For 11 young men from Chicago, October 7 was a night they will long remember. That night they dressed in custom designed tuxedos, ate a gourmet dinner and met some distinguished people at the beautiful Chicago Hyatt Centric Hotel on the city’s Magnificent Mile. It was a special night in their honor to recognize their commitment to exceed expectations and to award their academic achievements with a scholarship during the Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation (ETSF) Gala and Fundraiser.
Former television executive producer, Tenisha Taylor Bell, established the ETSF to provide mentorship and scholarships to African-American male students impacted by Chicago’s gun violence. It was named after Bell’s father who was killed on the Southside. Nearly 250 people including Commissioner Kari Steele and Alderman Gregory Mitchell attended the gala, which was emceed by Matt McGill, formerly of WVON radio.
ETSF identifies young Black male students who are middle-of-the-road students who are often overlooked because they do not possess an “A” or “B” average. “The EZTaylor gala was an amazing experience for everyone who attended,” says Tenisha Taylor Bell, CEO. “Looking around the room was proof as to what we, the community, can do when we pool our resources together to show our young men that there is hope and opportunity, and that we believe in them.”
The scholars were presented to the guests by local journalists and media personalities Tanja Babich, WLS-TV; Kathy Chaney, formerly of Ebony Magazine; Courtney Gousman, WGN-TV; Dorothy Leavell, Chicago Crusader Newspaper; Art Norman, WMAQ-TV and Dorothy Tucker, WBBM-TV.
Also honored at the gala were the Ezekiel Taylor “Man of the Year” awardees: William “Bill” Garth (posthumously), founder and publisher of Citizen Newspaper; Sheldon Smith, founder of The DoveTail Project; Deacon Willie Whitehead, Community Leader New Covenant Church; and Deacon Walter Griffin, Community Leader New Covenant Church.
The life of three of the students reveals the challenges they all face and prove what can be accomplished with love and support. Darius Johnson’s mother was killed in Chatham while sitting on her front porch. “I’m overjoyed and honored to receive this award,” says Darius Johnson, Scholarship Award Winner. “We don’t have that support system in Chicago. We don’t have mentors or people to look up to, but with this scholarship it is another step to show there are people who care and success stories. Many of us are dodging the bullets and dodging the streets and choosing to hit the books instead.” Adds the recent grad who is now a television reporter at WSAV-TV in Savannah, GA (Graduate of Martin Luther King HS).
Kenwood High School graduate Eric Wilson, who has a 3.4 GPA, lost both his father and brother – they were killed in Chicago violence. “I’ve had many stressful nights and burdens, I can’t even go through it all,” says Eric Wilson, a sophomore at Clark Atlanta University. “But, with the help of this scholarship they are always preparing me for life. With their support, I am able to attend college and focus on making a better future for myself.”
Another student, Matthew Swalek, has a brother serving an eight-year sentence for selling guns. Swalek is now a University of Illinois at Chicago freshman, whose decisions reflect a different set of choices. “I wanted to take a different life journey than my brother did with his life,” says Swalek. “The gala showed me that there are people who value students. There are people out here who believe in us and see our potential. The foundation makes it clear that education is the way for many of us to get out of our environment. There are a lot of people backing us and to see all these people who believe us helped me. I’m in the process of shaping myself, sometimes I get down, but the gala made me realize that I have a lot of positive attributes.”
The foundation, in its first year, garnered local and national media attention. Sponsors and partners include ISF Bank, Chicago State University, Perfect Pitch Media Group, ZipCar, Miss Jessie’s, WNBA Chicago Sky, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears, NBA Great Isaiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) and many more! The tuxedos were donated by Jacob Store for Men (Chicago), P. Squared Clothiers (Atlanta) and OSK Styles (Atlanta)