About 300 residents packed a South Side auditorium Wednesday night to demand that the promise of jobs, economic development and other benefits of the Obama presidential library center be put in writing.
The activists and residents want a community benefits agreement, something many say will protect the neighborhoods and people the center may displace.
“The soul of our city is at stake,” said Jay Travis, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “Will Chicago be home to all people regardless of race and income or will we sit back and watch city government systematically remove us?”
As the Obama Foundation continues to draft plans for the Obama Center, community stakeholders gathered Wednesday evening in the auditorium of Hyde Park Academy to renew their efforts to get the agreement, an idea the foundation has not embraced.
Last week, at the foundation’s community meeting, President Barack Obama himself told residents that he would not sign a benefits agreement, which would put into writing the promises the foundation has made thus far on bringing jobs, economic development and resources to the South Side.
Those present Wednesday evening said promises would no longer cut it.
Travis said that her organization and others were pushing to get the agreement passed through the City Council as an ordinance to make sure that Woodlawn, South Shore, Washington and Jackson Park as well as others get what the foundation has been promising.
“The actions we take and struggles we wage will answer whether or not Chicago will continue to be home to low-income black families,” Travis said.
Set to break ground next year, the center would cause the closure of Cornell, a major artery in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
The center could also displace residents, and community organizers worry that the jobs the foundation says it will bring will fall short of expectations.
“My neighborhood is lacking what it needs — jobs for youth, programs and resources,” said Ling Young, a Hyde Park Academy student. “Without the [agreement] my neighborhood will go into deeper distress. We need one because if people come into our neighborhoods, come push us out of our homes, my neighborhood will be a distant memory.”
Calls for the community benefits agreement started two years ago, around the time the Obama Foundation announced its plans to build the presidential library on the South Side.
Travis said that there have been eight meetings with over one thousand community members since that announcement.
Current versions of the agreement call for promising 80 percent of jobs go to South Side residents and for employee demographics to reflect South Side communities. For housing, 30 percent of housing built in these neighborhoods would be for low income and working family housing.
Marcus Gill and Devondrick Jeffers introduced some of the main points of the agreement to the crowd on Wednesday.
“We have to preserve already existing low-income affordable housing,” Jeffers said. “We’re already seeing gentrification — Woodlawn is the third hottest market in the country and the foundation hasn’t even touched ground yet.”
Those who spoke urged a process of transparency and one that corrects over time.
The agreement would ensure that there are no questions about who gets jobs and who doesn’t, how many trees are cut down and what fertilizers are used, said Naomi Davis, of the Bronzeville Regional Collective.
“We need to make sure community wealth building is happening,” Davis said. “Why shouldn’t our young people, old people and everyone in between have a gleaming sports facility?”
The points outlined at the meeting were only pieces of the overall benefits agreement, but all, the speakers said, would go toward protecting current community residents as well as their future.
“The CBA is sought by organizations and residents whose blood sweat and tears have gone into the fabric of the city,” Travis said.