Camelot Excel Academy Graduate Malik Washington Appears on “Today” for His Work at Chicago Urban Farm
When Excel Academy of Englewood student Malik Washington began working for urban farmer Quilen Blackwell, owner of Southside Blooms, he never expected to enjoy it as much as he does. He certainly never thought his experience would land him on NBC’s “Today” show and interviewed as part of the nationally broadcast story.
Washington, who graduated from Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Englewood in June 2020, said working at Southside Blooms has been an eye-opening experience. On the one-acre urban farm on Chicago’s South Side, he works with young adults to grow various flowers, create floral bouquets for sale, and package honey directly from beehives.
“It’s an eco-business where we convert vacant lots into urban farms,” said Washington. “This is a hands-on experience for me. I live a few houses from the site and I never thought something like this would be so close in my neighborhood. It’s very supportive of the community.”
The “Today” show segment aired Sept. 10 and featured Blackwell’s work in Englewood and the opportunities his nonprofit’s farm is providing to use sustainability to alleviate inner-city poverty.
“We wanted to do something with the vacant lots that could make money for kids,” said Blackwell, during his interview with “Today”. Urban agriculture was the number one thing we looked at.”
Southside Blooms is a farm-to-vase florist. It provides seasonal and fashion-forward flower arrangements and is dedicated to improving the community and the environment. According to the “Today” report, Chicago Eco House and Southside Blooms work in tandem. It creates a loop of education and opportunity for local youth. Southside Bloom’s motto is “Flowers that Empower.”
According to Camelot Education’s student counselor Saraena Serbia, the staff of Southside Blooms are part of a workforce development program in Chicago. Blackwell founded the nonprofit Chicago Eco House and Southside Blooms is a branch of the business. He opened his first urban farm in Englewood and employs over 30 high school students.
“The program is designed to alleviate inner city poverty and it’s quite impressive,” said Serbia. “The farm has solar panels and its own irrigation system.”
According to Serbia, this program has taught Washington a range of new skills and introduced him to career aspects he never realized.
“Malik works very hard to help maintain the farm’s mission and we are extremely proud of him,” said Serbia.
Washington said his mother works two jobs and he’s the oldest child in the household. Working for Southside Blooms has shown him that he’s not just helping his mother and family but helping to change his community. This has helped grow his confidence.
“It’s building me up as a person,” said Washington. “One of the most amazing things I’ve been doing is working with the bees. We have five or six hives and they produce honey. I never thought I’d ever be involved in something like this, which is why I work so hard at it. It’s shown me what I’m capable of.”
Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Englewood is an accelerated school of choice for students that are 15 to 21 years old and are behind in their studies. The school is dedicated to creating a challenging, academically rigorous, and safe environment for all students. It is part of the Camelot Education network that collaborates with public school districts, like Chicago Public Schools, to offer proven, effective, and impactful educational programs, helping ensure that a district’s most vulnerable, deserving students re-engage in school and achieve significantly improved outcomes.
Graduates of all Camelot Education high schools, including Excel Academy of Englewood, require seniors to have a verified post-secondary plan, to ensure success beyond high school. That plan can include gainful employment, much like Washington found with Southside Blooms, admittance to a 2- or 4-year college or entry into the U.S. military.
“This isn’t just my job, it’s my purpose and my purpose fuels my passion which is investing in my kids,” said Serbia. “The urban farming is a perfect example of what investing in the community can accomplish and Malik exemplifies that.”