Growing up in some of Chicago’s tougher neighborhoods presents a very big challenge to young people who want more for their lives than the gangs and drug dealing they often see all around them.
But on Tuesday night, more than 300 youngsters were honored as part of the Chicago Scholars program.
“Back in 8th grade when I wasn’t even planning on doing much with my life, didn’t have that good of grades, I used to skip school a lot,” said 18-year-old Christopher Wilson.
He grew up in the South Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.
“Kids got beaten up on the corner, people got shot on the corner,” Wilson said.
He also had a man pull a gun on him in the alley behind his house during his sophomore year.
“When he pulled it out I just reacted, it was just a reaction, I ran straight up to him and grabbed the gun while he had it up here,” Wilson recalled.
By the time he started high school at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Academy, things were turning around.
“All of that kind of shifted my idea of not being just another statistic out here on the West Side and wanting to do better for myself and my family,” he said.
In the Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier, Wilson and the other Chicago Scholars, all from disadvantaged neighborhoods, many first generation college students, were recognized as they prepare for college next year.
“We selected you because you are a leader and we believe that you have the power to create positive change wherever you are,” said Dominique Jordan Turner, President & CEO of Chicago Scholars.
This fall, Wilson will attend the University of Wisconsin on a full ride. He plans to study computer science and become a software engineer or an IT manager.
His advice to those who see no hope in their neighborhood is simple:
“My biggest advice is step into the ring with both gloves up and know that you’re going to have to pull out some deep inner will if you want to make a change in your life. It’s not an easy road, but it’s worthwhile,” Wilson said.