that person. now we have more economic stratification and segregation. you combine that with racial stratification and the siloing of the media so you don't have just walter cronkite delivering the news, but you have a thousand different venues, all that has contributed to that sense that we don't have anything in common. so so much of our work is going have to involve not just policy, but it's also how do we create institutions and ok sccasions i which we can come together and have conversations.
>> in promise land, our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink. there was the attack on the capital. the big lie being pushed continually by not only the former president and the republicans in congress. >> are we still just teetering on the brink or are we in crisis? >> well, i think -- i think we have to worry when one of our major political parties is willing to embrace a way of thinking about our democracy that would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago. when you look at some of the laws that are being passed at the state legislative level where legislators are basically saying, we're going to take away the certification of election processes from civil servants.
secretary of states, people who are just counting balance and we'll put it in the hands of partisan legislatures who may or may not decide that a state's electoral votes should go to one person or another, and when that's all done against the backdrop of large numbers of republicans having been convinced wrongly that there was something fishy about the last election, we've got a problem. and you know, this is part of the reason why i think the conversation around voting rights at a national level is important. this is why conversations about some of the institutional and structural barriers to our democracy is working better like the elimination of the filibuster or the end to partisan gerrymandering is important, but this is why it is
also important for us to figure out how do we start once again being able to tell a common story about where this country goes? and that is not just the job of politicians, although elected officials have an important role. that's where the media will have to play an important role. that is where companies have to play an important role. all of us as citizens have to recognize that the path towards an undemocratic america is not going to happen in one bang. it happens in a series of steps and when you look at what's happened in places like hun garry and poland, that obviously did not have the same traditions, the democratic traditions as we did and they weren't as teamly rooted. and yet, as recently as, and now
it's, specially become -- >> democracy doesn't die in a military coup. democracy dies in the ballot box. >> that's right. vladimir putin gets elected with the majority of russian voters, but none of us would claim that that's the kind of democrat see that we want. >> you wrote about the importance of getting exposed to other people's truths and that is how attitudes change. what happens when the only truth that people are willing to expose them to is their own? >> well, look, this is part of the challenge. it's part of the challenge for social media. you know, i think there's been a lot of conversation about how we are able now to just filter out anything that contradicts our own biasses, prejudices and pre-dispositions. it's not symmetrical.
i have to say this. the truth is that at least what the right would consider liberal media like cnn. you guys will still take democrats it task with things. democrats, when i was president i was getting flack from my own base. it's not semiet rickal and for all of us, there is great danger that we just shut out anything that contradicts our own sense of righteousness in these big debates. >> want only that, but then we -- >> and we demonized the other side. so that is going to require steady effort. it probably is not going to be done at the federal level. it's probably going to involve communities finding ways to rebuild that sense of
neighborliness, working together, conversations. one of the things that thatting b having been out of office for a while, how can we think more bottom-up work to rebuild communities, to rebuild local media, to rebuild local conversations because that's where i think there's still the most hope. ♪ ♪ >> disperse the area immediately. >> it was during president obama's eight years in the white house that the american public began learning the names trayvon martin, eric garner and michael brown. >> young, black men killed by police or trayvon martin's case by a neighborhood watch
volunteer and trayvon martin was 21 years old. >> this could have been my son. another way of saying it, trayvon martin could have been me 35 years ago. >> president obama was both praised and criticized for that statement one of the reminders for the first black-american president that how and when he discussed race was something he and his advisers had to think carefully about. in his book he writes that recall owe in his presidential campaign, his advisers warned him about being boxed in as, quote, the black candidate. >> looking back as president did you tell the story of race in america enough, do you think? >> i tried. i think i told a lot of speechis, the speech i gave
during the cam camp about reverend a whole while ago. >> each and every time i tried to describe why it is that we are still not fully reconciled with our history, but the fact is it is a heard are har thumb are thing to hear. it is important to recognize that, look, you can be proud of this country, its traditions and its history and our forefathers and yet, it is also true that this terrible stuff happened, and that, you know, the vestiges of that linger and continue and the truth is that when i try to tell that story oftentimes my
political opponents would deliberately not only block out that story, but try to exploit it for their own political gain. i tell the story in the book about the situation where skip gates, a harvard professor is trying to get into his own house and he gets arrested and i'm asked about it. >> i don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts what role race played in that, but i think it's fair to say number one, any of us would be pretty angry. number two that the cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home -- >> and not only did that cause a firestorm as you will recall? yes. >> you were already in the press at that time, but subsequent polling showed that my support
among white voters dropped more precipitously after that should have been a minor, trivial incident than anything else during my presidency. >> that's extraordinary. >> it gives a sense of the degree to which these things are still, you know, they're deep in us. sometimes unconscious, but i also think that there are certain right-wing media venues, for example that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing america and seeing demographic changes and do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and the people are trying to take advantage of them and weir
seeing it right now where you would think with all of the public policy debates that they're taking place right now that the republican party would be engaged in a significant debate about how are we going to deal with the economy? . what are we going to do about climate change. >> lo and behold the single most important issue to them rid ght now is critical race theory. who knew that was the threat to our republic? but those debates are powerful because they get at what story do we tell about ourselves? >> are you prepared to take the oath, senator? >> i am. >> the president who campaigned on hope and change cease the continued potential for that change in the next generation which includes his own daughters. >> no justice! >> no peace. >> while his daughters still keep a low, public profile they
took part in the protests after george floyd was killed as minneapolis. >> i'm wondering if as a parent you you would do so, what do you make of these that are e gating them with the pem wo attacked the tap tol. my daughters are so much wiser, more sophisticated thannis at their age. i always worry about their physical safety. that's just the nature of fatherhood. you will discover it when wyatt stops just being immobilized in your house and can start wandering around. >> i'm not going to allow that. that's not going to happen. >> you're terrified all of the time. >> but in terms of them having a good sense of what's right and wrong and their part and role to
play and making the country better, i don't worry about that. they have both a clear sense of -- that i see in this generation that what you and i might have tolerated as yeah that's sort of how things are, let's change it and it's among their white friends, right? there's this sense of, well, of course it's not acceptable for a justice system to be tainted by discrimination. >> and there are things they take for granted they want them to take for granted, but what i find interesting is they're also starting to be very strategic about how to engage the system and change it. they're not just interested in making noise.
they're interested in what works and at least in conversations with my daughter i think a lot of the dangers of cancel culture and we're just going to be condemning people all of the time. at least among my daughters, they'll acknowledge that sometimes among their peer group or on college campuses you'll see folks going overboard, but they have a pretty good sense of, look, we don't want -- we don't expect everybody to be perfect. we don't expect everybody to be politically correct all of the time, but we are going call out institutions or individuals if they are being cruel, if they are, you know, discriminating against people. we do want to raise awareness. >> a great source of my optimism. when people talk about what kind of -- how do i think about my legacy. part of it is, the kids that
were raise during the eight years that i was president there are basic assumptions they make about what the country can and should be that i think are still sticking. they still believe it and they're willing to work for it. >> hands up! don't shoot! >> no justice, no peace! >> while the black lives matter movement has brought national attention to the issue of police reform these young men feel a dual threat every time they go outside. there's fear and distrust of the police and fear of gun violence on the streets. >> here in chicago this year, let's face it, there's been an increase in violence. when we met last time obviously on the south side, the west side of chicago and the surrounding suburbs. there have been gun violence for a while, gang activity for a while. we've seen an uptick in it and
then we've also had to process the fact that the relationship between police and community is not what we want it to be and so often young black men, you know, experience police not as a positive force to protect, but as somebody who is going see you as a suspect or somebody to be feared. how is that playing out for you in school and also now that you're working. >> police in chicago for a while i was driving lyft when i was in college. i'd come home weekends, drive lyft and i was getting pulled over like crazy, almost every night i was getting pulled over, but the first question they asked and i asked how are you doing, officer? their first question is any drugs and weapons in the car?
i'm a big black guy with lock, you know? the first thing they see i'm just suspicious, but as i was telling the guys i've got to make it home to my family. i can't be another case where an officer is kneeling on my neck and choking me out. so my biggest thing is making it back home regardless. anything that's going on outside, you know? i love my family. i love my baby more and that's a feeling you're going feel, mr. cooper, like, get home even when your eyes feel like they're, like, about to pop out. you get home to your baby and that joy and that feeling that you get from that baby, it's amazing. they give you a little spark of energy. >> i just love that baby smell. i just want to bury my face in them. >> before the diaper change. >> two of the participants in
the bam circle are still in their teens. they both say they feel like they risk their lives every time they leave their homes. >> when you think about being in school, is this something that you have to worry about? not necessarily police, shootings, violence and generally, is that something that you think about, or is it something that is not your primary distraction. >> for me, i love going you on are out, i love interactions with pem, but in the nashd i live in, it's very hard to do that. before i go to bed, is it a gun shot or fireworks. >> i like wearing hoodies. so when i walk down street is someone going to come and target me? i'm wearing a hoodie and do they see me up to no good. right. independent worried about it in
high school. how do you feel about it now. >> i used to map out my bus route and i had to wear a bulletproof vest and once i get here i'd hand the vest over to principal ross and after school put the vest back on, navigate through the gang-infested areas until i felt safe. >> i'm no longer in inglewood and i'm now in marquay park. now i don't go to certain gas stations and i don't go to certain restaurants and i bought another vest. it's still the same thing. it's not over with just because i'm out of school. >> right. >> obviously as a father it makes you that much more stressed. >> yes. yes. but as far as shootings, like,
the vest may protect me from that, but encounters with police, what's going on protect me from that? what's going to stop me from going to jail even if i didn't do anything. >> right. so you feel like your getting it from both sides. you are fighting the two gangs. we have the street gangs and the chicago police. >> i don't want to be another hash tag. i want to live my life out until i'm at least 80 or something, you know? >> not unreasonable. ♪ ♪ christian says he wants to live until he's 80 years old. james never thought he'd make it to be 26 because of all of the violence in the neighborhood where he grew up. all three young men have had their struggles over the years and they're now building lives for themselves and their families. >> you have a sense of what's going on in the neighborhoods. how do you think we can be most helpful to you guys?
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>> across the street from the hyde park academy in the south side of chicago where we met with the president is jackson park. this is the future site of the obama center. there is hope it will revive the neighborhood where michelle obama was raised and where barack obama started his career. >> right across the street we're going to be building the presidential center. a lot of our focus will be programming for the young people in the community, boys and girls, young men and young women and given that you guys have all gone through this program, bam, you're in the middle of going through it. you've seen some things. you have a sense of what's going on in the neighborhoods. how do you think we can be most helpful to you guys. what are the things that you think would be most helpful in
young people being able to snaf gait their own lives and be successful in school and be positive they can get to 80. give me a sense that what are some gaps that we can fill or some things that are working to build back up? >> for me, i feel like having someone to communicate with or to run to without having to worry about getting injured or shot. >> i believe there should be more opportunities and more intern ships and more things to do in our communities because not everybody want to hoop or play football. >> to trail on to that, i do agree. there should be more sponsorships and more things in the school to keep the kids from off the streets or things that they want to do. not everybody wants to fight all of the time.
people want to express themselves with their art. >> we need people to come into the community. so things like that, it's people that's my age that never tried in their life, but you go into more gifted communities, they know how to tie a tie. they know the difference between a fork and a salad fork. >> although i didn't learn that until i got to the white house. >> right. that's where i learned it, when i was on a visit with you. >> remember that? and we ate sandwiches. >> i gave you the tip. you do this and that's the bread and that's the drink. the b and the d. that's how i would remember it so i wouldn't eat somebody else's bread and drink someone else's drink. >> just being able to see things positive. >> that's a great idea. >> thank you. >> hearing each other's stories, seeing each other as we are may not be a simple thing, but for
president obama it is a crucial step to bring this country back from the brink. >> i'm proud of you guys. great to see you, man. >> proud of you. i like what you were saying about your daughter. i think that's right, all right? good luck, man. good to see you guys. >> thank you. >> if we are meeting face to face and hearing each other's stories we can bridge our divides. and the question now becomes how do we create those venues? those meeting places for people to do that because right now we don't have them and we're seeing the consequences of them. ♪ ♪ the daybed slash dog bed. the living room slash yoga shanti slash regional office slash classroom.
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