Barack and Michelle Obama are staying positive and family-focused as President Donald Trump roils their old office with controversy, the Obamas’ longtime friend, rapper Common, tells PEOPLE.
As much of the country is still reeling from Trump’s widely criticized meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Common reveals that the former president and first lady are remaining forward-thinking during tumultuous times.
“Even if they look and say, ‘What is going on with the way the administration is,’ they are like, ‘How are we going to be part of the solution?’ They are optimistic human beings,” Common told PEOPLE Thursday at a charity event for an elementary school in New York City.
The Oscar winner, rapper, actor and activist also recalled having a “cool conversation” with President Obama when he spent time with the former commander-in-chief during a concert after an Obama Foundation event in Chicago in November 2017.
The friends did not talk about Trump while they danced: “We were just talking about life,” says Common, who topped the list of artists with the most visits to the Obama White House (five!).
When the 44th president is not working with grassroots organizations, giving speeches to honor Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or “talking about life” with Common while Chance the Rapper sings, Obama is likely with his family, the rapper says.
“They understand the value of just taking time to yourself,” Common says. “They’re enjoying aspects of life and making sure that they take care of home and themselves.”
Common is planning to see the former first couple soon as he joins forces with Michelle Obama on her new voter registration initiative, When We All Vote. And the “Glory” singer’s political outreach doesn’t stop there.
On Thursday, Common partnered with AdoptAClassroom.org and Burlington Stores to gift P.S. 111, an elementary school in New York City, with a $10,000 donation. The rapper was joined by his mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines, who spent her career teaching high schoolers in inner-city Chicago.
“Our youth is one of the most important things to me in my life,” Common says. “And teachers are the guides for the youth. [Teachers] need to be taken care of — from a salary perspective, and even having the resources.”
According to a federal Department of Education survey, 94 percent of public school teachers in the United States reported paying out-of-pocket for classroom supplies. Common says he hopes the $10,000 will alleviate that burden for teachers at P.S. 111.
While teachers at the elementary school snapped pictures and cheered for Common as he presented the check, some of the young students weren’t as familiar with the star.
“I know because I’ve been teaching a while, that you don’t even know who Common is,” Hines said to the crowd of elementary students, who erupted in laughter. It was Hines, not her famous son, who brought the children to their feet.
Common later joined students working on “social justice projects.” One fourth-grader’s piece about Junior Guzman, a young man recently killed in the Bronx, inspired Common to rap for the class as seen in the above video.
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