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Barack Obama's Impact Still Felt in Chicago with Community Work

  • Nico Colombant

Long before Barack Obama became president, he was a community organizer on Chicago's south side

Long before Barack Obama became president, he was a community organizer on Chicago's south side

Long before Barack Obama came to Washington as a U.S. senator, then won election as the first African-American president of the United States, he was a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. Residents, activists and volunteers there say they are proud of his legacy, and hope others will add to it.

Boarded up windows and doors, police cars, signs to stop violence, young men standing idle are common on the south side of Chicago.

Rick, who gave only his first name, is unemployed and dejected. But he remembers fondly the 1980s when Mr. Obama was in his 20s and helping people in public housing.

"I have been up on Obama for a long time. People in Chicago have been knowing Obama for the longest time, because him and his wife had been doing a lot of good things, trying to help out the neighborhoods," he said.

Rick says residents here could still use help from Mr. Obama, now into his second year as president.

"The city is in bad shape, man, bad, bad, shape. Problems are unemployment, drugs, gangs, it is pretty bad out here, pretty bad," he added.

One community group working near to where Mr. Obama used to help is the Inner City Muslim Action Network. Ahlam Said is the group's communications coordinator.

"We are working on a grassroots level to identify the issues that are going on in the community, and developing and cultivating leaders to take charge of their own communities and really changing the conditions that they find themselves in. And so that was something that Barack Obama did in this community," she said.

Said says even though Mr. Obama now holds the highest office in the United States, he should not lose touch with places like the south side, and people here should hold him accountable.

"There has to be this constant connection," she added. "People have to constantly be analyzing the power structure, how that works, how that impacts their everyday life. We have to take ownership over people that we have put in office."

Salman Chaudry is an information technology manager in downtown Chicago during the week. On Saturdays, he spends several hours at the community center to teach computer basics. He says whatever Mr. Obama does as president, he has already been a successful role model for community work.

"I have been seeing it more and more, that more people want to get involved, not only in their communities, but in their state and local governments and try and do what they can to make this world a better place. And I think that every little bit makes a huge difference," he said.

While his class wrapped up, students for the next computer class, to be taught in Spanish, filed in, reflecting the diversity of this community, as well as its shared needs.