By Lee Edwards, Chicago Crusader
The auditorium of the Hyde Park Academy High School was nearly filled to capacity with neighborhood residents eager to learn more about how they can bargain with developers of the incoming Barack Obama Presidential Center (BOPC) at the Obama President Center Community Benefits Agreement Summit held on April 18.
Led by community organizations Bronzeville Regional Collaborative (BRC), Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), Prayer and Action Collective, and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), the summit’s agenda focused on sharing the details of a proposed community benefits agreement (CBA) with residents. A CBA is a legally binding contract between community- based organizations and prospective developers that call for the developers to adhere to outlined objectives. The primary tenets of the CBA suggested at the summit were: economic development, employment, housing, sustainability, and transportation.
During the summit, organizers played video clips of news reports of successful bargained CBAs in Nevada and Maryland for new sports arenas, provided community residents with an opportunity to give testimonials, outlined areas of concern, and more.
Devondrick Jeffers, a housing organizer with STOP, said the goal of the summit is to make sure everyone within the community is on the same page about the issues before construction takes place. He said STOP has previously met with members of the Obama Foundation’s leadership team to voice their opinions.
“They expressed that they are not in favor of a CBA and part of the reason is that they feel that they are being asked to perform something grand, that they feel that some of our demands are pie in the sky dreams,” said Jeffers.
At a press conference to announce the design team of the BOPC at The DuSable Museum of African American History, Mike Strautmanis, vice president of civic engagement for The Obama Foundation, stated it is the Foundation’s desire to include the community through every step of the development process. Recently, he told The Chicago Crusader he wasn’t surprised by the level of engagement and activism. He said working together over the next few years may be the hardest challenge that lies ahead noting that “it won’t always be easy, but it’ll always be worth it.” He said he wants people to stay engaged.
“There are people that have different perspectives, from different walks of life, who maybe have not had the opportunity to work together but instead have operated in silos and critiqued and criticized one another,” said Strautmanis. “President Obama is about bringing people together to get things done and so it’s going to be a challenge and it’s always going to be a challenge particularly when there’s something new happening that has not happened before.”
Michael Scott, a former longtime community resident of Woodlawn, who attended the summit said he wants to see the BOPC benefit the invested community residents who have called the proposed construction areas home. He suggested that the BOPC teaches youth trades that could be used to work on the buildings in need of repair within the community. Potential gentrification is one of his primary concerns.
“The people that have been here for the last 30, 40 years that suffered from a lack of resources, I don’t think they’re getting a fair deal, then we have people who never been to this community, who have never put anything into this community, come and reap the benefits,” said Scott.