Crusader Staff Report
Angry protestors stormed City Hall Wednesday, January 17 to blast Chicago’s Black aldermen after a proposal for the Obama Presidential Center was submitted to the city for approval without a community benefits agreement.
After months of protests and town hall meetings, the plan was officially introduced to the city council. But outside the council room, protestors interrupted an announcement by Black aldermen who wanted to thank the Obama Foundation for including Black contractors, who will get 51 percent of all construction contracts towards the $500 million facility that will be built in Jackson Park.
The Obama Foundation announced the decision two weeks ago, hoping it would satisfy residents in Woodlawn and South Shore. Many have grown distrustful and weary of a political establishment that over the years has been accused of favoring big developers as concerns of gentrification intensify. In the past year, residents have demanded that the Obama Foundation sign a community benefits agreement to ensure that residents are not displaced and those neighborhoods get a fair share of jobs and opportunities. They were disappointed and angry when former President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting last year told them that a community benefits agreement is not needed.
The Obama Foundation selected Lakeside Alliance to serve as the construction company for the center. The company will work with Powers & Sons, UJAMAA, and Brown & Momen, which the foundation said are some of the most established and well-respected Black-owned construction firms in Chicago.
The proposal that was introduced to the City Council calls for a higher tower, underground parking, more green spaces and the closing of Cornell Drive, a contentious issue that has residents concerned about traffic congestion on Stony Island Avenue.
This past weekend, foundation officials went on a public relations blitz, visiting several Black churches days before the proposal was introduced to the City Council.
Their efforts weren’t enough to calm the crowds who packed the meeting, shouting “Shame on You,” and “CBA,” which stands for community benefits agreement. At times their chants drowned out Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), who argued that the construction contracts awarded to Black contractors were “more than any CBA that they came up with.”
“They not only vetted these groups-these construction companies. They actually pulled the records to make sure that they were not just fronts. So I congratulate them for the hard work they’ve been doing to make sure there is African-American representation in this project.”
The protestors were led by Jitsu Brown, a community activist who led the successful hunger strike to reopen Dyett High School in Washington Park in 2015.
“We cannot take the president’s word on the fact that they’re not going to push African-Americans out with the Obama Presidential Center,” Brown said. “What we need is an “in writing” community benefits agreement that says people who live in those communities will benefit- not in a profiteering way, but jobs, investment in neighborhood elementary schools, transportation infrastructure. That is not a lot to ask.”