Meet the local talent building the Obama Presidential Center
From the beginning, we’ve believed that the Obama Presidential Center should be built by a team that looks like its surrounding community. To meet that ambitious vision, we created the We Can Build It Consortium, an initiative to get more local residents involved in the building trades. We Can Build It is committed to building a pipeline of diverse talent that is not only equipped to build the Obama Presidential Center, but is also prepared to participate in future projects across the city. More than half of our construction workforce at the Obama Presidential Center comes from diverse backgrounds and are Chicago residents. And we’re proud to be meeting our goals!
As construction continues, we want to introduce you to some of the talented tradespeople who are bringing the Obama Presidential Center to life on the South Side of Chicago.
Meet Sharika Harris
Photo by Akilah Townsend
“Everyone needs a plumber. It’s the foundation for any project,” said Sharika Harris.
Sharika helped build hope from the ground up as a plumber on the site of the Obama Presidential Center.
And just like construction, the work we do at the Obama Foundation starts at the ground level and takes shape through action.
She trained for the site through Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), a program designed to support, advocate, and train women in construction. CWIT is a part of the Obama Foundation’s We Can Build It consortium, dedicated to bringing more diverse talent into the trades.
“Chicago Women in Trades made me ready for the work on this site,” she said. “It really was a sisterhood. The pre-apprenticeship program gave me hands-on experience with so many trades, developed my skills as a plumber, and gave me confidence.”
As a proud Chicagoan and West Sider, she says she’s honored to be a part of such a historic project in her community.
“I hope the Center does what it set out to do: inspire a community that desperately needs it,” she shared. “It’s going to be great for the city. The fact that President and Mrs. Obama are from Chicago naturally brings hope.”
Sharika worked on the physical core of the Obama Presidential Center, which she describes as an essential part of the job. She was responsible for putting together drain tile, casting iron, and drain pipe for the parking garage.
She says she enjoys bringing architectural design to fruition.
“I love being part of a project from beginning to end,” Sharika explained. “Plumbing is a system. When you see how systems work, it’s more of a science than people think. Putting together the systems, designing the systems, bringing the clean water in, and taking the dirty water out is what I do.”
Sharika says she fell in love with her craft after discovering its possibilities.
She hopes the Center will do the same for Chicagoans and all who visit; allow people to see the possibilities in their own lives and create new dreams.
Meet Corey Rogers
Photo by Akilah Townsend
“What can a neighborhood guy do to get onto this job site?”
That was Corey Rogers opening pitch to work at the site of the Obama Presidential Center.
As a lifelong resident of the Woodlawn neighborhood and laborer since 1999, Corey said he felt most qualified to build the Center.
He needed a way in the door—so he created one.
Corey’s persistent interest in joining the team finally paid off. He’s been working on the site for six months now. He is a candidate with Hire360, a program designed to provide sustainable career opportunities for local residents and support women and minority owned businesses.
“I thank God, my family and friends, Randy Johnson, Issac Turner, and Steve Hughes for getting me where I am today,” he expressed.
As a laborer, he is responsible for helping carpenters build the site by carrying and stripping materials and keeping the team’s work areas clean.
“I feel like I’m the first one out of our community to knock that door down,” Corey shared. “I hear them yelling, ‘Corey, we’re proud of you!’ when they see me walking on the job site.”
His friends affectionately call him the Mayor of Woodlawn. Corey says he takes pride in working in the community he grew up in, and he’ll always remember Jackson Park, the location of the Obama Presidential Center, as his old stomping grounds.
“That was our park,” he said. “We used to barbecue, play softball, little league, and football there.”
Corey expressed it was bittersweet seeing a piece of his childhood disappear, but is also excited to be a part of a historic project that will create new memories for his community and his young sons.
“We’ve seen negativity in Woodlawn for over 40 years. It’s time for something positive,” he explained.
According to Corey, building the Center will pay homage to friends he’s lost over the years to gun violence.
He also hopes to honor the memory of best friend Roderic Walker, who died of COVID-19 in 2020.
Corey says the atmosphere while working at the site of the Obama Presidential Center is like no other.
“I’ve learned so much at this site. I like the culture. It’s diverse,” Corey explained. “My group is full of Black, White, and Mexican people. We call ourselves the 17-man crew. I love them all. We all get along because we’ve got one job to do—set up so the concrete guys can pour the walls of the Center.”
He says safety is the top priority onsite.
“If you get a little scratch on your glasses, you can get a new pair,” Corey joked. “You could get a new pair of gloves and a safety vest everyday if you want. They take care of us with safety. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Corey says he feels blessed to be a part of this project and excited for the positive impact the Center will have on the youth of Chicago’s South and West sides, especially his own children.
“My sons are going to have a much different life,” he said. “I look forward to taking them to the Center. It’s just going to be an awesome site for the kids and for the whole family.”
Meet Cary Shaw
Photo by Akilah Townsend
12 years ago, she left her office job and never looked back.
“In this field, I can be Cary,” she said. “The construction industry is freeing. You can talk freely and everything is open. You can learn new things on a daily basis.”
Today, Cary is one of hundreds of tradespeople working on the site of the Obama Presidential Center. Cary got involved in the trade when a friend introduced her years ago and she trained for the site through Chicago Women in Trades, a program designed to support, advocate, and train women in construction.
“It’s a great structure and sisterhood of support,” Cary explained.
For the first time in her career, Cary is working on concrete construction. She is a laborer with The Concrete Collective. Cary says she wouldn’t be as confident in her role without the guidance and encouragement of her trade sisters.
“They were there to answer my questions and show me the ropes,” she said. “Concrete is challenging, and I think that’s what motivates me. I enjoy finding solutions to problems and helping where I can.”
According to Cary, working on the Obama Presidential Center has been a dream come true for her.
“I love walking into work everyday. This has been the best project I’ve ever worked on. The experience has been everything,” Cary reflected. “I even got to tell my 90-year-old grandmother that I met President Obama.”
Cary says she’s proud of the work she’s doing to build such an historic site—in her hometown and in her neighborhood. She believes that the impact of the Obama Presidential Center will be far-reaching.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Cary shared. “It means a lot to me. It’s going to be a part of history. I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I helped build that Center.”