City of Chicago Treasurer Stephanie Nealy made a surprise appearance at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep High School last month to present senior Riley Jones with a check for $1,000 – his award for winning the 5th Annual Black History Month Essay Contest sponsored by her office.
A resident of South Chicago, Riley embraced the essay contest's theme of Black Entrepreneurship, writing that "it is the backbone of Chicago's prosperity". Citing the work of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, founder of the city of Chicago, Riley expounded on the importance of black leadership, stating that the "entrepreneurial mindset that du Sable possessed carried over into the 20th Century, whispering in the ear of a young Harold Washington" and inspiring Riley's Southern grandparents to see that there was "a noble profit to be made not in the stock market, but in the classroom".
"Riley Jones is an example of a bright and talented young man who refuses to let his zip code define his future," said City Treasurer Stephanie Nealy. "We owe it to him and every other student like him to encourage them to achieve the fullness of their potential."
A standout among his classmates, Riley maintains a 4.69 GPA, is the president of the National Honor Society and co-captain of the debate team, and is the student representative on Brooks' Local School Council.
"He's a phenomenal student," said Brooks Principal D'Andre Weaver. "You name it, he's accomplished it. Riley is extremely smart and incredibly focused."
On the day he learned of his award for the essay contest, Riley was sitting in one of his five Advanced Placement courses when his counselor appeared at the classroom door.
"She told us that Principal Weaver wanted to see the whole class in his office," said Riley. "We thought for sure we were in big trouble."
As he approached the principal's office, Riley caught sight of his mother, grandparents, and twin brother, as well as an array of news cameras. Then City Treasurer Stephanie Nealy stepped forward to present him with a check for $1,000, which will be sent directly to the college of his choice.
"I was totally surprised," said Riley. "I didn't really think I'd win. But it was great to have everyone there when I found out."
Riley will graduate from Brooks later this spring, and has already been accepted to Cornell University. But he has his eye on either Harvard or Yale. Whatever the university, he looks forward to the experience of higher education, and will carry his pride in his African-American roots with him wherever he goes. As he stated so eloquently in his essay: "I will go to college with the knowledge that I have been charged with doing right for those who cannot do right for themselves, in the hope that I can do my part to make this a more peaceful, more tolerant, and more egalitarian world".