10/01/2012 05:00 pm ET

Evergreen Plaza Protest: Ed Gardner, Supporters Rally For Black Construction Jobs

An iconic businessman on Sunday led a protest against a lack of job opportunities for African-Americans at a construction site in suburban Chicago.

Ed Gardner, founder of the Soft Sheen hair care company, called for a large rally outside the site of a forthcoming Meijer grocery store in the Evergreen Plaza development at 92nd and Western in Evergreen Park, Ill., WBEZ reports.

The project attracted the attention of Gardner when, last week, he did not see any African-Americans working at the site, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Black construction jobs have become rarer and rarer in the economic downturn and unemployment in the community remains staggeringly high.

Many appear to share Gardner's concern and protests began last week. About 1,000 protesters rallied outside the site Sunday, including prominent activists and elected officials including Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, both Chicago Democrats, and former Senator Roland Burris.

"We are going to bring construction to a halt here in Chicago if in fact there is no parity in jobs and contracts on construction sites," Rush told ABC Chicago at the rally.

A representative of Meijer told WBEZ that they have met with both Gardner and the construction company. A letter sent on behalf of the company and the site contractor pledged that minority-owned businesses and contractors would be supported at the site.

But Meijer is not the only target of the protests. Omar Shareef of the African American Contractors Association previously told Patch that Meijer has been open to working with his group. Others in the development -- including Menards and Power Construction, the contractor -- have been less so.

"They must have a diverse representation of the South Side," Shareef told Patch. "These are companies that are absolutely qualified."