Chicago’s Future Depends on Youth with Integrity

An Open Letter to the Chicago Business Community
by Glenn Wilke, Executive Director, Midtown Educational Foundation

Another school year is well underway. Across Chicago, children are back in the classroom to acquire the skills and academic knowledge they will need to succeed in school, attend and graduate from college, and ultimately get a job. As our leaders in city and state government grapple with their fiscal crises and the risk of a teachers’ strike looms in the coming months, Chicago families will increasingly turn to the city’s nonprofit mentoring community to help their children stay on course.

Chicago’s mentoring programs offer far more than supplemental academic instruction. Their most important role is in providing the essential education that will ultimately position our students for success now and no matter where life takes them in the future—an education in core, common sense virtues such as honesty, integrity, perseverance and respect for others.

 This mission is critical to ensuring Chicago’s long-term prosperity, and the engagement of our city’s business community can go a long way in ensuring its success.

But do kids really need to learn virtues? Shouldn’t they focus on reading and writing, and developing the math and science skills that are increasingly in high-demand by employers?

Lifelong success is founded on much more than a GPA or ACT score. As parents and citizens, we tend to ignore, at our peril, the need to provide our youth with a strong character education that enables them to build the life skills they will need to stay on track and overcome adversity.

This is especially true for the young men and women from violent, low-income neighborhoods where adversity is a constant companion—neighborhoods where, unsurprisingly, disparities in education are also the highest. When we make character and virtues a part of education, we aren’t just setting students up for individual success—we are endowing future generations with the integrity needed to effect change and improve their communities.

The success of this effort will rise and fall on whether individual Chicagoans take up the mantle—those of us who practice these values day in and day out, who can pass them on to the next generation.

Mayor Emanuel recognized this need, so he and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership launched the Mayor’s Mentoring Challenge, which emphasizes the value of corporate partnerships in connecting employees with high-impact mentoring opportunities across Chicago. What better way to expose our young people to positive values than to pair them with professionals who are living out those values in their workplaces and personal lives—people who are the kinds of role models today’s teens need to help them rise above violence, poverty and broken homes?

I call on Chicagoans to support the development of our city’s next generation of leaders and change-makers by agreeing to mentor our youth. Contact nonprofits that serve youth in your neighborhood or learn more about volunteering at Midtown & Metro. You can also check out the Illinois Mentoring Partnership for a list of organizations that are in need of mentors.

The future of Chicago is counting on you.