By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Wednesday was the first day of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 47th international convention, and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. expressed excitement over the unveiling of the “Urban Construction” agenda, creating a pipeline from Jails to Jobs, and the “Plan 78” project that will build a city within a city including numerous jobs for the next 20-years.
Rev. Jackson made his comments during a press conference held at the ComEd Training facility, 3535 S. Iron St., where he was joined by Rev. Al Sharpton, Bonita Parker, interim COO for PUSH and external manager at ComEd, activist Al Sharpton, former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Cook County Bridget Gainer, Omar Shareef Labor and Outreach director for PUSH and president and founder of the African American Contractors Association.
This year’s PUSH convention theme is: “Make America Fair and Equal: 2018 Global Agenda.”
Referring to his Jail to Jobs program, Rev. Jackson said the flaggers trained at PUSH make up to $66.20 an hour with benefits. “That’s a big deal,” he said. PUSH, under the leadership of Shareef and Rev. Janette Wilson, national executive director of the PUSH Excel program, also train and help men and women get into the hospitality industry, how to become certified lifters and other construction jobs.
Rev. Jackson isn’t the only one excited over “Plan 78” project that entails building a city within a city on 62 areas of land hidden by a wall behind Clark Street in the South Loop area. Shareef said the project would create 13 million square feet of new residential, office and hotel space on this land that snuggles the South Branch of the Chicago River.
The project is named “Plan 78” because of its goal to build the 78th neighborhood in Chicago. Currently, Chicago has 77 official neighborhoods. When completed, “Plan 78” would be the 77th.
It would be bounded by Roosevelt Road to the North, Clark to the East Chicago River on the West and 15th Street on the south, according to Don Biernacki, senior vice president, Related Midwest, that is the developer of the 62-acres. “We’re still in the planning stages, he said estimating it would cost in the billions of dollars and that it would be mostly privately funded.
Fioretti said when he was in office he shut down a number of job construction sites where owners were not hiring from the community and said direct action should go for companies locating in the community and refusing to hire from local residents as well.
“We have to keep the fight and the struggle going,” Fioretti said praising Shareef for demanding jobs for the community. According to Fioretti, there are 11,000 vacant lots owned by the city of Chicago and 50,000 vacant homes. “We can train people to work in their own communities,” he said.
Referring to the Jail to Jobs initiative, Shareef said, “We know that normally in the brown and black community they have a thing of going to school and going to jail, but we are saying allow the jail to be just a pipeline to jobs.” He said there must be a plan to transition them to jobs upon release from jail or prison.
“We want to come up with a solution from the ground up,” Shareef said praising Rev. Jackson for coming up with the PUSH job-training program and for partnering with Comm. Gainer who in 2013 created the Cook County Land Bank policy that reduced the number of vacant land and abandoned buildings.
Gainer said vacant housing thwarts economic development and weakens the tax base both of which negatively impact the local municipality. To rectify that Gainer partnered with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to launch the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative, a pilot program that allows Fannie Mae, which holds the largest number of foreclosed properties; to help 13 economically stressed Chicago and Cook County neighborhoods.
Also excited about the economic development and partnerships is Rev. Dr. David Jefferson, pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, who is the 10th of 15 children. He thanked Rev. Jackson for having something “more than a meet and greet,” and said the information he heard is necessary for transformation.
“There are two things that are absolutely critical when it comes to success…you must have access which does not necessarily mean success unless you get information for transformation,” he explained.
“Chains are being broken and barriers are coming down, individuals are bringing information forward which is necessary to have success in our community,” Jefferson stated.
Jefferson, whose mother is 102-years-old, said his father bought 20-acres of land for $500 and paid it off in five-years. He said he comes out of a legacy of “building from the ground up.” However, one thing he learned early on in life is that no matter how many degrees you have “if you don’t have access” to do what you have to do, you will never achieve your goal.
Rev. Jefferson began a construction company-training people in urban technology where employees install cable. Thinking further beyond ownership of a company, Jefferson said, “We should own the franchise. I have 500 trucks” that transport fiber across the nation.
“You don’t need to be a genius in order to do well…. Construction cannot be outsourced. These jobs cannot go overseas. We need construction in our country,” Rev. Jefferson said.
Courtney Jones, president of the Dearborn Realities Board, is part of the job-training program. He is also bringing developers to the table to explain how to acquire these blighted buildings and put them on the tax rolls.
“We bring in the Department of Buildings, the Department of Law, the Housing Court judges and different lender partners who will walk our developers through the process of getting how those properties out court. “We teach them the nuts and bolts of this process,” he said.
“The beautiful thing is that the community…the pipeline of folks we are doing housing counseling and financial literacy for are, are the ones who line up to be qualified to take those properties.” So far, he has done 62 buildings since last November.
The first day of the convention ended with the annual Rev. Clay Evans Gospel Concert held at the Apostolic Faith Church, 3823 S. Indiana Ave., where such gospel greats as Pastor Charles Jenkins, Darius Brooks, Bebe Winans, Kim Stratton, Audrey DuBois-Harris and hosted by Santita Jackson and Deandre Patterson. Sonya Blakey from Inspiration 1390 and V-103, Pam Morris from WVON and Effie Rolfe from Moody, are special honorees.
Others being honored are: Elder Eric Thomas, Rev. Ray Berryhill, Maurice Mahon, Christopher Hodges and the GMAC & LDR Traditional choir.