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Community organizers march for Obama Center benefits agreement

Organizers march along 63rd Street/Hayes Drive Tuesday night. They seek a community benefits agreement. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Former President Barack Obama may have received a warm welcome last week, but community organizers in Hyde Park rallied and marched Tuesday night to express their concern about the Obama Presidential Center, which they say will displace families, and urge the president to sign a community benefits agreement.

Organizers huddled together across the street from Hyde Park Academy High School before marching to 63rd Street/Hayes Drive and Cornell Drive where they formed a circle in the street, stopping traffic. Cornell will be closed between 60th and 63rd Streets because of the center.

Along with concern over street closures, many fear that not having a community benefits agreement will result in displacement of residents in the area surrounding the center, and unfulfilled promises, which range from jobs and job training programs to affordable housing for community members.

“I’m excited for the center of course, but I realize that there’s a lot of things coming with it,” Kyana Butler, a 23-year-old resident of the community, said of the large-scale development. “I want Obama to really think about before he became president, when he was out here as a community organizer, and see that the same things he was fighting for then are the same things we’re fighting for now.”

Butler, who led the chants during the march, also said “words can’t just be words,” something others present also said. Time and again, she says, the city has made promises that it doesn’t keep. The benefits agreement is the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen this time around.

Michele Williams, who doesn’t live far from the center’s Jackson Park site, said that if there is no agreement, the situation on the South Side will continue to deteriorate.

“It has to be in black and white,” Williams said. “These people who live here don’t want to be pushed out. I’m not against the library, I’m happy for him, but don’t forget about us.”