Emilio Comay del Junco
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Trauma activists speak outside Obama Library announcement: “Obama, tell UofC that #BlackLivesMatter”
Who: Trauma Care Coalition
What: Trauma center activists
Date: Tuesday May 12th
Where/When: Main entrance of Gary Comer Youth Center, right now
Visual: Banners reading “Obama Cares, UofC Doesn’t, #TraumaCenterNow, #BlackLivesMatter”
Chicago, IL – Members of the trauma care coalition are outside the Gary Comer Youth Center where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama Foundation head Martin Nesbitt are set to officially announce the foundation’s decision to award the presidential library to the University of Chicago. The activists will be speaking out about their concerns that the lack of community benefits agreement means that the Obama Library will not provide what the South Side needs. Organizers are calling on UofC president Robert Zimmer to commit to opening a level 1 trauma center at the school’s Hyde Park campus.
Trauma activists and allies from the #BlackLivesMatter movement are also planning a march from one of the potential library sites through Hyde Park to Obama’s house and then to the UofC campus. Over one hundred supporters of a South Side trauma center, led by high school students, South Side clergy, UofC students, nurses and doctors will gather at one of the potential library sites. They will then make their way to Obama’s Kenwood home, where they will rally before continuing to the University’s campus.
The University of Chicago stands to gain national and international prominence from the addition of a presidential library, but trauma center activists say the University’s failure to provide adequate guarantees of benefits for the residents of Chicago’s South Side must be central to the narrative.
“Now that they’ve been awarded the library, the UofC has an obligation to make good on all the promises they made about caring for the community,” said Darrius Lightfoot, an organizer with Fearless Leading by the Youth (F.L.Y), “When they were trying to get the library, the University was all about showing how open and responsive they are to their surrounding communities. But we have yet to see that translate into real concrete changes.”\
The South Side of Chicago is classified as a “trauma desert.” The closest medical facility equipped to treat the most severe injuries, including gunshot wounds, is over ten miles from most of the region. Trauma is the leading cause of death for Chicagoans aged 18-44 and areas of the South Side near the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus see some of Chicago’s worst gun violence.
The Trauma Care Coalition doesn’t see this as an isolated instance of institutional neglect. “The UofC is eager to capitalize on the prestige of the first Black President of the US, but they have consistently failed to show a commitment to dismantling racial inequality right here in their own backyard,” said Veronica Morris-Moore, a lead organizer with F.L.Y, noting that gun violence overwhelmingly affects Black Chicagoans. “They are very happy to build a museum, but continue to refuse to provide life-saving trauma care at their medical facility.”
The library news comes amidst renewed protest nationwide over racial discrimination in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The same day news outlets broke the story of the University of Chicago being awarded the library, six Baltimore police officers were arrested and charged, following days of intense protests, for the death of Freddie Gray.
Trauma activists also support a broader push for a comprehensive community benefits agreement to go along with the library. “They say that they’re taking community voices into account, but even if they did that in more thorough way, like by agreeing to provide trauma care, there still needs to be way to hold them accountable,” explained Morris-Moore, who hopes that the University will sign a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
Student activist Tessa Garcia-Duarte also questioned the effectiveness of the University’s projected impact of the library project. The University claims that the library will bring $220-million a year to the city of Chicago. “What we don’t know is who’s going to benefit from that income – even the UofC isn’t claiming that it’s going to South Siders, and given their record of racism and exclusion, we need to see clear guarantees. It’s only a compelling statistic if you’re a diehard believer in trickle-down economics,” said Garcia-Duarte.
The community’s demand for trauma care was sparked by the death of Woodlawn youth leader Damian Turner, and is led by the Woodlawn-based Fearless Leading by the Youth, along with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, Students for Health Equity at the UofC, National Nurses United and many faith groups including the United Church of Christ.
The South Side is currently a trauma desert for adults, meaning that victims of shootings and other serious injuries must be taken over ten miles away, to the Near North Side or south west suburbs. The call for trauma care is also supported by a new study by the Illinois Department of Public Health which states that longer travel times to a trauma center increases the likelihood of dying, the study also states that the U of C is best positioned to expand access to trauma care, and that the U of C could further raise the age limit of their pediatric trauma center.
Recent stories on the trauma center campaign:
“Here’s What U of C Should Do for the City” Crain’s Chicago Business
“Protestors link Obama library with #BlackLivesMatter,” Bloomberg
“UofC Wants to Raise Age Limit at Pediatric Trauma Center,” The Chicago Sun-Times
“UofC Aims to Expand Treatment at Children’s Trauma Center,” The Chicago Tribune
“Trauma center protesters target U. of C. capital campaign,” The Chicago Maroon
“Chicago Faith Leaders Sing, Pray For A South Side Trauma Center ,” Progress Illinois
“Religious leaders march for South Side trauma center,” Hyde Park Herald
“South Side Hospital Patients Caught in Trauma Deserts,” (Feature Story), Chicago Tribune
“University of Chicago Alumni: No Donations Until Trauma Center Opened,” Progress Illinois
“Chicago needs help, not Obama Library,” LZ Granderson, CNN.com
“Activists protest university’s bid for Obama Library,” USA Today