By TONIA HILL
Residents in surrounding communities near the future home of the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) gathered this week for the second to last meeting for the Obama Library Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.
The coalition’s forum on Wednesday, Aug. 30, focused on education in the wake of development for the OPC that will be situated in Jackson Park as well as other park related improvements.
A CBA is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate
developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and development to the local community or neighborhood.
Wednesday’s meeting held at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park Ave., was one of a series of sessions held over the last few months. The topics for each session align with principles for the CBA.
Principles outlined by the Obama Library CBA would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.
Organizers are pushing for a CBA to ensure that there is accountability from the developers of the OPC, the Obama Foundation, the city of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side.
The coalition listed areas where the OPC could assist in supporting neighborhood schools.
For example, suggestions consisted of partnering with public schools to give civic and political education classes, seminar workshops for the community, internships and programming for children and donating books to public schools in need, as well as upgrading textbooks and technology in local schools.
“Thirty-four percent of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as of this year have a librarian on staff,” said Sarah Rothschild Hainds, education policy analyst at the Chicago Teachers Union. “In the five communities that surround this library, we’re talking 17 percent. There are only five librarians employed at the 33 schools that are in the immediate surrounding of this library.”
Jitu Brown, national director for the Journey for Justice Alliance, spoke to the unequal funding and opportunity for children on the south side versus those on the north side.
Brown discussed the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education a landmark civil rights case that ended state sanctioned segregation in public schools across the country. He tied the issue of segregation to present conditions at public schools in the city of Chicago.
“While they’ve ended the language of segregation the actions of segregation have not stopped,” Brown said.
He noted schools in the neighborhood like Burke Elementary, 5356 S. King Drive, does not have an art or music teacher.
“At Burke there maybe three teacher aides in the entire building for a school that has over 600 students, there’s no world language,” Brown said.
He noted other neighborhood schools outside of the south side that have access to world languages and the arts.
“Our children are precious too,” Brown said. “There’s something wrong with a system that will sabotage the education of a child on purpose and deny them access to what other children get without as much as a community meeting. When we look at our CBA, let’s think about equity.”
Other panelists from the forum included Duane Turner a former principal at Wadsworth Elementary School, 6420 S. University Ave., and Danielle Stanley manager of policy and programs at Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
University of Chicago Charter School’s Woodlawn Campus now occupies the building. CPS combined the Wadsworth and Dumas Elementary Schools, 6650 S. Ellis Ave., four years ago in the Dumas building.
Next year, the school will relocate to a brand new building that will be situated on the 6300 Block of South University Avenue.
Turner also assisted the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) during its fight to save Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st., from closure three years ago.
Residents joined breakout sessions at the forum where they discussed how entities involved with OPC could strengthen neighborhood schools and the community. Discussions also featured economic impact on surrounding communities as the OPC begins to take shape.
Attendees also suggested financial oversight from a board made up of members of the community.
Residents also walked away from the forum with next steps that include getting more people in the neighborhood involved and voting in the upcoming election. As well as, staying abreast of policy by attending city council meetings and reaching out to their council members.
Groundbreaking for the OPC is set to begin late next summer, and it is expected to open to the public in 2021.
The coalition is made up of members from the University of Chicago student-led Prayer and Action Collective, KOCO, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and the Bronzeville Regional Collective.
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
Following the meeting next month the coalition will present the CBA in writing to the entities involved with the development of the OPC.