Obama Presidential Center – How Black Will It Be? – Part I

Harry Alford

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

So far, the Obama Legacy is surprisingly lacking in Black participation. During his two presidential administrations, Black business participation was on a continuous downward slide. At the end of George W. Bush’s two administrations, SBA lending to Blacks was approaching eight percent and Black business participation was similar. When the Obama presidency succeeded George W. Bush the numbers in both categories started to fall from the beginning. Both categories were cruising at the two percent level. It was so bad that the SBA and MBDA would lie to the press by claiming they didn’t keep numbers on Black lending and procurement. The truth is that for at least the last 40 years the Federal Procurement Data Systems office tracks all numbers in terms of procurement with detailed demographics. The SBA itself reports its own lending by race. I will never figure out why they were so disingenuous and insincere about improving Black business development. Maybe there were not enough “real Blacks” working in the right places. The Trump Administration has reversed that “farce” and we are back to improving the numbers.

Why is it called Presidential Center as opposed to Library? That is because this is going to be more than a library – it will also be a museum. Thus, the overall costs will exceed over $1.3 billion dollars. The initial phase will reach over $500 million. The management company will be the Barack Obama Foundation.

Maybe the big “red flag” about Black participation in the building of this center is the fact that it will be a Chicago thing. The Chicago market is notorious when it comes to Black business participation in the construction industry. Despite a consistency of lofty goals, the numbers are fraught with “fronting” and “fraud.” Midwest cities like Indianapolis and Columbus, OH are doing more with Black construction companies than the mighty population of Chicago. That is because they are accountable to the public.

The $600 million National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC was completed with Black representation we can all be proud of. I will forever applaud the Honorable Congressman John Lewis for holding the operation accountable from the beginning to the end. One day, Chicago may emulate such an accomplishment. But right now, and until things drastically change it will never happen in Chicago. Therefore, there is hopelessness within its Black communities. There is no increase in Black employment in the construction industry, unlike that of the “murder industry” in that town.

When the NBCC started working the Chicago market it became clear that many of the so-called Black construction businesses were “shells.” They had no significant equipment nor a consistent labor force.  Their bonding ability never grew.  The only Black construction companies doing work in Chicago were not from Chicago.  They would do their projects and get out (in and out on a continual basis).  If they were to stay there and try to grow they would meet disaster.

Chicago is a big corrupt construction union town. You must be union and that is a big problem. The Chicago construction unions are very racists. They rival New York in this area. There is no way this project will have Black employment participation during the construction phase. The authorities will demand union only work and the unions are very Jim Crow. They might let us pour cement and do general labor but they will never let us work the higher paying trades. Pipe fitters, electrical workers, iron workers, steel erection, etc. might as well be run by the Klan. The court records of Cook County, IL will attest to the claim. The unions get sued; are found guilty of discrimination but keep on doing it.  Don’t believe me? Google “Discrimination in Chicago Construction Unions.” It lives!

When the great Harold Washington became the first Black mayor of Chicago he made a pathway for talented Black construction and architectural firms. It wasn’t long before he died a premature death and the up and coming contractors and architects also abruptly died (literally). No doubt the “Mob” had an effect. It is going to be very difficult to break the grip racist construction unions have on the Windy City.  Yes, “Tony Soprano” is alive and well in this big city.

Will it change? I doubt that very much. The first executive order President Obama signed was to make all federal projects over one million dollars union only jobs. The formal term is known as Project Labor Agreements. He loves them! Keep in mind that he reversed an order by George W. Bush to declare all federal construction projects – Right to Work (no union requirement). Construction unions have given his campaigns so much money that he cannot approach them to change their evil ways. Thus, the evil ways will persist.

The Black children living in Jackson Park (Woodlawn) where the structure will be erected will see very few if any Blacks working on the project as opposed to the new museum in DC. Dr. Martin Luther King, Arthur Fletcher and Parren J. Mitchell will be shaking their heads from above.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org 

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