Chicago’s South Side: Could There Ever Have Been Any Other Choice?

It’s time to Break It Down!

I don’t think so! For months now as critics and admirers alike have pointed to the winding down of President Obama’s tenure as our 44th President, a quiet but intense battle has raged. Usually beneath the surface, or out of the eyesight of the seemingly ever present eye in the sky of the news media, The University of Hawaii, Columbia University, The University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago have vied for the prestigious opportunity to be name home for the Barack Obama Presidential Library. Without further adieu, congratulations to the University of Chicago, located on the City’s well-known, and often controversial South Side.

Let’s take a quick look at the contenders to get an idea why they were in the race in the first place:

The University of Hawaii – President Obama, despite the insistence of Birthers such as Donald Trump, was born in Hawaii. Pretty much automatically, The Aloha State and its Flagship University was a contender. Frankly, however, the University of Nairobi and/or the University of Indonesia (for the sake of those zany Birthers) stood about the same chance as the University of Hawaii of winning the Library. Hawaii is the most isolated population center on the planet. It is 2,390 miles from California, 3,850 miles from Japan, 4,900 miles from China, and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. In the fast paced politics of Negotiation 101, there were probably many reasons why the U of H was not going to be the ultimate home of the Obama Library, but almost certainly, the distance factor alone was sufficient to eliminate the Hawaiian Islands from serious consideration. It was nice of them to try, but it was never going to happen.

Columbia University – President Obama earned his undergraduate degree, a Bachelors of Arts in political science with a specialty in international relations from Columbia, after spending his first two years of college studying at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Columbia, an Ivy League research university, located in Upper Manhattan, New York City. It is in many ways the antithesis of the University of Hawaii. Located in America’s largest population center, is situated in the center of the BosWash megalopolis. Columbia is many things, but located in an isolated region is not one of them. Yet, I do not believe Columbia was serious player in this game. Barack Obama had not begun to make his mark during his Columbia era.

The University of Illinois at Chicago – The UIC has a lot to offer. First, it is in President Obama’s adopted hometown. Although there has been a number of feints and deflections about where President Obama will live after his presidency, and it’s yet to be determined…or at least announced, what we do know, is Chi-Town has served as the launching point for almost everything related to his political career, from his introduction to community organizing to his victory speech in Grant Park after his election in 2008. The school operates the largest medical school in the United States, and educates more of Illinois’ physicians, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, nurses, and other health care professionals than any other institution. Yet, I am reminded of an inside joke a friend of mine and I share. Cutting straight to the chase, UIC is a State School. All the Presidents Post Secondary education pursuits to date have occurred at private institutions, Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard, where he studied, and the University of Chicago, where he served as a Lecturer from 1992-1996, and a Senior Lecturer from 1996-2004, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Senior Lecturers are considered professors; just not full-time or tenure-track. Mr. Obama was invited several times to join the faculty in a tenure-track position, but declined.

It’s worth noting that Harvard was not among the list of schools vying for the Obama Presidential Library. A little research reveals that the Kennedy Library, located near the University of Massachusetts was initially slated for Harvard, President Kennedy’s alma mater. The shorthand version of what happened is it took the project so long to unfold, that what began as a popular idea devolved into one opposed by the community around the University, due to the anticipated crowds and commercialization of the area. There is not much reason to think attitudes have shifted in any fundamental way after the ensuing decades.

The University of Chicago – As President Obama put it in his own words in a video to the Obama Foundation yesterday:

“All the strands of my life came together and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago,”

That pretty much says it all. Any other location would have been an upset selection. He represented the South Side of Chicago in his Illinois Senate Seat, and of course went on to represent the State in the U.S. Senate. Ultimately, the Foundation decided on Chicago, and Mr. and Mrs. Obama signed off on the call. The president also said in the video:

“With a library and a foundation on the South Side of Chicago, not only will we be able to encourage and effect change locally but what we can also do is attract the world to Chicago.”

Finally, President Obama observed that Chicago is the nexus that connects the many elements of his life when he said the city of Chicago is that place where:

“All the strands of my life came together. The people there, the community, the lessons that I learned – they’re all based right in this few square miles where we’ll now be able to give something back and bring the world back home after this incredible journey.”

The City is where he began his career, met his wife, Michelle, and where his children were born. Chicago’s South Side: Could There Ever Have Been Any Other Choice? Really, no!

I’m done; holla back!

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