Leo High School students help clean up Auburn Gresham

The Catholic school wasn’t damaged but its students helped tidy up the neighborhood, in part, to combat the images of those who broke into businesses and destroyed properties.

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Volunteers sweep up loose rock and dirt near Leo High School, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Students and faculty cleaned and beautified 79th Street from Halsted Street and Racine Avenue, in the wake of the recents property damage from protests.

Volunteers sweep up loose rock and dirt near Leo High School, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Students and faculty cleaned and beautified 79th Street from Halsted Street and Racine Avenue, in the wake of the recents property damage from protests.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Cheerful photos of this year’s graduating class at Leo High School lined a fence at the Auburn Gresham school Thursday as part of its efforts to clean up after some of the unrest in this week’s mostly peaceful protests over George Floyd’s killing.

The private all-boys Catholic school, at 7901 S. Sangamon St., wasn’t damaged or vandalized, but its faculty and predominately African American student body was deployed to help tidy up the neighborhood, in part, to combat the images of those who broke into businesses and destroyed properties.

“It’s so damaging to the image of young African American males,” Leo High School President Dan McGrath said. “We work with young African American males every single day, and we know that they almost start out with two strikes against them because of the justice system.”

Principal Shaka Rawls said officials spent the last week checking in with students and advising them to stay indoors over concerns for their safety. Many of the boys know the participants in the local protests who filled the streets after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck, leading to the African American man’s death.

“They [students] wanted to know their part and their place in all of this, which was actually the birth child of this event here,” Rawls said. “We needed to do something, they wanted to do something.”

The teenagers swept 79th Street between Halsted Street and Racine Avenue Thursday afternoon. Some of the boys used their brooms to clear out grass and spread mulch out on the sidewalk.

The school later passed out meals to members of community where several businesses, including a nearby Walgreens, were boarded up.

Tyler Smith, a Leo High School sophomore, poses for a portrait during a clean up in Auburn Gresham, Thursday June 4, 2020. Smith finds it important to keep pushing forward despite the hardship that the America faces and to unite for basic human rights.

Tyler Smith, a Leo High School sophomore, poses for a portrait during a clean up in Auburn Gresham, Thursday June 4, 2020. Smith finds it important to keep pushing forward despite the hardship that the America faces and to unite for basic human rights.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Tyler Smith, 15, said he didn’t go to any of the protests, because he didn’t want to catch COVID-19.

The 15-year-old, who will be a sophomore in the fall, said he was helping clean up so incoming freshmen could start their high school careers in a fresh environment. He also said he wanted his peers and neighbors to stay safe.

“Check in on your loved ones,” the teenager said. “Live life to your fullest.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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