by Ray Hayes

Amid an Obama Foundation dispute with local Chicago activists over a community benefits agreement (CBA), the Foundation is making threats to amend the relationship.

Since the announcement of the Presidential Center coming to the South Side of Chicago, local community activists have gathered together to demand a CBA in order to ensure local businesses are not displaced by the possible gentrification of the surrounding area. After rejecting the local activists CBA, the foundation formulated the Obama Foundation Community Commitments, which according to Black Enterprise, “outlines specific commitments that the foundation has made regarding jobs, economic impact, preservation of parkland, youth engagement, and community resources.”

One of the biggest commitments the foundation made was to allocate more than 51 percent of the construction contracts to Black-owned construction firms making the hiring of a diversity consultant a must. As a result, Ernest R. Sawyer Enterprises Inc. (ERS), a Chicago firm, was selected as the diversity consultant for to ensure black-owned business hiring.

Former President Barack Obama has stated that there is no need for a CBA since the initiative is a community benefit, stating, “If we sign with one, two, or five organizations, they’re not representing everybody on the South Side. Next thing you know, you’ve got 40 or 50 organizations—all wanting to be decision makers. We’re not going to do that,”

Many community activists think otherwise. As reported by Black Enterprise, Bronzeville Regional Collective member Anton Seals Jr., board member of South Shore Planning and Preservation Coalition, told Progress Illinois. “We don’t want to see the South Side become what Lincoln Park was in the ’60s and ’70s. We don’t want that high level of displacement. We want to ensure that the community, the working class, the (most) vulnerable among us, the middle class, are all able to have a space in the community they love. And that means that it will become even a safer place once there’s a real economic engine there to help support that.”

Ernest Sawyer, is a former Chicago Transit Authority executive and founder of the Ernest Sawyer Enterprise (ESE). The firm is the largest Black owned urban economic development consulting firm in Chicago. ESE has advised more than $5 billion in projects over the last 20 years.