Homegrown Leaders

April 17, 2017
Chicago, Illinois
Community Voices: The Value of Homegrown Leaders

Developing local leadership is an integral part of the work that Claretians do in tCI communities across the United States. Jorge O., a resident of the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago and a member of Holy Cross Parish, shares more.

The Back of the Yards neighborhood on the south side of Chicago is known for its violence and poverty. The neighborhood is no stranger to shootings, as the media is not shy to promote. You wouldn’t know from news reports that the neighborhood also has a community of teachers, musicians, and leaders working to promote hope amidst the darkness surrounding them. The people leading these efforts were born in the neighborhood itself—and there is something special about that.

The same kids that got hot meals at Casa Romero are now tutors for the new kids who come for a meal and homework help. Waking up early on a Saturday morning may seem hard for kids, but members of the Woodshop not only used to wake up early to work on projects, they continued to do so to teach the next group of interested kids. Do home grown leaders have more to offer?

The Holy Cross-IHM Marimba Ensemble is a Marimba band that plays as part of the Holy Cross-IHM parish in the Back of the Yards. The group has over 25 years of history and has not only performed around the city, but across the country as well. You might think that Holy Cross would need to hire outside help to get these young musicians to such a high level. But in fact, the teachers were once a part of the group and reside in the neighborhood itself.

I myself went from student to teacher in this Ensemble. All of the teachers who helped me in my years in the group were former students who had once learned the same art as I did. This connection helps make the group a second family that would not exist if marimba teachers were hired from outside the community.

Yes, the community could have success if other brilliant leaders came to help, but this is our community. We know what’s it’s like to sit in those desks, play that music, shape that wood, hear those struggles, and work hard to balance it all. Home grown leadership in low income communities shows that as we grow, we haven’t forgotten where we come from. We are the example for the next wave of leaders, showing them that they have just as much potential as we did.

Help nurture potential in the young people of Back of the Yards through a donation to Casa Romero, the Marimba Ensemble, or the program of your choosing!

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