Thank you, Paul Adams and Providence St. Mel

Thank you for seeing us — labeled by sociologists as the “permanent underclass” — as Black gold to be refined by education and love.

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Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Provident St. Mel School, and columnist John Fountain.

Photo provided by John W. Fountain

This week’s column is a tribute to Paul J. Adams, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, John Fountain’s alma mater.

Dear Dad, thank you for loving me. For choosing to call me your son. For being keeper of the emerald grass that still grows pristine on the West Side, where hopes and dreams too often are deferred until they dry up like a raisin in the sun.

Thank you for standing as the roaring lion of West Garfield. As protector of those who still find safe-haven in the hallowed halls of the towering brick castle on South Central Park. Thank you, for staying when the Archdiocese of Chicago 43 years ago declared that it was done and withdrew its funds.

Thank you for choosing not to run.

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For seeing us — labeled by sociologists as the “permanent underclass,” as “the American Millstone,” as future drug dealers, killers and thugs — as Black gold to be refined by education and love. Thank you.

For dreaming of educating poor Black children mislabeled as ineducable in a place where broken glass, violence and gunfire run thick like a muddy river of hopelessness, I am grateful.

For building that old steady ship that still stands glistening as Providence St. Mel School — which existed long before the explosion of charter schools, of school reform and “No Child Left Behind” — thank you. For educating young Black minds.

For being the epitome of strength, love and fatherhood — in the face of prevailing stereotypes about Black males. For standing through all the hell…

The hell of uncertain days when the dream seemed more a haze, and trying to make payroll left you discouraged and dazed, and yet, still standing.

The hell of those most ungrateful, of critics so hateful. The hell of those words that sting and sometimes ring with bitterness that can steal one’s joy. The hell of those who cast aspersions or magnify perceived faults or shortcomings. Who choose to see the speck in your eye but not the wooden log in their own — and not yet having made a fraction of your sacrifice or impact on Black children’s lives. Facts.

You — and (former principal) Jeanette Butala — gave your lives to this cause. I will never forget that.

Thank you, for never abandoning ship. For being pure in heart and unwavering in your commitment to saving us. For being brave enough to face enemies far and near. For seeing clearly that a quality education is neither Black nor white, just right.

That our Blackness as a people is and always will be. But education must be attained, and excellence, hopes and dreams worked for and gained.

Thank you for embodying Black manhood.

For being wearing your regal Afro crown and standing rooted in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with whom you marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Thank you for caring most about what was in our heads, not what was on our heads.

For establishing school codes intended to make us uniform, to teach us values and order but never stole our Black pride or cool. I wore my braids back then, just not to school. And I still respect your rules.

Thank you for being a true gangster for education, for true emancipation. For embracing the call to envision ghetto children from a little West Side school that could, gaining academic scholarships and entry to the nation’s top colleges and universities (100% since 1978) — then matriculating.

Thank you for excavating Black gold on the other side of the tracks. For your vision carried on at Providence St. Mel and based on one simple fact: Black children can achieve. Every single one.

I am so proud to call you father and humbled that you call me your son. Happy Father’s Day.


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