Community organizations come together to denounce Obama Presidential Center CBA proposal

Michele Thomas speaks out on lack of community involvement in recent development decisions for the Obama Presidential Center at a community meeting, Thursday, March 16. – Christopher Amati

Staff Writer

Representatives of three south side community organizations that work in communities surrounding the future home of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park came together at Island Terrace Apartments, 6430 S. Stony Island Ave., Thursday morning, March 16, to denounce the formation of a new organization that they said excludes them from being a part of efforts to have community input in the building of the Obama Presidential Center in favor of well-connected operatives promoted by special interests and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

About 40 people were in attendance at the meeting, which was held in the first floor social room of the apartment building. During the meeting, several speakers described what they see as an attempt to leave them out of any plans for the redevelopment of the neighborhood in the wake of the building of the Obama Presidential Center.

Representatives from Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and Prayer and Action Collective (PAC) spoke against what they see as outsiders and politically connected local power brokers working with the current city administration to exclude real voices from their community.

“It’s a shame, there is no need to create an organization to try to undermine the community,” Jeanette Taylor said.

She said community residents have been meeting two or three times a week since last summer but were not informed about the Next Street organization, which recently gave a presentation at the 5th Ward meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center and will present again at the upcoming 8th Annual Woodlawn Community Summit on Saturday, March 18.

During the 5th Ward meeting on March 9, representatives from Next Street, an organizational consulting firm, gave a presentation outlining a proposal for a new, yet to be named organization that would “drive and manage the growth” seen as coming to the neighborhoods of South Shore, Woodlawn and Washington Park in the wake of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).

During the March 9, presentation Next Street representative Charisse C. Johnson said the new organization is envisioned as a way to “encourage growth on the south side” and  “tap into the urgency and the energy of these times.

Investment and involvement in the community, an assessment of each neighborhood’s strengths and needs and “growth without displacement” were some of the ideas and concepts mentioned at the March 9, meeting.

“It’s a shame that the Obama foundation would not do its job and seek out the community group that has been working in the community and who has a real community based process,” Taylor said. “Instead they choose to put together the usual suspects who like to be the face of their false community involvement. It excludes voices that disagree.”

Taylor named Rev. Byron Brazier and Torrey Barrett of K.L.E.O Community family Life Center as two of the individuals who are pretending to represent the community without actually doing so.

“These people need to wake up,” she said of the Obama Foundation. “They are not getting our input. We do not need a CBA that doesn’t help the young black and brown people of the community we need a CBA that will properly respond to the needs to the community that will be impacted.”

William Thomas, a student and the University of Chicago and a member of the Prayer and Action Collective, said the university should help make sure the CBA has true community involvement.

“The University of Chicago has a history of supporting development projects that have pushed a lot of people out of the neighborhood, especially black people,” Thomas said. “It has a responsibility to support its neighbors by signing a legally binding agreement. ”

Michele Williams added some historical perspective, saying she had seen black people moved from their homes and seen the promises made to them broken time and time again in her 75 years as a Chicagoan.

“We have been removed from neighborhoods over and over,” Williams said. “They tell us ‘you can come back.’” I don’t care who lives here, I just don’t want to move.”

Williams said the foundation has “come to us as a community. We want you to include us, not exclude us.”

Williams also complained about the lack of involvement from the Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

She has meetings but what about the people who can’t get out?” Williams said.

Williams expressed her love for former President Barack Obama but made a distinction between the man and his Presidential Center.

“When it’s built, who’s going to be running it?” Williams asked. “The little people do care about you but we just don’t want to go out of our neighborhood.”