CHICAGO — Devon Robinson used to think he was cursed.
On his father's side of the family, the youngest sons of his two aunts were victims of gun violence — same with the youngest son of his only uncle.
Robinson, 18, is the youngest of six children.
"I wondered if I would be next," he said.
Robinson, a Solorio Academy High School senior and Woodlawn resident, has done everything he can to avoid his cousins' fate. He has been accepted to Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois, among several other schools, and will be the first in his family to enter college next fall.
Justin Breen details Robinson's incredibly difficult journey:
Robinson has a 3.4 grade point average, and, on the football field, helped Solorio win an IHSA postseason game for the first time ever last week — 20-18 over Lindblom. Solorio (6-4) hosts Nazareth Academy (8-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the school at 5400 S. Loomis St. in a Class 5A second-round matchup.
"In my 16 years as a high school teacher and coach, I've never seen a kid overcome so much," said Matt Lawson, Solorio's head football coach. "He's a fighter, survivor and an absolute role model for all inner city youth to see that poverty, homelessness and economic background does not have to dictate your future. In my eyes the kid has already won."
Robinson was 6 years old when his mother, Marylin, died from breast cancer. Robinson's father was not in his life, and his siblings were split apart. He moved with a sister and brother to his Aunt Tina's home, which they shared with Tina's children and other kids she took in. They've eventually settled in Woodlawn.
Robinson said all of his childhood friends are dead, in jail or on the streets. He stayed on the straight and narrow because he didn't want to end up like them.
"My internal focus comes from my external focus, which comes from watching people making mistakes," Robinson said. "I wasn't a great child, but I improved myself by watching other's mistakes. I started realizing what life is and that there is more to life.
"Watching people in the neighborhood getting smoked, watching them killed, the violence keeps on continuing. And everyone in the neighborhood knows who's doing it, and nobody's speaking up."
One of Robinson's cousins was killed when he was in sixth grade; two others were slain in a double homicide in 2012 — right before he began at Solorio. Robinson was determined to be a successful prep student and has done just that at the South Side high school, which opened in 2010.
"Devon has a hard life, but he comes to school every day and still smiles even though he might not be having a great day," said Aubrey Chang, a Solorio science teacher and Robinson's mentor in the OneGoal program, which helps underserved youth enter and graduate from college. "He is a supporter of his peers, making sure the people around him are doing well. Devon rises to challenges in his life."
That includes the athletic obstacles he's overcome. From age 11 through 15, Robinson was a Jesse White Tumbler, but had to quit before a right shoulder injury his sophomore year. He separated his left shoulder freshman year playing football — missing his 10th- and 11th-grade campaigns — but returned to the gridiron this season.
Jeffrey Niemiec, the school's athletic director who also taught Robinson social studies for two years, said the senior is a role model for every Solorio student.
"Our kids need to see students like Devon," Niemiec said. "It's important that they see him go off to college and realize that can be them as well."
Whichever college he attends, Robinson wants to major in psychology and minor in philosophy — with a goal of becoming a therapist. Robinson hopes to help others push through life the way he has, mostly on his own.
"I want to help them obtain grit and perseverance," Robinson said. "I feel like I have a purpose to enlighten people's day. If I can do it, anybody can."
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