Obama Presidential Center causing ‘harm to black families’ in Chicago

Former President Barack Obama may have won the votes of the black community but, like his policies, the lasting impact of his vainglorious memorial has the makings of a “legacy marred” with “harm to Black families.”

Despite legal challenges and the seeming disinterest in host cities, efforts to build the Obama Presidential Center have marched on in Chicago’s South Side. As with his tenure as community organizer-in-chief, corporate media routinely fawned over the $500 million, 19-acre project expected to incorporate a public library, playground, community centers and museum.

But, even before the September 2021 ceremonial groundbreaking local residents had begun to feel the squeeze of gentrification. Monday, The Washington Post covered the concerns in a piece titled, “Chicago neighbors say Obama center is raising rents, forcing them out.”

The Obama Foundation had foretold of the developing project transforming the poorer neighborhoods, but residents who’ve been squeezed out by skyrocketing rents were experiencing only the negative side of those changes.

“What happens in communities where there is economic development is families get pushed out because of property value raises,” mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson was reported as saying to a room filled with voters. “We have to make sure, for families that live in the very communities where economic development is taking place, that landlords don’t see it as an opportunity to push the families out who have been a part of these communities for decades.”

In February, 90 percent had voted in favor of a referendum to create more affordable housing and aid residents with the rising costs of living near the Obama Center. Barring any such guarantee, community activist Dixon Romeo said, “Obama’s legacy marred by the displacement of thousands of Black families.”

“This is the community that sent him to the White House, and we should be the community that gets to stay and benefit from the presidential center.”

In 2018 Obama had claimed, “We’ve got such a long way to go in terms of economic development before you’re even going to start seeing the prospect of significant gentrification. Malia’s kids might have to worry about that. Right now, what we’ve got to worry about is you have broken curbs, and trash and boarded-up buildings, and that’s really what we need to work on”

However, Tahiti Hamer, a single mother of three, told the Post, “In 2021, the same year the Obama Center broke ground, her landlord raised the rent by nearly 40 percent.”

“I’m a working mother who can’t afford to live in my own community that I’ve lived in for 42 years,” she lamented.

Meanwhile, residents had contested the location of the project after it appeared as though developers had conducted a bait-and-switch, proposing the use of Jackson Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for his presidential library, only to then announce that the records controlled by the National Archives would be kept elsewhere.

Another resident decried the construction as a project, “not being built for Chicago. It’s being built for the world…[And the people of the world] don’t want us here. So what do you think is going to happen?”

“In political spaces, people can become numbers, experiences can become trends,” 62-year-old Priscilla Dixon said. “But the reality is that this is about real people, and we don’t want the Obama Center — the center honoring the first Black president — to be another page in the long history of displacing Black people or doing harm to Black families.”

“The city is the only one that can stop that,” she added.


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Kevin Haggerty


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