National spotlight grows in Obama library community benefits fight

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Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, said Atlanta is rooting for Chicago’s CBA Coalition in their fight with the Obama Foundation, City of Chicago and University of Chicago.

By Crusader Staff

The coalition calling for a community benefits agreement (CBA) with the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) are shining a national spotlight on a community economic development tool that has been used to galvanize people fighting gentrification and displacement around the country.

Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakwood Community Organization (KOCO) said the national spotlight is growing in his coalition’s efforts to secure a legal agreement against displacement for Chicago residents.

Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and a lead organizer in the Chicago effort, told the Crusader, the local resistance to the CBA have inadvertently focused a national spotlight on the inequities in Chicago.

“Our coalition is growing and the community is starting to realize what is at stake with the billions of dollars slated for South Side redevelopment,” said Malone. “So, if the mayor and aldermen do not realize that people in Bronzeville, Woodlawn, South Shore and adjacent neighborhoods do not want to be gentrified out of their communities, then they will understand what it means when they are held accountable in the next election.”

The Obama CBA Coalition formed within days of the global announcement about the location of President Obama’s archives. The group’s platform can be found at www.obamacba.com.

“This isn’t about a wish list of things we want,” Malone emphasized. “This CBA is about economic participation, affordable housing, excessive taxation, and the ways Black people in this city are always locked out. We’ve been at this for two years. We aren’t a fly by night group—and the Obama Foundation, the City and the University of Chicago know this.”

Georgia Stand-Up is a think and act tank for working communities based in Atlanta. Organizers in one of the nation’s fastest-growing predominantly African-American cities say they are rooting for the Chicago coalition’s success. Their organization has been advocating for a CBA with Turner Field and activists erected a “Tent City” this past April to demonstrate their concerns.

Their CBA was a proposed agreement drafted by the neighborhoods around Turner Field to not displace the residents; and to provide jobs, educational opportunities, a cleaner environment, community oversight, infrastructure, and development.

“We stand in solidarity with communities that are impacted by development that may cause displacement,” said Deborah Scott, Georgia Stand-Up executive director. “We stand in coalition with the Turner Field communities that have been fighting for a Community Benefit Agreement. As Chicago plans for the Obama Foundation, we stand in solidarity and support the communities right to organize!

Michigan economic justice advocates have been fighting for two decades for a CBA for residents of Detroit. Rashida Tlaib, an organizer with the Sugar Law Center, could not be reached prior to deadline. However, the law center’s website noted “Community benefits work changes major development projects through community organizing, applied research, legal mechanisms, and alliance-building. Over the past three years, community benefits coalitions have requested and come to rely upon Sugar Law’s assistance in their quest to advance effective and equitable economic development—development that will create good jobs and ensure healthy and safe living environments for historically marginalized communities.”

A spokesperson for the Obama Foundation could not be reached for comment at Crusader press deadline. However, President Obama, speaking to public criticism of his group’s refusal to agree on a community contract, said on Sept. 14, “The community benefit agreement concept is actually one that can be a really useful tool…if you have a bunch of developers coming in that want to build a high-rise or for-profit enterprise in your neighborhood,” Obama said. “But here’s the thing: we are a nonprofit and aren’t making money….”

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