Obama Library South Side CBA Coalition to push city for ordinance

“Our dignity and our humanity will not be pushed aside,” said Jay Travis as she announces that the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (CBA Coalition) is seeking an ordinance that would require the Obama Foundation to sign a community benefits agreement during a CBA Coalition summit at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., Wednesday, Sept. 20. – Marc Monaghan

TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition is seeking to create a law by ordinance to compel the Obama Foundation and related entities to enter in a CBA for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) that will be situated in Jackson Park.

The announcement came, as Jay Travis, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), made remarks during the latest installment of meetings the coalition has had over the summer months in neighborhoods surrounding the OPC.

“I am proud to announce that the coalition is moving in the direction of winning a Community Benefits Agreement as an ordinance,” Travis said. “We are not seeking a payout for contracts.”

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.

The Coalition is calling for jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protection for affordable housing and homeowners, support for and help with the creation of black-owned businesses, and help with strengthening neighborhood schools.

Travis said the coalition is not new to organizing CBAs.

Travis cited the previous work of organizations that came together to craft a CBA when Chicago put in a bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics as well as the organizers who pushed the University of Chicago (U. of C.) to create a trauma center on the south side.

She also mentioned the work of residents and organizers who went on a 30-day hunger strike when Dyett High School was shuttered two years ago.

Dyett High School for the Arts, 555 E. 51st St., this month welcomed their second class of freshmen.

The coalition felt snubbed by President Barack Obama who addressed the coalition head on and indicated at an Obama Foundation meeting last week that the foundation would not sign a CBA.

Obama said a CBA could be a useful tool, but stated that the foundation is “a nonprofit. We aren’t making money we are just bringing money to the community.”

Obama also stated that a CBA is not inclusive enough.

“In this situation, it’s not inclusive enough because I would then be signing with who,” Obama asked, “what particular organizations would be speaking for everybody in that community.”

He also mentioned that it would signal to other groups who could use it as an opportunity to be “the gatekeeper on this process.”

Travis said organizations and residents whose blood sweat and tears are a part of the fabric of Chicago’s neighborhoods seek the CBA.

“Organizing for an ordinance completely dispels the whole myth that this is about a small group of organizations seeking to be gatekeepers,” Travis said outside of the meeting. “What we care about are real provisions that are in writing that protect us.”

Jawanza Malone, executive director of KOCO, said the coalition would present their written proposal to the city council next month.

The ordinance does have aldermanic support, but it is not yet known who is backing the ordinance, which needs the full support of the Chicago City Council members to be enacted as law.

Che “Rhymefest” Smith, a Chicago native, hip hop artist and philanthropist also spoke during Wednesday’s meeting that was held at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

Smith said the ordinance is an opportunity for alderman to “take their power back.”

He also made mention of implementation of community benefits plan in Atlanta as the city prepared to construct a new multi-purpose stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened its doors last month.

Smith also put in a bid for the 20th Ward Aldermanic race against incumbent Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) in 2011.

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 meeting was also an opportunity to provide updates on the principles outlined in the CBA, which includes economic development, jobs, education, housing, sustainability and transportation.

Three years ago Travis ran for office for the 26th Illinois House district in a close election against incumbent State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26).

Before running for office, the political newcomer served as Executive Director of KOCO and a program officer at the Woods Fund of Chicago.

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.

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.

Additionally, attendees could sign a postcard petition to area alderman pushing for their support for a CBA.

City council members for the surrounding area near the OPC include Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Greg Mitchell (7th) and Cochran (20th).

t.hill@hpherald.com