Following Tuesday's official announcement that the Obama presidential library will be built in Chicago, local activists continued their push for a South Side trauma center with a march from Washington Park to the home of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer. Progress Illinois was there for the demonstration.
With it now official that Chicago has landed the coveted Barack Obama presidential library, local activists are keeping heat on the University of Chicago to build an adult trauma center.
The Barack Obama Foundation announced early this morning that the library will be built on the city's South Side, in either Jackson or Washington parks, and hosted by U of C. A decision on which of the two South Side parks will house the attraction will come at a later date.
Late Tuesday afternoon, over 50 activists with the Trauma Care Coalition and the Black Lives Matter movement held a South Side march and protest demanding that U of C "provide comprehensive community benefits," starting with expanded access to trauma care services, in conjunction with the library project.
"We need people to understand, and it is the goal of the coalition to let it be known loud and clear, that the Obama presidential library is great," said Trauma Care Coalition leader Veronica Morris-Moore. "But the people's lives who are being lost on the South Side due to gun trauma, due to economic violence, due to police violence, will not be able to find much life-saving value in the presidential library."
U of C opened a Level 1 adult trauma center back in 1986, but closed it in 1988 in an effort to cut costs. The South Side, hard-hit by gun violence, currently lacks a Level 1 adult trauma facility. And that forces seriously injured people to travel miles away to other parts of the city for medical care.
Tuesday's marched kicked off at Washington Park and ended in front of U of C President Robert Zimmer's home, near 59th Street and University Avenue.
"Rob Zimmer and Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved mountains to have this Obama presidential library be secured for Chicago," Morris-Moore stressed. "We are saying that Rob Zimmer and Mayor Rahm Emanuel need to move mountains to place a trauma center on the South Side so that lives -- so that black lives -- can, and will, be saved."
The activists are also backing broader calls for a signed community benefits agreement with the university.
"It is our firm belief that a trauma center should be part of those community benefits, but we believe that the university, and everybody that they have access to, has the resources to provide more than just that," Morris-Moore said.
The Trauma Care Coalition launched its campaign for a South Side Level 1 trauma center after the 2010 death of 18-year-old Damian Turner. The student and youth activist was shot not far from the U of C hospital, but was brought to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which is miles away, due to the lack of a South Side adult trauma center. Turner later died, and those with the Trauma Care Coalition believe he would have survived had there been an adult trauma ward at U of C or somewhere else on the South Side.
"The coalition set out a goal five years ago to ... pressure the University of Chicago to open up a Level 1 trauma center to save lives, and more specifically, black lives," Morris-Moore said. "We are in a moment when there are young people all over this country screaming that black lives matter, not because it is a flavor of the month or a cool thing to be a part of, but because we are seeing young black people be killed and die from trauma."
Organizers with the grassroots group We Charge Genocide as well as members of the university's Students for Health Equity group were also at Tuesday's protest.
"As students of the University of Chicago, we feel like it is our responsibility to ensure that the institution that is representing us is putting people over profit in the greater community that we are all a part of," said Tessa Garcia-Duarte with Students for Health Equity. "The Obama presidential library ... is an incredible opportunity for the University of Chicago to boost their admissions and their prestige. But if President Zimmer was really concerned with the needs of the community, he would be listening to the input that the community is giving him and building a trauma center on the South Side."
Here's more from Tuesday's protest, including comments from Garcia-Duarte, Morris-Moore and Page May with We Charge Genocide:
In response to the Trauma Center Coalition's protest, U of C said in a statement: "The University of Chicago will continue to work with community members, the Barack Obama Foundation and the city of Chicago to ensure that the Obama Presidential Center benefits our community and the city as a whole."
Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Barack Obama Foundation, was asked about community benefits and the South Side adult trauma center issue by reporters at today's library announcement.
"This whole initiative is a community benefit," Nesbitt said in response. "That's what this is about. That's what everybody up here fought for from the very beginning was let's bring this presidential center to the community ... From head to toe, from fingertip to fingertip, this whole effort is about the South Side community and about the city of Chicago.
"It's inextricably linked," he added. "There's no way to slice it and dice it and discern one element from the other. This whole thing is about the community."