By AARON GETTINGER
When the Obama Foundation marched in the Chicago Pride Parade through the North Side last month, they led the crowd in the “Yes we can” chant that sounded as defiant as it did nostalgic. This weekend, the Foundation was at the Chosen Few Picnic and Festival, the long-running house music showcase in Jackson Park. They’ll do outreach alongside Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam and local museums at Lolla Cares during the August Lollapalooza festival. After that, they will be at Pilsen Fest and the Chicago Football Classic.
In other words, the Obama Foundation is taking its case to the people who were not inclined to attend the meetings held before the City Council and Plan Commission approved the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) or the ongoing ones for its federal environmental and historical reviews.
“We were thrilled about the number of people who came to our public meetings, but not everybody wants to go to a big zoning meeting,” said Foundation Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis in an interview. “I don’t know why, I love them, but not everybody would join us at those meetings and we still want to get them involved and engaged and informed about what’s coming to this city.”
Strautmanis described the events planned for the summer as a reflection of the Foundation’s mission to do nothing less than “redefine civic engagement” through its institutions, public relations, building and workforce processes in the South Side and across Chicago.
“It gives us a lot of opportunities to interview people, meet people where they are, explain to them about the Foundation. And then people always sign up; they ask for more information; they offer to volunteer,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. Chicago’s a great place to be in the summer.”
The Foundation will have a presence at the July 21 Silver Room Block Party in Downtown Hyde Park, the August 11 Bud Billiken Parade and the African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park over Labor Day weekend.
Strautmanis declined to give any updates on the OPC’s construction timeline, citing the ongoing federal reviews but discussed the Foundation’s June hiring of Jacqueline Gomez as director of real estate inclusion and Ernest R. Sawyer Enterprises, Inc., as diversity consultant.
“Lakeside Alliance is the builder; they have contractual responsibility to build these goals, but we offered them some support,” said Strautmanis. He called the hires “counters on the site,” praising Gomez for her experience in local government and saying she is “reporting us” to the County Commission.
Both hires had been pledged in the Foundation’s Community Commitments, issued in May. Strautmanis related the Commitments pledge with Foundation’s relationship with the coalition of organizations pressing for a community benefits agreement linked with the OPC construction, with which he said he met last week.
Strautmanis said the Coalition called the Commitments a “good start.” He in turn called the pledges a “living document,” adding the Foundation and Coalition, which is pressuring the City Council to pass the a community benefits ordinance, would have to work together to achieve them.
“As they do that, we have to get about the work and make these Commitments real, and we’re going to do that with the community benefits activists,” said Strautmanis. “We’re going to do that with any individual or organization that wants to help us use this project to benefit the community. That has always been our approach, and it’s going to continue to be.”
The Herald contacted the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement and Southside Together Organizing for Power for comment.