This week’s column is a tribute to my alma mater, Providence St. Mel School, which celebrates its 40-year anniversary this weekend. I am a graduate of the class of 1978 that was supposed to be the school’s last class after the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago withdrew its support. Providence St. Mel reopened that fall as an independent private school and has maintained 100 percent college acceptance over the last 40 years.
Providence divine. O sacred Alma Mater who hath provided wings for your sons and daughters to fly. Yellow-brick castle towering above the West Side’s Garfield Park proudly, unyielding in the sky.
You never failed to keep us safe within your humble abode. To prepare us for the oft jagged and tumultuous road.
“Can any good thing come out of the West Side?” We have heard some say.
At Providence St. Mel, we learned to find a way. Or make one.
In you, we learned the secret to emerald grass: That if you plant, protect and water, even on the West Side, it will grow and last.
At Providence St. Mel, we learned to believe against the odds. To hope against “impossibility.” To work against the grain of failure and socioeconomic toxicity. To have the audacity to make grand plans in the face of grand improbabilities.
We still believe. O Providence divine.
We are the children of the other side — castaways with ghetto cries. Those impoverished Chicago children observed by Dr. King, “with mucus in the corners of their bright eyes.” Deemed by others as the “permanent underclass,” with no hope to ever rise.
The “Truly Disadvantaged,” according to sociological stats. But in Paul J. Adams III’s eyes: Young, Gifted and Black.
Educable. Loveable. Reachable. Teachable.
Aristotle and Plato. “Black Boy” and “No More Lies.”
These were among the works that helped open our eyes to the reality of “us” beyond the stigma and stereotypes and cruel systemic design. Beyond the limited visualizations that others held for our lives.
And by all mathematical calculation, we could find neither justification nor excuse for failure due to the circumstances to which we were born. Only promise and a bright future beyond our ghetto shores.
Beyond the cancer of gangs and drugs that took root and staked their claim. Beyond the violence and gunfire that had us in its aim.
At Providence St. Mel, we shed poverty’s shame. We studied the art of becoming architects of self-determination — learned to paint our own future on a sprawling color canvas and to teach generations to do the same.
At Providence St. Mel, we learned to dream.
In your hallowed halls, we found solace and solemnity from the chaos that choked our community. In your classrooms, we found security. To be as smart as we wanted to be — free from peer persecution for simply being smart. You gave intellectual heart.
In your arms, we found freedom to be as black as we wanted to be — free from isolation and racial animosity.
In your presence, we found pride. In your light, we found a guide. Even as we ventured beyond your loving grasps, and at times the dreams that were once our lifeblood seemed to take their last gasps.
But by the light of you, by the lessons of you, by the memories of you, they breathed again. And so we stand — as sons and daughters of Providence divine that after all this time still shines.
O sacred Alma Mater who hath provided wings for your sons and daughters to fly. Towering above the West Side’s Garfield Park proudly, unyielding in the sky.
Alma Mater, where the emerald grass still grows. And a yellow brick castle points the way to golden roads.
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