- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2018

Bronwyn Nichols Lodato never thought her opposition to the construction of a private parking garage on historic public parklands would bring charges of racism.

But that’s what happened after Ms. Lodato, an African-American woman who has lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood for more than a decade, spoke out against plans for the Obama Presidential Center.

“All I wanted to do was make sure my kids could play with no garage in their park,” Ms. Lodato told the Chicago Tribune. “I have three young children and we live in a condo and the Midway is our yard. My story is simply, how can we keep the park so our kids could play there?”

Juanita Irizarry, an activist affiliated with Friends of the Park, said residents in favor of former President Barack Obama’s library have accused anyone who “disagrees or asks questions — they must be white, they must not care about black people and they must not care about economic development on the South Side.

“To make it all about race is inappropriate — that’s not what Obama stood for,” said Ms. Irizarry, who is Hispanic. “There needs to be more nuance.”

Community organizers on the South Side have long opposed construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

Plans for the monument to the 44th president have been panned for taking nearly 20 acres from historic Jackson Park, which was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the duo behind New York’s famed Central Park.

Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places.

More than 200 faculty members from the University of Chicago signed a public letter denouncing plans for the center as “socially regressive.” The professors say the library could do more good in a neighborhood in need of economic revitalization, instead of on the lush Jackson Park waterfront.

Activists have also taken issue with the Obama Foundation’s unwillingness to sign a community benefits agreement, which would guarantee jobs and other benefits for residents on the South Side.

Then came news that the Obama Presidential Center will not be Mr. Obama’s official presidential library and will not house documents from the Obama White House.

Ms. Irizarry said there needs to be an honest discussion about the inevitable gentrification that will accompany the Obama library’s construction.

“We care about gentrification — we talk about it on our Facebook page,” Ms. Irizarry told the Tribune. “The claim should not be made that anybody who opposes the Obama center in the park does not care about black people.”

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