Chicago Activists Were Concerned About Going Against The ‘Black Savior’ Over Obama Library But Now Have New Demands

Chicago Activists Were Concerned About Going Against The ‘Black Savior’ Over Obama Library But Now Have New Demands


Chicago Activists Were Concerned About Going Against The 'Black Savior' Over Library Obama But Now Have New Demands Photo: In this Tuesday, July 23, 2019 photo, activist Jose Reuena, center in back row, holds a placard during a news conference and rally in Chicago. (AP Photo/Amr Alfiky)

When former President Barack Obama first announced his presidential library would be in his adopted hometown of Chicago, Black community activists were all for it, defending him against pushback over the project. Now, it seems many of those same activists are having second thoughts related to gentrification. They recently announced a list of demands.

Residents of the South Shore neighborhood voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2008 and 2012. However, with the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, they could lose their homes if the project gentrifies the neighborhood and causes a spike in rents and home prices, Business Insider reported. The area’s residents are predominantly low-income and Black.

The center was plagued with controversy over its location in Chicago’s Jackson Park. Community activists initially backed Obama’s fight against environmentalists who wanted to keep the public parkland open to the public. The fight even led to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in October that the work on the center could continue. There was also major outrage when Obama raised $1 billion in July for the library instead of turning his attention to the dramatically sharp rise in fatal shootings involving Black men in Chicago.

“It was hard for a long time for residents to express their frustrations about the center because they didn’t want to get called traitors,” said cultural critic Davarian Baldwin, author of the book “In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities,” in a Business Insider interview.

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“There was this idea of going against the ‘Black Savior,’ so to speak, but the fear of displacement became so profound that we saw labor organizations, community groups, and even University of Chicago faculty come together around the Community Benefits Coalition,” Baldwin said.

Now a group calling itself the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition has come together to voice concerns for the area around the Obama Center, which will include a museum tower, plaza, a Chicago library branch, a forum, and an athletic center. CBA describes itself as a group of organizations from across Chicago concerned about the effects the center will have on the community.

CBA is concerned that low-income Chicagoans living nearby will be displaced by development around the construction of the center in Jackson Park, CNN reported. CBA said that to fight gentrification in the area, it has released a set of demands for Barack Obama’s Presidential Center.

“We’re not against the center,” Dixon Romeo, an organizer with CBA, told Insider. “The issue is if you’re not investing in community members and the costs are going up, there’s nothing in place for folks to stay, it becomes harder for folks to live there.”

CBA’s demands include:

  • Developing affordable housing from the city-owned vacant lots in the neighborhood.
  • Allot money to the Chicago Low-Income Trust Fund for subsidized units in the area.
  • Require that jobs be set aside for people in communities around the Obama presidential center
  • Protect housing for working families, low incomes, and home owners
  • Support and create Black businesses
  • Strengthen neighborhood schools

“Typically, when something major comes into a community, taxes go up, low-income residents are displaced, there is an influx of new residents who want to be in the area — it’s sexy — prices go up. We want to be sure when it floats, we float with it,” Woodlawn resident Deborah Taylor told the Chicago Tribune in 2016.

Taylor was a housing organizer with the community group, Southside Together Organizing for Power. The organization favored the library at the time and helped draft a community benefits proposal that could guarantee such things as jobs or free library access for area residents.

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