The Obama Library: A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity? Part 2

Note:  This is part 2 of an essay I read at last Thursday’s Frunchroom reading series in Beverly.


And that’s where the old sneaking suspicion starts creeping in.  That’s where the doubt about the intentions of this new shining center on the south side start to cloud my perception.  Because as much as I love our city and as much as I admire President Obama, I live in Chicago and if you don’t make your intentions known you might as well not exist.  Not only do closed mouths not get fed—they get ignored.

That’s the reason why a binding CBA. or community benefits agreement, is so important.

New shining complexes in Chicago mean construction and construction means contracts and contracts equal money.  Lots and lots of private donation money that can be converted into the promise of good paying jobs.  Additionally, some also believe that construction of new shining complexes also brings along a potential rise in rents and property taxes.   Our friends who live by the 606 trail are going through those growing pains as we speak.

Yet, as of this writing and to the best of my knowledge, the key players at the Obama Foundation have yet to sit down and have a real dialogue with *all* of the affected neighborhoods to ask for their input and to seek their vision.  Perhaps I’m naive to believe that a person who built his reputation on community building hasn’t made a priority of reaching out and building a true partnership with the communities entrusted with his legacy.

Let me be clear, I’m not pinning all of the hopes of Woodlawn and the surrounding neighborhoods on the shoulders of the President and his foundation.  There are many people already actively involved in revitalizing their neighborhoods one block at a time.  Nonetheless, opportunities to turn the tide of an area that has been left to wither from indifference and neglect rarely happen twice.

Will those of us who don’t have a “title” and whose lives will be directly impacted by these changes actually have any meaningful input in the process?  Will the promise of an economic and cultural rebirth of Woodlawn amount to programs that no residents can attend nor afford?  Will career paths only lead to minimum wage hourly jobs with no benefits?  Only time will tell.

Short of a legally binding CBA, Woodlawn looks like one in a long line of neighborhoods that trusted too much and didn’t negotiate hard enough for their own destiny.

Lesson learned.

Read part 1 here

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