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Illinois National Guard presents teen Walter Dyett High School Award

Ki Brown

Cites his grades, character

Honoring him as an example of outstanding character and academic achievement, the Illinois National Guard 8th Infantry Association and the National Guard Association of Illinois presented 18-year-old Ki Brown, a senior at Walter Dyett High School, with the coveted Captain Walter Henri Dyett Award.

Brown was showered with praises from the school and Illinois National Guard officials for his outstanding academic record and character during a press conference held on Monday, February 26, at Walter Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.

Presenting the award was Major General Rodney C. Boyd, Assistant Adjutant General, Army Commander for the Illinois Army National Guard, who said Brown exemplifies the same character as Captain Dyett, who taught music at South Side schools to singers and musicians who became icons of the music industry.

Having grown up in the Ida B. Wells Darrow Homes in a gang-infested community, where he was raised by a single mother, Boyd said it was nice to come back home and to talk to the youth “who were a lot like me when I was a young man growing up in this neighborhood.

In celebrating the academic achievements of Brown, Boyd said the celebration was two-fold, first to honor Brown’s academic achievements and character, and to also honor “a great soldier and teacher, Captain Walter Henri Dyett,” who taught music in the Chicago Public Schools for more than three decades.

Dyett first taught music at Boyd’s alma mater, Wendell Phillips High School, then at DuSable High School, where he taught iconic musicians like Nat “King” Cole, Dorothy Donegan, Joseph Jarman, Dinah Washington, Johnny Griffin and Mwata Bowden.

“The life skills he taught, the mental toughness, the self-respect, the discipline, have inspired thousands to make this nation, our nation, better,” said Boyd. “His work is not done, but you will carry his mission forward,” he told students during the awards assembly.

Boyd said Captain Dyett’s motto was, “You are what you think you are.”

“Those words are powerful. If you think you are a leader, you are a leader. It is about how you view yourself regardless of what is going on in the world outside. It is about self-worth and inner strength regardless of the chaos of the world outside.”

After referring to the musical icons Dyett trained, Boyd said, “You are the next generation to pick up the struggle. You will make this community and this world a better place.”

The celebration of Captain Dyett and the students focused on their “discipline, creativity, selfless service, honor and respect.” Boyd said, “These all bring success in life.”

He also celebrated “the relationship between the Illinois National Guard leaders who have made a positive difference in this community.”

It was the vision of community leaders on the South Side of Chicago in 1871 who had their own unit in the Illinois Militia, which is today’s National Guard, said Boyd.

In an interview with the Chicago Crusader, Boyd, who is the first African American Major General in the Illinois National Guard, said, “I feel blessed. I never thought that I would be part of history, but I’m proud to be a part of history.”

In the service for 40 years, Boyd graduated from Northern Illinois University, majoring in criminal justice. He spent 23 years in law enforcement and retired 10 years ago as the chief of police for the Village of Bellwood Police Department.

When asked what you tell today’s youth who are robbing and carjacking, Boyd said, “We have to find them purpose. If you find the children purpose, everything else will take care of itself. They will then know there are things at risk if they continue their behavior.”

Having been raised in the Ida B. Wells/Darrow Homes Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) development, then located at 38th and Cottage Grove, Boyd said his mother “gave us a sense of purpose and told us that we are not a product of our environment, that we can overcome our challenges.

“We can do the same thing for those young men and women who are out here creating those acts that are not a tribute to our society, working against what we should be working for,” Boyd said.

After the ceremony Ronald Murdock, president of the 8th Infantry Association, said young Brown received the award because “he symbolizes the values of Captain Walter Dyett,” who directed the Illinois National Guard’s 8th Infantry Regiment Band, while serving as the school’s music director in the Chicago Public Schools from 1935-1962.

Addressing students, parents and members of the Illinois National Guard, Murdock said, “All of you have heard of Mayor Harold Washington, and you heard of President Barack Obama, but before them was the 8th Infantry Regiment of Illinois.”

Murdock said that Regiment went to WWI “and changed the way people thought of Black soldiers. Before they went, Black soldiers were known as good fighters, but they changed that opinion by proving they were good planners and leaders as well.”

Returning from war, members of this Regiment got involved with businesses by helping to open banks and insurance companies, according to Murdock. “They got involved in politics by registering to vote and voting in aldermen and congressmen (elections) who represented their communities.

“All of this,” he said, “set the stage for Harold Washington to become mayor and Barack Obama to become the first Black president. Members of the 8th Infantry Association were more than a fighting force. They were the catalyst for the modern Civil Rights Movement.”

Murdock said the purpose of his organization “is to make sure no one forgets the sacrifices of the members of the 8th Regiment and their contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.”

Also speaking was Zavella Coleman, a retired Army veteran, who is the scholarship committee chair. She also praised Brown for his academic success. She raises funds for scholarships for students.

The Dyett High School band played several songs throughout the awards ceremony.

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