Obama surprises crowd at public meeting about presidential center

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former President Barack Obama surprised the crowd gathered at a public hearing Tuesday evening addressing concerns from South Side neighbors about the planned presidential center.

"I was so happy to see him. I was really surprised he came because he never comes," said Jabrea Israel.

"This is our gift, this is us wanting to give back," Obama told the crowd.

He was also well aware not everyone is pleased with such an ambitious plan for his presidential center.

"And there is constantly a balance that we've got to strike between making sure that existing residents are benefitting from increased economic development," he said.

"Seeing him in person, that was like an amazing experience, hearing him. Hearing his words," said Nicholas Duarte.

The president vowed to be transparent and cautious, always keeping in mind the needs of Chicagoans who live in a place he called home for more than 20 years.

"We've got such a long way to go in terms of economic development before you even start seeing the prospect of gentrification. Malia's kids might have to worry about that," Obama told the crowd.

The latest goodwill gesture is a $3.5 million donation to replace a turf field that will be ripped up during the center's construction in Chicago's Jackson Park neighborhood.

Despite the benefits touted by the foundation, many neighbors have their doubts.

"We want our homes guaranteed, we want some jobs guaranteed, we want education guaranteed," said Rev. Finley C. Campbell, of the Unitarian Universalist Multiracial Unity Action.

A coalition of organizations gathered before the community at McCormick Place.

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Obama Foundation held a public meeting on Tuesday.

"We are asking you today, listen to us, sit down with us, negotiate with us," said Haroon Garel, of Southside Together Organizing for Power.

While some offer input, others are get ready for any opportunities that may come with the center.

At the IBEW NECA Technical Training Institute in Alsip, first-year electrical apprentices have a couple of weeks before they are on the job site. And eventually new jobs will be the Obama Center where the Obama's are demanding a diverse construction team.

"Those who are in the program they'll go work for that contractor but the key is you have to be in the program first," said Maurice King, of IBEW NECA Technical Institute.

"We might be putting our hands on that. Hopefully," said apprentice electrician Marshun Robinson.

"New door open new changes especially for women and women of color so hopefully," said apprentice electrician Dominique Johnson. "I'm exciting to see where that goes."
"It gives me hopes for my future kids and friends down the line knowing that it's not a closed door," said apprentice electrician Kelly Lucinski.

"Hopefully it's going to be an honor to work there. That's one of the main reasons why I wanted to be an electrician to work all around the city and build it up," said apprentice electrician Rico Smart.

Details about the Center are still a work in progress, but some will be ready to do the work as the construction industry demands more diversity.

For information about the construction project and opportunities, visit: http://www.lakesidealliance.com/
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