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Obama and Ayers: The Public Relationship

This is the second in a series of posts which discuss the relationship between Barack Obama, Bill Ayers, and our national economy.To read the first entry, click here.

In this entry it will be demonstrated that the two men had an extensive public relationship.

Also in this entry, I will argue that the professional relationship between Obama and Ayers could not have been impersonal; the two men must have known each other.

Obama and Ayers had an extensive public relationship.

In 1995, Obama was asked to serve as board chairman for the Chicago Annenberg Project, a non-profit organization with the mission of improving public schools.

Bill Ayers fought to bring the Annenberg Project to Chicago.

From 1994-2002, Obama served on the board of the Joyce Foundation.

Starting in 1996 and continuing through 2002, the Joyce Foundation awarded $1.8 million to two organizations associated with Bill Ayers. The grants were made to the Small School Workshop, run by Bill Ayers, and the Leadership For Qualty Education, run by John Ayers in cooperation with his brother, Bill Ayers.

An additional $1.5 million went to the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative. The proposed redesign was to be along the lines promoted by Bill Ayers in his Small School Workshop.

In the planning grant for the Initiative, Appendix 2 is a Small Schools Bibliography. The first book listed is a collection of essays edited by (Bill) Ayers, (Mike) Klonsky and Lyons. The book is introduced this way:

Written by major players in the small schools movement, this book points to the ways school restructuring strategies connect to the ongoing pursuit of social justice.

The Small School Workshop and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge both had offices on the third floor at 115 S. Sagamon in Chicago, from 1995 to 1998.

Obama was not the only member of the board of the Joyce Foundation. However, he was sufficiently committed to the work to consider leaving politics to become the group’s full-time president.

From 1999-2002, Obama served on the board of the Woods Foundation. The board had six other members, one of whom was Bill Ayers.

In 1999, the Woods Foundation granted $50,000 to the Leadership for Quaility Education, run by Bill and John Ayers, and $30,000 to the Small Schools Workshop, run by Bill Ayers alone. In 2001, another $50,000 was granted to the Small Schools Workshop.

In 1997, Michelle Obama organized a panel discussion at the University of Chicago. The subject was the juvenile justice system. The main draw of the event was Bill Ayers, who had recently written a book on the subject. One of the three other panelists was Barack Obama.

The event was announced on November 4, and held on November 20. On December 21, the Chicago Tribune asked several notables to name their favorite book. Among them was Obama.

Featured next to a smiling photograph of himself, then-State Senator Obama called Ayers’ book, “A Kind and Just Parent: Children of the Juvenile Court,” a “searing and timely account of the juvenile court system, and the courageous individuals who rescue hope from despair.”The book, which details life at the Chicago Juvenile Court prison school, mentions Obama by name on page 82 when it describes Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood:”Our neighbors include Muhammad Ali, former mayor Eugene Sawyer, poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and writer Barack Obama. Minister Louis Farrakhan lives a block from our home and adds, we think, a unique dimension to the idea of ‘safe neighborhood watch’: the Fruit of Islam, his security force, has an eye on things twenty-four-hours a day.”

In 1999, Michelle Obama served on the Planning Committee for the Community Renewal Society’s 10th Anniversary Prom. Also on the committee were John Ayers and Susan Klonsky. Susan Klonsky is the wife of Mike Klonsky, mentioned above as co-author with Bill Ayers. Mike Klonsky co-founded the Small School Workshop with Bill Ayers, and is its current director.

Analysis: The professional relationship between Obama and Ayers could not have been impersonal; the two men must have known each other.

The evidence presented in the previous section shows that the public relationship between Obama and Ayers was extensive, and spanned a period of seven years. In this section, I present my analysis of that evidence.

A review of the evidence indicates that the professional relationship between Obama and Ayers could not have been of the impersonal, bump-into-one-another-at-meetings kind. They must have known each other personally.

Obama was asked to be board chair for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge project. Though Ayers was not on the ad hoc committee which offered to job to Obama, he did fight to bring the project to Chicago. Ayers fought for the project because its mission of improving the public schools was important to him. His fight was successful because he was a major player in the small schools movement. Under these circumstances, it is not at all likely that the board chair would have been offered to anyone without input from Ayers. Further, it is very likely that Ayers would have interviewed Obama for the position, unless he already knew him.

Obama, as a committed director of the Joyce Foundation, agreed to grant $1.8 million to organizations run by Bill Ayers and his brother, plus another $1.5 million to support a school redesign project associated with Ayers. It is inconceivable Obama would not know a good deal about Bill Ayers, and very likely that the two would have had personal contact.

For three years, Obama served with Ayers on a board of six people. Here, repeated personal contact was unavoidable.

The panel discussion of the juvenile justice system is particularly interesting. Education is the common theme in all of the contacts between Obama and Ayers, except this one. Furthermore, the contact in this case extended beyond board meetings. Obama read Ayers’ book. Ayers knew that Obama was a writer, and that he lived in his neighborhood.

Michelle Obama’s service on a committee with John Ayers and Susan Klonsky shows that both she and Barack were active in a group of like-minded professionals, a group which included Bill Ayers. The people in such groups can’t help but know each other personally.

The evidence leads to the conclusion that Obama and Ayers knew each other personally, and had a mutual respect.

To read the next entry, click here.

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