Youth Success Image

Youth Success

Danny's Success Story

Danny,  age  20,  did  much  of  his  growing  up  surrounded  by  gang  activity  –  a  fact  that  conditioned  early  choices,  but  did   not  predict  the  full  course  of  his  life.  

“I  was  born  into  a  caring  family  that  lived  in  Logan  Square  where  there  were  lots  of  gangs  that  began  to  influence  me.  My   mother  always  wanted  the  best  for  me,  so  after  6th  grade,  we  moved  to  the  South  Side  to  give  me  a  better   neighborhood.  But,  of  course,  there  were  gangs  there  too.  My  new  friends  and  I  became  more  involved  in  gang   relationships  and  activities.  When  I  finished  middle  school,  I  didn’t  start  high  school,  so  my  life  revolved  around  the  gang.   It  wasn’t  too  long  before  I  got  into  trouble  that  landed  me  first  in  juvenile  detention,  then  finally  in  adult  prison  facilities   downstate.  I  used  my  time  on  the  inside  to  begin  turning  my  life  around  by  passing  my  GED  (General  Educational   Development)  test  to  get  my  high  school  diploma.”

Armed  with  his  GED  and  determination  to  take  another  road  upon  his  release,  Danny  knew  that  finding  a  job  and  forming   new  relationships  were  key.  “It  was  really  hard  to  find  a  job,  because  many  areas  of  employment  are  closed  to  ex-­offenders.   Finally,  I  got  a  leg  up  on  the  employment  side  when  I  met  Guillermo  Gutierrez  and  Chris  Hervey,  BUILD  staff  members  who   got  me  involved  in  the  NRI  (Neighborhood  Recovery  Initiative)  Re-­Entry  Program  that  Governor  Quinn  put  in  place  to   provide  support  for  people  returning  to  life  on  the  outside.  These  men  helped  me  look  for  a  job,  opened  doors  for  me  to  be  a   speaker  at  schools  to  talk  about  avoiding  violence,  and  supported  me  in  staying  focused  and  positive.  Through  BUILD,  I   even  met  news  people  from  France  who  were  here  to  learn  about  the  gang  problem  in  the  US.  

“These  relationships  and  experiences  helped  me  to  set  goals,  not  give  up,  and  move  forward.  When  I  was  in  a  gang,  I  saw   fellow  gang  members  as  family,  but  the  more  people  I  met  at  BUILD,  the  more  I  realized  I’d  found  a  new  family  that  had  my   back.  Now,  I’m  taking  courses  at  Triton  College,  will  get  an  Associate’s  Degree  in  psychology,  and  may  become  a  youth   counselor  who  reaches  back  and  helps  kids  stay  out  of  trouble.  And,  in  March,  I  started  a  job  at  Just  Manufacturing  as  an   equipment  packer.  I  am  living  out  my  values  that  have  set  this  new  course  for  my  life  –  respect,  loyalty,  dedication  and   perseverance.  I  am  proud  of  the  successes  I’ve  achieved  so  far  and  know  I’ll  achieve  more  in  the  future!”



Jermeisha's success story

 Jermeisha, age 12, is a 7th grader at Leif Ericson Academy and lives in the Fifth City neighborhood in Chicago's West Side.

“The  neighborhood  I  live  in  is  not  safe  at  all.  You  see  gangbangers,  drug  dealers,  people  fighting  and  robbing,  and  kids   getting  shot  because  they  are  in  the  wrong  place  at  the  wrong  time.  Sometimes  I’d  get  caught  up  in  the  fighting,  but  my   Daddy  told  me  ‘you’re  too  pretty  to  be  fighting!’  I  attend  Leif  Ericson  Academy  and  my  school  is  good.  I  feel  safe  there.   Some  teachers  are  brilliant  and  cool  and  others  are  hard  on  us,  but  I  like  most  of  them  because  they  show  us  that  they  care.   My  biggest  challenge  at  school  is  people  talking  about  me  and  bullying  me  about  how  I  look  and  how  I  dress.”  

Jermeisha,  caught  between  negative  and  positive  people  and  places,  is  faced  daily  with  choices  that  can  take  her  in  very   different  directions.    “I  was  feeling  discouraged  by  getting  picked  on  when  I  met  this  wonderful  and  inspiring  tutor, Mr.  Ramiro  (Rodriguez,  a  Youth  Development  Specialist),  from  BUILD’s  After  School  C.A.R.E.  Program  (Culture   Academic  Recreation  Enrichment).  He  helped  me  with  my  homework,  my  problems,  and  my  attitude.  In  my  free  time,  I   attended  one  of  BUILD’s  annual  diversity  conferences  and  went  to  their  winter  program  activities.  I  met  new  people,  like   Mrs.  Angella  (another  BUILD  Specialist),  who  helped  me  bring  up  my  grades  and  showed  me  that  you  can  be  happier  with   different  types  of  attitudes.“Now  I’m  trying  to  be  a  good  girl,  a  better  person.  Mr.  Ramiro  and  Mrs.  Angella  tell  me  that  I’m   helpful.  I  want  to  excel  in  reading  because  I  get  a  better  understanding  of  things  through  reading.  I  also  want  my  neighbor-­ hood  to  be  a  safe  place  where  I  am  able  to  walk  outside  and  don’t  have  to  worry  about  drug  dealers  on  the  corners.  And   someday  I  want  to  own  a  beauty  salon  or  go  to  Southern  Illinois  University  or  Northern  Illinois  University  and  maybe  be  a   pediatrician.

“If  a  friend  of  mine  asked  me  about  BUILD,  I  would  tell  her  that  it  is  a  good  place  and  she  should  sign  up.  They  help  you   with  your  homework,  your  attitudes,  and  your  problems.  They  are  great  people  who  love  kids,  are  very  helpful,  and  set  a   good  example  for  us.  They  helped  me  set  goals,  telling  me  that  I  can  do  anything  if  I  put  my  heart  and  efforts  into  reaching   my  goals.  Just  like  my  Dad,  they  tell  me  “you’re  too  beautiful  for  bad  attitudes!”



Aramis's success story

Aramis , age 17, is a senior at Steinmetz College Prep and grew up in Austin, the West Side community that is now the home  of  BUILD’s  headquarters. 

“Growing  up,  you  would  always  find  me  in  my  house  after  school.  My  parents  were  very  protective  regarding  my  exposure   to  the  poverty,  drugs  and  violence  that  surrounded  our  home  and  insisted  that  there  would  be  no  porch  sitting  or  hanging   out  on  the  streets  for  me.  I  just  figured  my  parents  knew  best,  including  when  they  enrolled  me  in  Steinmetz  College  Prep   (formerly  known  as  Steinmetz  Academic  Centre)  in  the  Belmont-­Cragin  area  –  the  place  where  they  had  gone  to  high   school.”

Even  though  the  school  was  in  a  safer  community  than  Austin,  it  did  not  provide  a  safe  zone.  “I  got  jumped  and  bullied   there,  as  an  outsider  who  stuttered  and  who  didn’t  feel  comfortable  looking  other  students  in  the  eye.  I  took  the  bullying  for so  long  and  then  I  exploded  out  of  control.  Despite  being  a  good  student,  inability  to  control  my  anger  threatened  to   undermine  my  academic  success.

“Music  was  an  avenue  for  channeling  my  energy  and  curbing  my  stuttering  when  I  distinguished  myself  as  a  rapper  by   carefully  pronouncing  every  word,  but  I  still  didn’t  have  the  confidence  to  really  perform  and  work  a  crowd.  Becoming   involved  in  BUILD  Voices,  a  poetry  performance  program  that  BUILD  staff  member  RIK  Vazquez  held  at  Steinmetz,  was   the  beginning  of  being  able  to  push  myself  forward  with  confidence,  to  express  joy  or  anger  in  my  own  voice.  I  liked  the   message  of  BUILD  and  my  music  reflected  that  positivity.”

Armed  with  a  new  sense  of  confidence  and  purpose,  Aramis  is  creating  his  way  forward.  “No  longer  do  I  accept  bullying   from  anyone  and  I  hate  when  I  see  it  happening  to  other  people  and,  yes,  I  stand  up  for  them.  I  also  know  that  kids  are   dying  in  my  neighborhood  and  beyond,  and  we  need  to  stop  the  violence  in  our  music  and  in  our  streets.  We  need  to   lower  the  gun  violence  that  puts  youth  at  risk  and  I  want  to  be  part  of  making  our  communities  safe.  I’ve  been  accepted  at   Indiana  State  University.  I  want  to  do  so  much  before  I  settle  down!  I’m  interested  in  music,  culinary  arts,  and  engineering,   but  for  now  I  want  to  be  a  high  school  English  teacher,  to  be  there  for  kids,  like  RIK  and  BUILD  have  been  there  for  me,   and  to  be  part  of  reducing  violence  and  keeping  kids  safe  in  our  schools.”