June 14, 2014

University to stress impact of Obama library on youth education

The University plans to stress how a presidential library on the South Side will impact the lives of thousands of youth by increasing opportunities for education and empowerment in its written proposal for the Obama presidential library. In a conference call with reporters on Friday that brought together several different partner organizations, the University and the organizations offered several suggestions on how the library could provide not just a research space, but also programming for the surrounding community.

The University will submit its response to the Barack Obama Foundation’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) on Monday. The RFQ is the first stage in the bidding process for the library. The Obama Foundation will review the RFQs and invite several finalists at the end of the summer to respond to its Request for Proposals (RFP), from which it will choose one site to host the library.

The University and several different organizations that have been working with the University on its proposal said that they hope to use the library to expand the opportunities for youth on the South Side. “I think that the Barack Obama library being located in the South Side is part of the solution to, obviously, the lack of economic development on the South Side, very few opportunities, very stale opportunities. And I think this will be a great place for organizations…to come together, to really change the narrative of what our youth feel is possible,” Kamau Murray, president and founder of Washington Park’s XS Tennis and Education Foundation, said.

One type of programming that the University will suggest is a botanic garden, developed with the support of the Chicago Botanic Garden and modeled off of Michelle Obama’s White House garden. According to Sophia Shaw, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, the garden could “provide workforce training and therapy services to people of all backgrounds.”

However, Shaw added that the Chicago Botanic Garden would be willing to work with another site in Chicago if the Foundation awarded the library to a different Chicago group.

David Mosena, president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry and member of the University’s Community Advisory Board on the Obama Library, highlighted the ways the library could inspire students to become more interested in science and engineering. “A world-class science museum and a presidential library working in tandem? I mean, where else could you have the opportunity to help a young student learn and get excited about science and then be able to see and understand its role in society and the economy?” Mosena said.

Several other organizations are hoping to offer programming in concert with a possible presidential library, but ultimately the President and first lady will decide exactly what they want the library to do, according to Susan Sher, senior advisor to President Zimmer and leader of the University’s efforts to bring the library to campus.

“It totally depends on what the Obamas are interested in, which we hope to learn about through the Foundation. We thought of these as sort of suggestions, ideas for inspiration, but it’s really premature to be talking about specific proposal tactics until we get input from the Foundation,” Sher said. Sher was chief of staff for Michelle Obama from 2009 to 2011.

Sher highlighted the broad community support for putting the library in the mid–South Side. But when asked about the Trauma Center Coalition, a group of activists advocating for a level-one adult trauma center at the UChicago Medical Center who are opposed to the University hosting the library until it also builds a trauma center, Sher demurred, saying only that the University has seen overwhelming support from community members it has talked to.

Sher said the South Side would not get another opportunity for development and growth like this anytime soon. “The kind of investments that a presidential library involves is sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine what other situation there would be that would involve that kind of investment in one of the neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago.”