On May 17, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will walk away from what he has often described as the best job in the world.
Before then, though, he will make one last attempt to show us where his true passions lie despite what’s been said by his critics.
“I have a million bucks left in my campaign fund. Amy and I have decided that we are going to give the money to the things that we started. Each of those youth programs is going to get $200,000. We are giving the money away,” he said.
Five youth groups, either started or adopted by Emanuel, will share in the windfall:
• Chicago Star Scholarship, a program that allows a qualified student to earn a degree or certificate at City Colleges at no cost;
• Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man (BAM);
• One Summer Chicago jobs program;
• Rahm’s Readers/Teacher in a Library;
• An Arts Education, an initiative of the CPS Children First Foundation specifically to support dance programs.
“Twenty percent of a child’s education is in the school, and 80% of the time, it is outside of the school. So if you want the 20% to succeed, you’ve got to invest in the 80%,” Emanuel said repeating the clarion call he made in his second inaugural address.
“Whether it is Rahm’s readers and the free tutoring to every child; whether it’s summer jobs that also have academic components to it; whether it’s arts education, both in school and after-school programming, or whether it’s the mentoring and the Chicago Star scholarships; all of that is about investing in our kids during the hours that they are not in school,” the mayor told me.
“When I look back on what Amy and I have done with our children, those are the hours that we invested most of our parental energy.”
Monuments are toppled.
Schools and streets are renamed with the stroke of a pen.
But the investments we make in our youth not only impact their lives, but the lives of a future generation.
Except for the cash needed to pay legal fees and a farewell party for religious leaders, Emanuel is using his war chest to leave a mark that no one can erase.
Vashon Jordan Jr., 19, stumbled upon a flyer about the Chicago Star Scholarship when he was in a gym class at his high school.
“I had always wanted to obtain my bachelor’s degree, and the issue was how would I get there and how would I pay for it,” Jordan told me.
“At the time, I didn’t know the Chicago Star Scholarship was a direct result of Mayor Emanuel, but it made the path [to college] foreseeable. I believe that all students in the city of Chicago have great potential. We just need the resources in order to tap into it.”
Glenda Flores, 19, another Chicago Star Scholarship awardee, didn’t qualify for financial aid because she’s a DACA recipient.
Because she didn’t have to be born in the U.S. to apply for the Chicago City Colleges Scholarship, Flores is the first in her family to go to college.
“I think it is one of the best ideas any mayor has had and it is helping youth and all the kids that want to go to college. It is making college affordable,” she said.
Jordan and Flores will graduate with a two-year degree on Saturday. Both are planning to transfer to a four-year university.
“I am obtaining my associate’s degree free-of-cost, and I am on track to obtain my bachelor’s degree and to graduate debt free,” Jordan said.
“A lot of times we have people who talk about what’s wrong with the city, and present Band-Aid solutions. Mayor Emanuel’s solution was a long term solution that allowed us to use education as our key and our ticket to get where we wanted to go”
Last time Emanuel dug deep into his campaign coffers, it was to take care of the aldermen who remained loyal even when they were catching hell in their wards.
This time, Emanuel’s altruism stems from his empathy for the city’s most vulnerable population.
He leaves office carrying the weight of how public officials, including his own office, mishandled the release of a damning video that showed former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.
Still, we should not ignore the efforts Emanuel has made to help thousands of at-risk youngsters by making youth programs a top priority in the city’s budget.
“Every year, every budget, I increased the allotment for the summer jobs program, with no federal or state funding. The largest increase in the city’s budget was children,” he said.
Dar’Tavous Dorsey, West Region BAM supervisor, said Emanuel understood that programs like Youth Guidance’s BAM program helped to save lives and to change the life trajectory of young people.
“Under the mayor’s leadership, we have been able to extend our Becoming A Man program to all 7th graders universally. That is huge,” Dorsey exclaimed.
“Because of what the mayor has done, it has helped us understand that every young person, no matter what their circumstances, deserve to reach their full potential. They can do this when given the right support and guidance. He left a true legacy.”
I’ve sat down with the mayor nearly a dozen times, and he always gets teary when he talks about the plight of young people growing up in neighborhoods plagued by violence.
This time was no different.
“You’ll be able to see the Riverwalk. You’ll see the 606. You’ll see the new buildings. You’ll see the new airport. But the most important legacy I think is the promise of our youth,” he said, his voice beginning to crack.
“That’s why I ran. That’s why I take political hits. I hope I make my father proud as a pediatrician,” he said, eyes watering. “I trust that I have.”