CBA Coalition holds vigil in Woodlawn before Plan Commission meeting

“I am 75 … and I love where I live, and I don’t want to be displaced,” says Woodlawn neighborhood resident and STOP (Southside Together Organizing for Power) member Michele Williams during an Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition press conference held in a vacant lot owned by the University of Chicago on the northwest corner of South University Avenue and East 63rd Street, last Wednesday. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Amid opposing views regarding the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), The Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement held a vigil on a city-owned lot last Wednesday at the intersection of 63rd Street and University Avenue. The Coalition was asking for a delay of the then-pending but since-passed Chicago Plan Commission vote on the (OPC). The Coalition, concerned about the future of the neighborhood, expressed their concerns about displacement of moderate income residents.

“We are for the Obama Center—we just don’t want to get displaced,” said Parrish Brown, an activist with Black Youth Project 100. “It is not unreasonable for black people on the South and West Sides of Chicago to demand that construction jobs and permanent jobs are guaranteed and that we are not pushed out of our communities.”

The Coalition is calling for an ordinance that would set aside 30 percent of new and rehabilitated housing for low income and working families, a property tax freeze for longtime residents, for developers to invest in affordable housing and independent local monitoring of local hiring practices. As President Obama had refused to sign a private community benefits agreement the Coalition is now pressing for a municipal community benefits ordinance applying to the OPC, the University of Chicago “and other developers.”

Michele Williams of Southside Together Organized for Power (STOP), a lifelong South Sider and 18-year Woodlawn resident, shared passionately her views of possible local consequences of the construction of the OPC.

“I’ve watched them do genocide from 22nd Street all up the lakefront, and they’re not stopping now,” Williams said. “They want this South Shore area back. They ran away, and now they want it back. And they’re going to displace us.”

Recalling the previously bustling 63rd Street business corridor, Williams said that recent neighborhood developments are “not substantial.” She said she wants “solid housing” and improved pedestrian access to Jackson Park.

When asked what she would say to Obama, Williams said she would call him “a pawn.” About the process of displacement, Williams said she’s seen it “time and time again” over her lifetime. “He wasn’t born here,” she said. “But I was.”