A NEW LIGHT ON THE SOUTH SIDE
MARTIN NESBITT, CHAIR OF THE OBAMA FOUNDATION, EXPLAINS WHY CHICAGO’S LARGEST AND MOST VIBRANT NEIGHBORHOOD IS THE IDEAL LOCATION FOR THE OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL CENTER—AND HOW THE LIBRARY AND MUSEUM MAY BRING ABOUT A POSITIVE TRANSFORMATION FOR THIS RESILIENT COMMUNITY.
For me, the South Side is the true heart of Chicago. Its people, culture and food all have soul to them, and there is a sense of warmth, grit and humor everywhere you go. I moved to the South Side more than 30 years ago to pursue an MBA at the University of Chicago. A few months after I arrived, I met Anita Blanchard, then a medical student, at an event at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Anita grew up on the South Side, and she introduced me to everything it has to offer. We were married three years later at Rockefeller Chapel, just around the corner from where we met. Each of our five children was born on the South Side at the Chicago Lying-In Hospital, and my wife and I have spent countless Sunday afternoons watching them play in my in-laws’
backyard in a surprisingly quaint neighborhood called Marynook.
The South Side has a rich cultural history. It was the site of the epochal 1893 World’s Fair. It’s where modern gospel music was invented. And the cuisine—well, I’ll just give you two words: mild sauce. I could try to describe the velvety mixture of hot sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce that was created on the South Side and makes everything taste better. But I’ll just go the words of Chicago comedian Hannibal Buress, who once told Chicago magazine, “If serenity had a flavor, it would taste like mild sauce.”
Today, the South Side is home to cultural attractions like the DuSable Museum of African American History (dusablemuseum.org), named in honor of the black trader who is considered the founder of Chicago;
the Stony Island Arts Bank (rebuildfoundation.org), an abandoned bank that Chicago artist Theaster Gates turned into an arts center; and Buddy Guy’s Legends (buddyguy.com), one of the hottest blues spots in the country.
It is also where Michelle Obama was born and raised, where Barack Obama got his start in community organizing, and where the couple started their family. Naturally, they chose to put the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side.
The center will be more than a presidential library. It will include a museum celebrating Obama’s historic presidency, a branch of the Chicago Public Library, and recreation areas and open spaces. The center is going to make the South Side a global destination for those interested in making their world better, because inspiring people to change the world is at the heart of the Obama Foundation’s mission.
While the gems of the South Side are well known by those of us who live here, the area remains undiscovered by many. The Obama Presidential Center will help us showcase the neighborhood we love to the world—mild sauce and all.
The main gate at the University of Chicago, in Hyde Park.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, in Hyde Park.