BEVERLY — At first Chyna Martin was undecided about what career she would pursue after high school.
But after attending a Career Day event at Percy Julian High School, 10330 S. Elizabeth Ave., the 15-year old junior at Julian said she knows exactly what she wants to do with her life.
"I want to be a writer. I enjoy creative writing and would like to take this interest to the next level," Martin said Friday after attending the first annual Alumni Career Day. "Listening to the (alumni) speakers gave me a better insight on what to do and how to achieve it."
Jerry Wade, a 1982 graduate of Julian, said he organized the event to help teenagers channel their energy in a positive way.
"So many of our youth are walking around without a clue as to what the future holds for them. For many of our black youth their choices are limited," he said. "Based on the choices society has dealt them they can either join a gang, sell drugs, go to prison or die on the streets. I don't like any of those choices, which is why I wanted to do this event to let them know they have other choices to choose from."
And it didn't take much for Wade to convince fellow alumni to join him in his crusade to save Julian students from the trappings of the streets.
"When he called me to ask if I would speak to students at a career day I said of course," said Carl Boyd, a 1983 graduate, who now serves as a Cook County Circuit Court judge. "I see these same kids in my courtroom and as quick as their cases are dismissed they are right back before me the next month."
Dawn Perry, a 1994 graduate, credits her mother and academic preparation at Julian for helping her earn a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Purdue University in Indiana.
"Take your studies seriously. It will pay off in the long run," Perry told a group of 200 students at the event. "It is not easy to complete college when you come from an inner-city school that only provides basic academic skills to its students. I did not have alumni coming back to the school to tell me about college and what to expect."
Today, Perry works as a warehouse manager for a Chicago bakery company as she pursues a Master's of Business Administration through online courses.
Other notable Julian alumni include Derrick Taylor, a franchise owner of six Chicago McDonald's restaurants, Byron Irvin, a former NBA player for the Portland Trailblazers, and Kathy Chaney, an executive producer at WVON (1690 AM) radio.
Edward Flowers, 15, has two more years before he graduates from Julian. Until then, he said he plans to explore things he is good at and things he likes to do.
"I hadn't really thought about it too much but now after hearing from the alumni, it has me re-evaluating what I want to do as far as a career," he said. "The one thing I learned from this career day is the difference between a job and a career. I thought both were the same but now I know a career is something you love to do and a job is something you do to pay bills."
Julian Principal Careda Taylor was all smiles as she watched a group of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors stay at the school on a Friday until the event concluded at 5 p.m.
"Simply amazing, she said. "No rap music, no food and no video games to amuse them. Just straight talk and I loved it."
Julian math teacher Nina Aloway said she hopes the event lit a fire under students' behinds.
"Everyone needs a little motivation especially young people and this event seemed to serve as motivation for a lot of students who needed it."
And English teacher Sharon Green-Powell is confident the event improved speaking skills for students.
"The alumni presented themselves very well (orally) and gave good, practical advice that would ultimately help improve their (students) public-speaking skills," added Green-Powell.
Riverdale Mayor Deyon Dean, a 1988 Julian graduate, who delivered the keynote address at the end, said more events like this are needed at public high schools.
"This event is not about us (alumni). It is about helping our youth reach their highest potential in life," Dean said. "When I was a student at Julian, no one told me I could become mayor one day, but look at me now. Anything is possible if you work hard and stick with it."