Excel Chicago Student Addresses District leadership
Excel Academy of Englewood (Chicago) student Raynard Gillispie exemplifies what it means to overcome hurdles. It wasn’t very long ago that this straight-A 19 year old student was shot four times, a victim of gang violence. It would be easy to understand why school would not be a priority for someone who came that close to death. And for two years afterward he stayed out of school.
Raynard had the honor of telling his story in front of Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and 180 members of her senior staff at their December Senior Leadership Meeting.
He told them that he had been doing very well at his original high school but then got caught up in gang violence, having been recruited to the gang by his friends. Fights were an every-day occurrence there, he said.
Raynard had grown up in a “good home with a good mother.” Now, after being shot and staying home he was depressed, he said, because he really wanted to finish school but he was too afraid because of the gangs. That’s when he heard about Camelot’s Excel Academy opening in his old neighborhood, Englewood. He says he took it as a sign from God because he feels safe and very comfortable in his old neighborhood. Also, Excel was locating in the building that once housed Raynard’s grammar school, Guggenheim Elementary.
“I love Excel because it’s a family,” he told the senior leaders. “I love this school so much that I tell everyone under the age of 21 that if they don’t have their diploma to go sign up at Excel Academy.”
He also loves Algebra! He says it’s easy and he has fun doing it. When he gets his work done early the teacher asks him to help and explain the material to other students in the class.
Raynard graduates in June 2015 and he has his road ahead set out. He plans to attend Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Once he gets his degree his longer term plans are to open his own construction company, a pronouncement that sparked a round of applause from the 180 district leaders.
The young man has a message for others who may find themselves where he was just a few months ago: “Although you go through the struggles you still can make it. No matter how hard you go down you can still get back up.”