DOLTON | A former educator in the Chicago Public Schools who is now a clergyman told a gathering of African-American parents Saturday that the way for them to protect their children from the problems of urban life is to take an interest in their education.
Winston Johnson, keynote speaker of the Ministers Conference of South Cook County held at Thornridge High School in Dolton, said all parents should be aware of what their children are doing in school.
“Do you want to end the dropout rate? Charity begins here (at home),” said Johnson, a former teacher and principal who has since become ordained as a minister in the Universal Foundation for Better Living. “When parents involve themselves in their students' schooling, it makes a difference," he said.
“Where you live is not important. You can be born in ‘the hood,’ but ‘the hood’ doesn’t have to be born with you.”
Johnson said he thinks parents should know who their children's teachers are, check their kids’ homework regularly, visit the school and make sure that any class work missed is made up.
Johnson also said he did not consider a single parent having to work being a valid reason for not taking time to pay attention.
“If you get a ticket, you’d take time off from work to deal with it,” he said. “Aren’t your kids more important than a traffic ticket?”
He also urged parents to give their children messages about how street gang violence and drugs can be deadly — going so far as to tell of the death of his younger brother, Bobby, due to drug abuse.
The conference, held for the past eight years, attracted about 100 people. Dolton-Riverdale School District 148 Superintendent Jayne Purcell said she wishes more people had been present.
“I wish this building were packed,” she said. “Everybody needs to hear this message.”
Agreeing was Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli.
“I’m frustrated to see empty seats, but I’m excited to see the people who did come,” he said.
Zuccarelli, a native of Chicago's South Chicago neighborhood whose family moved to South Holland when he was a teenager, told an account of his life, which he said involved some irresponsible behavior when he was younger.
“I did some things you’re not supposed to do,” he said. “But I had a sense of when to stop. Some of my friends did not.”