Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part One: Origins, Chapter Nine. Motivation.

August 8, 2011 by
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BARACK”S  MOTIVATION: ALTGELD GARDENS

After the debacle of his first community meeting Barack was determined to carry on and succeed. However the vast housing wasteland that was the far south side of Chicago was daunting.

He considers possible improvements for the two thousand unit Altgeld Gardens made up of two story buildings run by the Chicago Housing Authority, a patronage trough, poorly maintained and used as a dumping ground for welfare recipients who were mostly black. Altgeld was not as bad as the high rise complexes like Cabrini Greens, Robert S. Taylor and others but it was getting there.

Once high wage factory workers had lived there but they had gone with the manufacturing base. Now Altgeld was surrounded by the polluted Calumet River, a mile long waste treatment plant camouflaged by an earthen berm dotted with dying saplings, and the residue of the waste left by a century of industrial activity. In the Gardens the air was thick with a stench from the river and the treatment plant and no green areas or flowers were to be seen. A child could grow up there without ever seeing a garden.

A meeting at a catholic church, Our Lady of The Gardens, located there was the reason for the visit. However the atmosphere of the Gardens caused him to feel as if he was the captain of a sinking ship. He realized his main source of support, the catholic churches, eight in all, across the South Side, were too few and too spread out to make much of a difference.

All except Father Will at St. Catherine’s were led by white men who were looking to be transferred as soon as a replacement could be found.

He was at the church  to meet with Father Will, Angela, Shirley and Mona about what could be done to improve conditions at Altgeld.  Perhaps a job bank would help those who had transferable skills.

However Angela, Mona and Shirley had felt betrayed when the administration of the $500,000 appropriated for  job development was established by Marty at a University in the suburbs. This was probably to avoid any charges of mismanagement, but it meant no administrative jobs for them or in the area that needed jobs the most. They wanted to be leaders and not just “clients to be served.” They were threatening to quit. Barack looked out the window and saw some young boys playing a pickup basketball game and said what happens to them if you quit? Shirley, Angela and Mona thought over the ramifications of Barack’s question and decided to stay even though the possibility of being job bank administrators was gone.

They planned to go forward with a plan to establish a jobs office by organizing a meeting at St Catherine’s with  Ms. Alvarez, a director of the Mayor’s office for Education and Training (MET).

Mary, another of Father Wills parishioners was also a volunteer. She was from a large Irish Catholic family in Indiana. She had been disinherited when she married a black man and located to St Catherine’s Parrish where they bought a house and had two daughters. Mary’s husband had left long ago and now she was raising her two racially mixed daughters by herself.  She also taught elementary school at St. Catherine’s.

This time the group was able to assemble 100 people for the meeting in the Gardens and Ms Alvarez reluctantly showed up. Ms Alvarez also promised, after some equivocation, to have a MET intake center established within the next six months in the Gardens. Angela, Mona, Mary and Shirley were overjoyed by their success.

Before the meeting Mary had asked, “What motivates you to do this Barack?  Father Will and myself have our faith but you don’t seem very religious. So, why Barack?” The question went unanswered because of an interruption. Later Barack, after some reflection about life in Indonesia where village life was being disrupted by industrialization or that same industrialization was destroying the habitat that supported life, told her “You know I don’t think our reasons are all that different.”

Barack leaves it open as to what he meant unless he actually was religious or perhaps a humanist, at least a pragmatic one.

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