When Curtis Strong walks across the stage of the Auditorium Theatre at the Roosevelt University graduation on May 2, he will become a role model to eight children and make history as the first in his family to receive a bachelor’s degree.
A resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood and a Mittie, Moselynne and Dempsey J. Travis Scholar, Strong, 43, will achieve a milestone that he promised his parents and grandparents long ago – a college diploma that he will be handed on the theatre stage while immediate and extended family look on.
“It means everything to me and it will show those I love, regardless of the situation, that getting an education is possible no matter the obstacles,” said Strong, who earned an associate’s degree with honors at Kennedy King College in 2012 and then finished his last two years of studies as a sociology major at Roosevelt University.
College was out of the question early on for Strong, who joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school at the Hyde Park Career Academy and served overseas during Operation Desert Storm. Upon returning home, Strong married and started a family, requiring him to look for work that included jobs as an electrician and dietary aide in a nursing home. As his family grew larger, Strong found himself with expanding responsibilities, including at one point being a divorced single father caring for kids as well as his parents and grandparents.
Today, Strong is the father of four children, ages 11 through 24 and also is remarried and the stepfather of four additional children, ages 13 through 17. He coaches basketball at Perspectives Charter School Calumet in Chicago and presided this season over the freshman team’s 25-7 winning record, placing the team in an elite group of eight in city basketball playoffs. He also coaches the Windy City Trendsetters Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Calumet City.
Strong also has been a mentor and volunteer for the King College Prep High School after-school program. Most recently, he has been a practitioner of restorative justice practices and a peacekeeper with Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation at the Morrill Elementary Math and Science School and Namaste Charter School, both in Chicago.
“Curtis has been able to forge relationships with young people in a way that fosters trust and respect,” said Nancy Michaels, associate director of the Mansfield Institute, which has a goal of shifting school cultures from being punitive to restorative, an approach that reduces student suspensions and expulsions.
“He works with youths to resolve conflicts while building on their sense of belonging, self-esteem and respect for one another. He also has a clear vision for a more socially just society, which has made him an important member of the Mansfield team,” she said.
After graduating, Strong hopes to continue working with and encouraging African American youths and young adult males about the need to get an education and a college degree."
Roosevelt has given me the opportunity to pursue my dream,” said Strong, who will be cheered on as he crosses the graduation stage by most of his children. “I want to be a role model to my kids and to young people in general,” he said. “I want them to see that all things are possible and to know that you can’t give up. You’ve got to keep pushing. I believe it is that kind of attitude that will help make change for the better for our children and for society as a whole.”
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