By TONIA HILL
Over 100 south siders assembled across the street from Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., on a chilly November evening.
South siders both young and old expressed their desire for a community benefits agreement (CBA) for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) that is slated to open to the public in 2021.
Those that gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 7, are members of local organizations that are aligned with the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.
The 100-plus people marched from Hyde Park High School, which is a short distance away from the site for the OPC to 63rd Street and Cornell Drive, holding signs asking drivers to honk if to support a CBA.
The proposed site location for OPC is near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue, which is right on the cusp of the entrance to Midway Plaisance Park at 59th Street, according to design plans released in May.
The coalition is leading the charge for a written agreement with 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.
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.
“Sometimes the heart gets hardened by being too far removed from the pain and suffering of the people,” said Rev. Dr. Finley Campbell, as he prayed at the start of the march. Campbell is an activist and co chairs the Illinois Freedom Democratic Caucus. “We just want to negotiate we’re not asking for too much.”
Principles outlined by the Obama Library CBA would require that jobs be set-aside for people in the community, affordable housing and protection for homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.
“We want a CBA,” said Michele Williams, a resident of Woodlawn. “The people who live here do not want to be pushed out. We don’t want to be excluded we want to be included. We’re not mad at anybody we just want our fair share.”
The 100-plus people walked up to 63rd Street and Stony Island Avenue and blocked traffic at 63rd Street and Cornell Drive, during 5 p.m. rush hour traffic.
For a few minutes, demonstrators participated in chants in a circle surrounding the four-way intersection. Some drivers exited their cars, took pictures of the group and others honked in support of a CBA. Others turned around and opted for a way out of the traffic jam.
“We’re talking about a community that has experienced generational poverty,” said Floyd Davis, president of the Poor People’s Campaign Inc. “Now we see a half a billion dollar project coming to the south side of Chicago, and everyone feels that the community shouldn’t be guaranteed certain rights.”
Davis noted that the coalition and the CBA reflect some of the work that Obama did as a community organizer.
Earnest Radcliffe, head coach of the Wolfpack, a community football team, spoke on his concerns about lost parkland due to the OPC.
The Wolfpack uses the park for practices and games and is a member of the coalition.
“We’ve used this [referring to the park] as a sanctuary to give young people the opportunity to be successful. When we take parkland are they going to replace parkland,” asked Radcliffe. “This is one of the safest areas in the city of Chicago. It’s one of the safest areas because we made it like that, the men in this community and the coaches.”
Concept design plans that were released in May for the OPC indicate a relocated track and field, but it is unclear who would foot the bill to replace the track and field.
The coalition said in September that they would present their request for an ordinance to the Chicago City Council that would, by law compel the Obama Foundation and related entities to enter into a CBA for the OPC.
To be enacted into law the ordinance would need support from the full body of the city council. Organizers said the CBA does have aldermanic support, but it is still not known who is backing the ordinance.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said in a previous article in the Herald that she will not support the measure if it is introduced to the council.
The ordinance is the latest push by the coalition after former President Barack Obama indicated that the Obama Foundation would not sign a CBA.
Following the coalition’s meeting in September, postcards and petitions were distributed for residents to sign and mail to their local council members. The postcard includes a short synopsis of what the coalition is requesting.
Organizers through a CBA are attempting to get what the Obama Foundation has promised to the community in writing.
The two conflict because the Obama Foundation believes that it can meet the needs of the community without a CBA while organizers think a CBA is necessary and will be an added protection to ensure that the foundation honors its commitment.