North Lawndale community shares thoughts on Obama library

Students cheering

Students and teachers at LEARN Charter School in North Lawndale cheer after the June 16 press conference on the proposed Obama Presidential Library site nearby. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


About 300 residents and representatives of North Lawndale gathered Nov. 22 to discuss UIC’s proposal to host the Obama Presidential Library on a site bounded by Roosevelt Road and Kostner, Kildare and Fifth avenues.

The forum, hosted by UIC and the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee at a neighborhood school, drew community activists, schoolchildren, Sen. Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins and Rep. Arthur Turner Jr. to voice their support.

Final bids for the Obama Presidential Library are due Dec. 11 to the Barack Obama Foundation. UIC is one of four finalists, and the North Lawndale location is one of three sites in the UIC proposal.

Darren Tillis, a committee leader facilitating the forum, opened by saying the library can be “transformative” in education, health care, economic development, youth employment and public safety.

Grade school students Zyon and Zyire Nichols read from a statement about the dreams of West Side children. “Why must the West Side continue to be overlooked? We are ready to expand and be a major contributor to this great city,” they read.

The two legislators urged community members to advocate for the North Lawndale proposal.

“The whisper of one rich person drowns out the voices of a thousand poor people,” Van Pelt-Watkins said. “So that simply means that more of us have to make some noise. If you’ve got courage for this, I’ve got courage for this.”

“It’s a rough area, but things will come and change,” Turner said. “It’s going to take us ringing the bell, getting people fired up about it, getting newspapers to take notice of it, letting the mayor know where we stand on this piece, letting all our elected officials in the area know how we feel and getting them involved.”

Michael Halbert, an aide to Ald. Michael D. Chandler, said, “We’re talking about making people respect North Lawndale, respect where we are, who we are, what we are, where we’re from. What we need and how the future will hold us.”

“The genius of what the North Lawndale folks brought to UIC was to remind us that Obama, when he was elected, was about the people,” said Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, adding that UIC is committed to engaged partnerships with nearby communities.

“There are only two public institutions left in this race, and only one of them is located in the middle of this country and the middle of our city, and that’s the UIC North Lawndale bid,” said UIC student trustee Danielle Leibowitz.

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