‘It’s less about you’: Community relations is at the heart of the Obama Presidential Center

Listening and responding changed how the presidential library will take shape.

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The Obama Presidential Center will differ from other presidential libraries.

Most presidential libraries are staid, placid affairs, built to enshrine paperwork and artifacts from America’s top executives.

Former President Barack Obama wanted something different for his own library. It will include the usual scholarly amenities and museum exhibits, but the 19-acre Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago will also serve as a community gathering space that includes an athletic center, garden and splashpad.  The Foundation envisions the space as an economic driver for the economically disadvantaged neighborhood in which it sits.

But even with those lofty goals and benefits to the community, the neighborhood wasn’t immediately excited by the prospect of the center coming to their backyard.

“The neighborhood has been underinvested in, disinvested in,  primarily Black and brown residents,” said Courtney D. Williams former communications director for The Obama Foundation at PR Daily’s recent Media Relations Conference. “And people are afraid of gentrification, afraid to be pushed out.”

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