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Writing a New West Side Story

Marquis-PittsBy Marquis Pitts

I’m from West Garfield Park, a great neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. When you hear West Garfield Park, you probably think of two things:

  1. The Garfield Park Conservatory, a landmark of Chicago
  2. Crime or violence

I hope after reading this you’ll understand that there is a lot more to West Garfield Park.

I am 21 years old, and I’ve spent all 21 of those years in West Garfield Park. Based on the studies Rush and other groups have done, if I continue living in West Garfield Park, I’ve got about 48 years left. That’s right, the average life expectancy in West Garfield Park is 69 years old.

In the Loop it’s 85. Given that I’m an African-American male, other studies and statistics would say I’m lucky to get to that age, or even my current age. But I’m here to tell you I am more than a data point or statistic. I’m a person with a goal, a plan on how to achieve it, and I have the support of my family and community to help me get there.

A road for ourselves

I graduated elementary school at the top of my class. Then I went to high school at George Westinghouse College Prep, and honestly didn’t really apply myself. I got by and graduated, but I didn’t work as hard as I probably should have and didn’t know what to do next. College wasn’t my next step, so what was? Friends and classmates who were in a similar situation were drawn into gangs and illegal activities. I may not have known what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go down that road.

Remember I said my community supported me? My community showed me the way and introduced me to programs that helped shape my career journey. I was a part of After School Matters, and then I joined the MAAFA Redemption Project at my church.

MAAFA is a Kiswahili word that translates to “great disaster or terrible occurrence,” commonly used to refer to the tragic history of the trans-Atlantic African slave trade, and its ensuing effects on people of African descent. This program takes the name and flips the meaning. MAAFA focuses on investing in the young men of the West Side and helps us create a road for ourselves and our whole community in the process.

I received job training, mentoring and employment services support. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those last two. Marshall Hatch Jr. is my mentor. He has been a guiding light throughout my journey and continues to support me. The employment service connection is Skills For Chicagoland’s Future. Chris Gonzalez, a member of Skills’ team, connected me to Rush, and since March of this year, my goals and plans have become much clearer.

‘A way up’

I’m an environmental service tech at Rush, and I really love my job. I work with the medical staff and patients to ensure the patients are as comfortable as possible. Usually this involves cleaning their room, but my favorite part is talking with the patients. I love Rush, but most people don’t love being at the hospital. Being sick or injured for a long time can be depressing.

Whatever room I walk into, my goal is to leave that person in a better mood than when I came in. I get to motivate people and energize them. It’s a great job, but it’s not the end of my career journey. Rush is a wonderful place to work, and they truly care about their employees. I’ll soon be starting the Bachelor of Science program in imaging sciences through Rush on my way to become an MRI tech. Skills was my way in, and now Rush is providing me a way up.

I mentioned earlier my family and community supported me, but they also drive me. I want to be a pillar of my community. When I’m not at Rush working, I’m volunteering at my church, speaking with members of the next MAAFA class.

The trend is to leave West Garfield Park when you become successful. That’s not my plan. I want to help bring affordable housing and community development resources to support and lift up my neighbors. I’m proud to be from West Garfield Park, and in the future, I know more than just the conservatory and violence will come to mind when my neighborhood is mentioned — because I am helping change the story.

On behalf of myself, my family and my community, thank you Rush, thank you Skills, and thank you to everyone who has supported this work.