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UIC Neighborhood Center Builds Dialogues with Leo High School

Shaka Rawls

As part of its commitment to community engagement and collaboration, the UIC Neighborhood Center in Auburn Gresham has partnered with Leo High School to offer monthly seminars for its students. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, these seminars are facilitated by UIC faculty and staff members in the hopes of breaking down barriers and utilizing innovation approaches to start conversations with local southside youth.

This partnership, under the direction of the UIC Office of Community Collaboration (OCC), was catalyzed through discussions between UIC faculty and staff members–including Keith Lewis, senior director of community collaboration in the office of diversity, equity & engagement, Aisha El-Amin, PhD, executive associate vice provost for student success and belonging and Cynthia Blair, PhD, director of the Black Cultural Center and associate professor in history–and Shaka Rawls, principal of Leo High School.

Rawls, who holds a Master’s in Education and is currently completing his doctorate, highlighted his belief in UIC’s vision and mission as well as the close proximity of the neighborhood center to the school which creates a chance for natural osmosis.

“Having access to a major university at our fingertips can help change someone’s life,” Rawls stated. “UIC is positioning itself as a bridge to possible opportunities for young people and others in the community.”

Leo High School is a private, all-male Catholic high school founded in 1926 and located in the heart of the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. The majority of its current students rely on the support of subsidized scholarships to be able to attend the school. These seminars, which center feedback and guidance from Leo High School students and staff, provide experiences and resources that might otherwise not be available for them.

“We are overjoyed to work in partnership with Leo High School to assist students and families with pursuing and fulfilling their life aspirations,” Lewis shared. “This collaboration embodies our commitment to steward UIC’s involvement in Auburn Gresham that is driven by a community stakeholder’s interests and needs.”

As this series continues to develop, Rawls hopes that it will be able to expand further to include opportunities for even more Leo members. Being able to involve freshman and sophomore classes, having UIC representatives attend parent clubs, delivering seminar topics congruent to classroom subject matters, arranging UIC campus tours and increasing the cadence of the seminars are some of his goals for the program.

Additionally, Rawls would like to see this type of program be offered in other schools throughout Auburn Gresham so that more local students can benefit from it. With the responsiveness of UIC in implementing the seminar series thus far, Rawls is confident that it can grow into a highly successful neighborhood initiative.

“What this does is actually apply resources to spaces where community lives,” Rawls asserted. “The tagline for our school is: Creating Possibilities for Life. UIC can give students another set of possibilities they didn’t know existed.”