Obama library to be built on Chicago's South Side

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Obama library to be built on Chicago's South Side
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The Barack Obama Presidential Center will be built on Chicago's South Side, the Barack Obama Foundation officially announced Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Barack Obama Presidential Center will be built on Chicago's South Side, the Barack Obama Foundation officially announced Tuesday.

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The video announcement follows years of speculation about where the presidential library will go. In the video, President Obama revealed his choice of Chicago, where he rose to political prominence and started his family.

"All the strands of my life came together and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago. That's where I was able to apply that early idealism, to try to work in communities, in public service. That's where I met my wife. That's where my children were born. The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned, they're all based right in this few square miles where we'll be able to now give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey," President Obama said.

"I'm thrilled to be able to put this resource in the heart of the neighborhood that means the world to me. Every value, every memory, every important relationship to me, exists in Chicago. I consider myself a South Sider," First Lady Michelle Obama said.

The University of Chicago said Tuesday the school will work with the Obama Foundation to host the presidential center, which will include a library, museum, and office and activity space for the foundation.

The foundation is considering two sites for the project: Washington Park and Jackson Park and will come to an agreement with the city in coming months about where to develop the center. The decision about which site will host the library will come in about six to nine months.

That wait is a disappointment to some.

"I was a little disappointed that we were told we have to wait nine months to find out where the location is going to be," said Donna Hampton-Smith of the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce.

During the last 14 months, the Obama Foundation evaluated more than a dozen potential sites for the library. Other finalists were the University of Hawaii, Columbia University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The foundation considered key factors like accessibility and opportunities for economic development.

"What's clear to us is there's overwhelming support for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, presidential center, in the city of Chicago. Not just local support, not just citywide support, but support from all over the state," Nesbitt said.

The foundation will act independently from the University of Chicago, but be "good neighbors," Obama Foundation Chairman Marty Nesbitt, a close friend of Obama, said, sharing infrastructure and resources and collaborating on projects.

"With a library and a foundation on the South Side of Chicago, not only will we be able to encourage and effect change locally, but what we can also do is to attract the world to Chicago," President Obama said in the video.

"Of equal significance is the powerful message it sends to our youth, those future leaders, inventors, teachers, scientists, artists and, yes, presidents," said Dr. Carol Adams of the University of Chicago Community Advisory Board.

There is also ongoing concern about health inequities and that the University of Chicago does not offer level one trauma care to South Side residents.

"I do hope that the increased attention around the library will mean that issues like lack of trauma care, general disinvestment and systemic racism on the South Side get attention in ways that they didn't before," says Emilio Comay del Junco, a member of Students for Health Equality.

"To me it says they don't care about all the black people that's dying," says Veronica Morris-Moore of Fearless Leading by the Youth, "and that they're an institution that doesn't believe that black lives matter."

Trauma activists from the Trauma Care Coalition and other Chicago groups including We Charge Genocide and #BlackLivesMatter Chicago staged a march from 55th Street and King Drive to the University of Chicago campus in favor of a South Side trauma center serving the community. They called on the university to provide community benefits with the Obama Library.

Friends of the Park, an organization that has opposed building the library and a George Lucas museum of narrative arts on Chicago's public park land, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying they "disappointed the library will be built in an existing park. We respectfully urge the Obama Presidential Foundation to take any and all necessary steps to ensure minimal impact on either of the parks."

But with these concerns there are many excited about the future South Side center as well.

"It will always be important to know his story and where he came from, just because he made such a big impact, so to know where he started and where he ended up is just, like, 'wow,'" says Jade Foreman, 12.