Vondale Singleton is a soul on a mission. He is an associate minister at an active church on the south side of Chicago and has his hands embedded in the community. He is an assistant principal of operations and community relations at a major charter school network in Chicago. I meet him four years ago on a school visit as he was making his transition from Oklahoma to ChiTown. He is a stellar husband and a glowing father of two, but his fatherhood extends way beyond his home. Many of the young men he mentors in the city of Chicago look to him for guidance and instruction. Whether he’s recruiting students for Gary Comer College Prep, A Noble Network Charter school and 2015 Broad Prize recipient, or running the C.H.A.M.P.S (Culturally Helping and Making Positive Success) Male Mentoring Program Vondale is committed to changing the culture of Chicago. He’s beyond someone you should know. He’s a man this city should invest in. A few weeks ago he received what he perceived as a prank call. It was king of the crossover, Chicago’s own Tim Hardaway. “I heard what you’re doing and I want to help in anyway that I can.” I asked my brother some very poised questions about what he envisions for Chicago.
- You spent a great deal of time in Oklahoma working for KIPP, a great position building and solidifying their network infrastructure at the school you were located, why did you come back to your native Chicago? Although, I had a wonderful opportunity serving the city of Tulsa, and working at a great organization at KIPP Tulsa for 5 years, I was always called to come back to Chicago, because I always knew that my destiny was in my hometown. When I would come back home to visit family and friends, I would hear of the gun-violence and stories about how the youth were off-the-chain, and I knew that God apprehended me to go back and be a light in the dark world of the inner-city of Chicago.
- Mr. Singleton, you have spent an inhumane amount of hours with grieving families impacted by the violence in Chicago, what do you say to them? It is appalling to know that we are leading the nation in murders. Furthermore, we see the majority of murders are from school-aged Black and Latino Males and often males without fathers in the home. The thing that grieves me the most is instantaneous lost of 2 lives though 1 incident. The victim and the murderer. The victim’s family has to prepare a funeral, and the murderer family has to now visit them in prison. These are both lose-lose situations, but the biggest lost is when a family has to deal with the reality of not getting their loved one back. I realize that at any point it could be me or my family in this situation, so I never become desensitized to the fact of a family grieving and want them to know that they have me in their corner and I am willing to walk with them through this tumultuous process of bereavement.
- The CHAMPS Male Mentoring Program has received national acclaim with being honored as a 2015 White House Film Festival awardee. Kelly Wright of Fox News also came out and interviewed several students and staff members, why is this type of media coverage significant for Chicago? I want to dispel the narrative that all Black and Brown boys are gang-members, thugs, and cynical. I decided that though the CHAMPS 3 E’s; Education, Empowerment, and Exposure, we wanted to show that through our own positive media, that we can compete with any people group anywhere on the planet in any academic arena, and that we have something great to offer the world. Our young men deserve to turn on the TV and see themselves as important, powerful, and celebrated.
- Why is the June 4, Born 2 Win conference so important? I believe that this conference will help kick our summer off the right way, by involving the young men that it need the most. This should be something that the whole world is behind. I figured that if we can get 500 young men that will go into there respective communities, schools, and groups of influence then we can help empower a movement that will spark a necessary change our city and this nation needs.
- It’s not summer, Chicago has experienced more deaths than days of the year at current, how can hope be brought to the hopeless? There are three things I share with our young men. When we have facilities, resources, and finances then we are able to empower our community with a sense of hope. We realize that part of the hopelessness is the institutionalized systems of racism and poverty. When a man has a legal job, and is able to provide for his family it lessens the need to have to rob another man, it also occupies his time so that he isn’t left be the idle mind that bends towards evil. We need more men stepping into the roles of fathers, and modeling how to overcome the negative influences of the streets, by capitalizing on opportunities. Education is the greatest equalizer, with it you can go in any room and compete.
Chicago is my kind of town. When it’s violent we hear of the west or south sides of the city. When it’s celebratory we hear of downtown. Vondale is not only committed to changing the culture, he’s committed to changing the perception of African-American and Latino American students. He’s more than someone we should know, he’s someone we should be.
If you’d like to make a contribution to the C.H.A.M.P.S Born 2 Win conference, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Noble Network website to make a donation electronically and reference Born2Win-2016.
He is an activist, writer, poet, artist, motivator, coach, entrepreneur, and father. De’Andre Hawthorne, known as Blaq Ice, has been on the arts scene in Chicago since rapping and entertaining in his early days as a student at Simeon High School located on the south side of Chicago. He is the founder of the award-winning International Spoken Word group named P.O.E.T (People of Extraordinary Talent). Founded in 1990, P.O.E.T does various community service projects throughout the city and external of Chicago including chapters in Minneapolis, Detroit, Michigan City, and Las Vegas. P.O.E.T visits battered-women shelters, public schools, hospitals, parades, community rallies, and various other community events as part of their call to heal the world “one word at a time.” Their membership includes people from all walks of life and religious beliefs. Their focus on community, mentoring, and social equity drives them.
Under his leadership, many poets and spoken word artist have become published authors, have released music, and gained local notoriety. The annual A.C.E Tech High School sleep over held on May 14, 2016, was a major success. But as always with recognition comes trials, ups, and down. I chopped it up with the P.O.E.T CEO, entrepreneur, and community activist this morning to engage the mind of one of Chicago’s own.
1. Why is P.O.E.T so important to Chicago and beyond?
As you know, over the years, Chicago has increased in gun violence, so much so that we have as many murders as of May 2016 as there are days in the year so far. What P.O.E.T brings to the table inspires teens to make positive choices and decisions. Not only have are mentorship programs been effective in Chicago, but all across this nation. When you see those whom we have mentored become mentors, at that moment our mission and motto become complete. Our Motto is “Changing The World, One Heart, One Mind, One Word At A Time.”
2. There seemed a time in 2012-2015 there was a lot of tensions amongst poets and groups with a lot of that social media hostility directed towards you. How were and are you able to maintain, still be you, and not retaliate?
I war not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. There will always be those who hate what they don’t understand. Jesus had haters so you know I’m not exempt. However, in order to be a leader you have to love those whom you lead more than they hate themselves. I don’t retaliate because as a leader I have to be the example, besides, my city (Chicago) has a problem, so my fight and my war is against the violence on my people by my people.
3. What do you think is lacking from African-Americans with all the violence in our communities?
My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge. The knowledge of God and our true identity (Israel) has caused so-called African-Americans to carry the label of MADE IN AMERICA. God created us, but America made niggers. So as many young people as we can reach and teach the truth to, it will enable us to help to save the future generations to come.
4. I have seen you on Fox News often addressing some of the issues with violence. Why is local community activism a must narrative for African-Americans?
People are tired of talk, that’s why activism is important. The root of the word activism is ACT and actions speak louder than words. Our youth wants to know that they are loved and appreciated. Spending time, sharing what connects us (our stories) with them, allows them to feel comfortable opening up, releasing that buried hurt and pain. Once they release, we can replace the hurt and dirt with positive spirits.
5. 30 years, 19 albums, 4 published volumes of poetry, business owner; what’s next for Blaq Ice?
I love art, entertainment, and poetry. If my existence on this earth doesn’t help change or save lives, then my living is in vain. Yes, I will release more albums and books, but the entertainment platform allows me to use a bigger stage to reach more people. It’s all about developing programs that will continue to exist beyond our own existence.
We are already seeing other poetry groups follow our lead, doing the very things that P.O.E.T was once criticized about in arts, entertainment, and social activism. We have already inspired others who are recreating what we are doing and have done. I believe the programs I have created such as the P.O.E T, the A.C.T.I.O.N Mentorship program, P.O.E.T RADIO, The TYRONE HAWTHORNE CANCER Scholarship, The P.O.E.T TEEN IDOL, Stand Up, and The Legends of Chicago Hip Hop will continue to exist in some form or fashion even after I’m gone.
Surely Chicago will see more of one of its greatest entertainers. To reach out to P.O.E.T and learn more about the organization please visit their website.
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