By MARC MONAGHAN
Talks about the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) played a dominant role, last Saturday, during the 9th Annual Woodlawn Summit. Part history lesson, part explication, and definitely a pep rally for the OPC, the Summit featured Michael Strautmanis, chief engagement officer of the Obama Foundation, keynote speaker Melody Spann Cooper of WVON and Midway Media as it convened in the University of Chicago’s School of Social Services Administration building, 969 E. 69th St.
“The anticipated approval for [the Federal review of the potential Obama Presidential Center impacts on the Jackson Park construction site] is before we break ground, at the end of the year,” said Michael Strautmanis, during the Summit, which meeting organizers estimate about 325 people attended. “We don’t need any more plans, some things need to get done and one of the things that I want to make sure that we do is make the OPC a reality.”
Spann Cooper said she rejects the idea that gentrification due the building of the OPC will push out current residents.
“Atlanta has overcome us in black population, but Chicago is still Wakanda,” said Spann Cooper, who serves as co-chair of the Obama Foundation’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. “And that is a beautiful thing,” she continued, “it speaks to the great diversity that this city continues to offer. So, I reject the notion that there is some broad conspiracy to move us out. We are a powerful people with choices.”
During his presentation, Strautmanis reviewed past efforts by activist organizations to funnel development funds into minority owned enterprises.
“You couldn’t get in the game on the construction side, we were locked out,” Strautmanis stated. “We organized and used political power … to change the laws and to create [opportunities for minority businesses]. That was known as the set aside … which at the time was very innovative. But now evokes something that is not a match for where we are as a community. We don’t need to be set aside, we need to be at the center, we need to set the table, we need to own the table.”
With reference to the public and private stakeholder meetings that the Obama Foundation has been having in the community, Strautmanis said, “I think we have really been informed by the conversation about accountability.”
He said, “Everything that I am talking about we are putting in writing, we are putting it out publicly and we expect to be held accountable for the decisions that we make and the commitments we have made.”
Continuing with reference to The Lakeside Alliance, the firm that the Obama Foundation has chosen to manage the construction of the OPC, Strautmanis said the firm has a big but necessary challenge ahead.
“…We are putting these things in our contracts. Just one small example, The Lakeside Alliance agreed to a goal of giving half of its subcontracts to certified diverse firms. It’s a big number and it’s going to be a challenge for them to achieve that number,” Strautmanis said. “And I will tell you that they are going to need your help to do so. We are going to have to create some new businesses to get these subcontractors if we are going to get these numbers. So, we are going to need some entrepreneurs to come alongside in order to have the kind of diversity that we are looking for in this project.”
Strautmanis continued, “Lakeside made this commitment in writing and they agreed to accept penalties in the contract if they don’t make it and we also put some incentives in there if they exceed the goal. So, we are putting teeth into the work that we are doing.”
Responding to Strautmanis, Sandra Bivens of the 51st Street Business Association asked during the Summit’s question and answer session for a list of the types of new businesses that will be needed, “And we need it now because you are going to break ground by the end of the year and we got a lot of work to do.”
In addition to Strautmanis and Spann Cooper, Dr. Kenneth Wilson, associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, and deputy director of the University of Chicago Medicine’s new Level 1 Trauma Center, spoke during the Summit’s general session and described the characteristics and capabilities of the trauma center that is scheduled to open in May of this year. After the Summit’s general session, six breakout workshops were held covering the topics: 1) Cook County Land Banks; 2) Community Policing Training; 3) Economic Development; 4) Buy, Keep, Fix Your Home; 5) Woodlawn Treasure Tour; and 6) a Youth Session.