Former President Barack Obama points out features of the proposed Obama Presidential Center, to be built in Jackson Park, during a gathering at the South Shore Cultural Center May 3, 2017. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

SWEET: Big job for Obama Center nonprofit

SHARE SWEET: Big job for Obama Center nonprofit
SHARE SWEET: Big job for Obama Center nonprofit

Former Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be a co-chair of the board of a new non-profit development organization launched on Tuesday with a giant mission: to leverage the economic impact of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park for the surrounding South Side communities.

Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief and Hyde Park resident, is a managing partner at the Emerson Collective — working on projects to reduce gun violence.

“These are communities that have been hurting for a long time,” Duncan told the Sun-Times, and while the center can’t “solve all the challenges, we can sure try to have a positive impact that will last for decades.”


From its inception, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama wanted their center to be an “economic engine” to spark revitalization for the South Side where they once lived.

But the Obama Center complex alone — and the Obama Foundation — can’t put together all the pieces, especially the funding needed to incubate new business, build housing or create jobs in Woodlawn, Washington Park and South Shore, or be the solo catalysts for linked tourist developments stretching north to Bronzeville.

Woodlawn is adjacent to the Jackson Park site of the future Obama Center, and the other communities were once in the running to be the location of the center.

The new nonprofit economic development organization — still unnamed — was spawned by powerhouse institutional stakeholders: The Obama Foundation, the city of Chicago, the University of Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust with an assist from the Network of Woodlawn and the Washington Park Consortium.

In the works for about a year, the 25 members of the board for this new non-profit were selected over the summer.

Some 80 people applied through an open process, and about seven of the applicants ended up on the board, including “Blacks in Green” founder Naomi Davis and Charise Williams, the deputy chief of staff for civic engagement in the office of Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs.

Other board members were recruited, such as board co-chair Sherman Wright, the managing partner and CEO of Ten35, a marketing, advertising and communications firm, and Raul Raymundo, the CEO of The Resurrection Project in Pilsen, a community development non-profit.

Representatives from the city, the U. of C., the Obama Foundation, the Community Trust, the Network and Consortium were destined to have a seat at this table.

All the board members on this new non-profit — whether they applied or were recruited — passed muster with the establishment stakeholders, whose representatives on the board include:

• Michael Strautmanis, the Obama Foundation vice president of civic engagement

• Susan Sher, the University of Chicago executive and former White House chief of staff to Mrs. Obama

Terry Mazany, the outgoing Community Trust president and CEO

• The Rev. Byron Brazier, from the Apostolic Church of God, the church owns land near the center

• Pastor Torrey Barrett, the force behind the Washington Park Consortium

• And from City Hall, Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, who oversees Obama Center matters and city planning Chief David Reifman.

Wright said he was asked to be co-chair by Zopp and Strautmanis.

The group met for the first time last Tuesday evening at the K.L.E.O. Community Life Center at 119 E. Garfield Blvd. in Washington Park — a group founded by Barrett.

“The board is just getting to know each other,” said Joanna Trotter, the senior program officer at the Community Trust, which helped spawn the non-profit with a $250,000 grant; the Polk Bros. Foundation put in $25,000.

Trotter said the next step for the board needs to be “major fundraising,” putting together a business plan and setting priorities.

Will the board of this nonprofit be independent?

Though the institutional stakeholders got this new nonprofit rolling, the idea is for this board to be an independent organization, not a rubber stamp. A variety of neighborhood groups — suspicious that the spoils of the Obama Center will go only to the connected — are seeking community benefit agreements to lock in guarantees.

Paula Robinson, the president of the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, said she was encouraged because the board included “some new names for a change” and its members are “what we are looking for,” people with “independence and integrity.”

Groundbreaking is set for next spring with the center complex taking up to three years to build.

Said Stautmanis, “As we looked at other major development projects across the city and country, one of the things that we saw is that the community is more stable and successful when there is time to prepare for the upcoming development.”

To see the list of all 25 board members, please go to https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/arne-duncan-co-chair-of-new-non-profit-related-to-obama-center/

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