CHICAGO — When Tanika Coleman attended Gage Park High School, she treated the closing bell activities like an Olympic sprint.
"The bell would ring at 2:20, and right when it would ring, I would run to the bus stop as fast as I could," Coleman said. "It was a free-for-all. There were about eight different gangs there at the time, and if there wasn't a shooting, it was fights. After dealing with all that, I didn't want my boys to have to go through that."
Coleman has four sons — ranging in age from 12 to 20. All of them have graduated from or are enrolled at Catholic schools. A good portion of the tuition has been provided through the Chicago-based Horizons For Youth program.
Coleman's second-oldest son, recent St. Rita High School graduate David Gilliard, has been inspired by his mom's dedication to her boys. But he has motivated his mother as well by starting his own clothing brand — Broke Boy Apparel — as a St. Rita freshman. He draws and prints designs for the T-shirts and has sold a few hundred to classmates and people in the Marquette Park neighborhood where he lives.
"My mom taught me that you can pretty much do anything you set your mind to," Gilliard said. "All you have to do is be determined and be willing to sacrifice a few things. I've sacrificed hanging out with my friends and spending money on other things to put time and energy into my business."
Gilliard's website led to Coleman creating one of her own. Last summer she obtained a food service license and started her Delectable Treats By Tiki company. Coleman bakes and sells cheesecakes, pound cakes and other goodies.
"We had conversations about him having a website and me not having one," said Coleman, who did not attend college and has been a full-time worker at a rent-a-car company for 16 years. "I finally decided to venture out and start this business."
Said Gilliard: "My mom is an entrepreneur too."
The Broke Boy name is not completely accurate, Coleman said. She noted her son "has everything he needs, but he may not have had everything that he wanted."
Gilliard earned several scholarships to attend Illinois State, where he'll major in visual arts. He won a $500 scholarship at St. Rita for a "Simpsons"-themed drawing with the phrase "Create Art Not Violence." The painting will remain inside St. Rita's hallways.
"When he gets older, he can come back and show his kids and grandkids," Coleman said.
St. Rita Principal Brendan Conroy said Gilliard is "an artistically creative person."
"Best of all, though, he was always a gentleman in his years at St. Rita — humble and polite and friendly toward everyone," Conroy said. "I am proud of him and pulling for him to be successful."
Gilliard said his future lies somewhere in the design world, and he's hoping the Broke Boy brand takes off.
"Thanks to everyone that's believed in me and my company," he said.
Especially, he said, his mom.
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