ROSELAND —Riley Jones said he plans to attend Harvard or Yale University this fall and eventually go to law school to become a college professor or elected official.
But what the 18-year-old senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory High School on the far South Side hadn't plan on doing is winning the first-ever Black History Month essay contest sponsored by the city's Treasurer's Office.
"I like to write and so I decided to enter for the fun of it," said Jones, who on Thursday was informed he had won. "I was in AP English class when my counselor came to the room and said the principal was upset with the class and wanted to see everyone in her office immediately. When I walked into the office I saw my mother and grandparents but still did not know what was going on."
That's when Treasurer Stephanie Neely emerged and surprised Jones with a huge, mock check for $1,000, which will be sent to his college.
"I was speechless," recalled Jones, who commands a 4.69 grade point average, is co-captain of the school's debate team and president of the National Honors Society. "It's kind of nice to win something you feel passionate about anyway."
In the essay, entrants had to answer the question: How have Chicago’s black entrepreneurs shaped the city’s history, and what lessons from them inspired you?
And for Jones, who lives in the South Chicago neighborhood on the Southeast Side with his twin brother Ryan, his mother and grandparents, his answers derived from books he read about black entrepreneurs, such as the late real estate tycoon Dempsey Travis.
Jones used Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Chicago's first resident, as an example of the city's black entrepreneurial spirit.
"It is the spirit that whispered in the ear of a young Harold Washington…the same spirit that led my grandparents coming from the Jim Crow South to see that there was a noble profit to be made not in the stock market, but in the classroom,” Jones wrote in his essay.
Jones concluded in his essay that “History has shown me that the entrepreneurial spirit of Black Chicago…is not a force to be messed with. Nor is it a duty to be taken lightly. I will go to college with the knowledge that I have been charged with doing right for those who can’t do right for themselves."
Jones added that both he and his brother Ryan, who is also a senior at Gwendolyn Brooks and headed to Alabama State University this fall to study criminology, have never used public transportation to travel to high school.
"It is too bad out here especially where I live. They call it 'Murder Row' in my neighborhood because so many people are killed there every year," Jones said. "My grandparents drive us to school and home afterwards. I want to use my college education to make a difference in the black community because no one should have to live in fear while inside their own home."