“I was put into foster care when I was 3, and placed with my grandparents in Waukegan by the time I was 5. I went to pre-school and elementary out here. During that time, I did well in school.”

“The school system that I was in is the worst school system out of all of them in the district. We scored the lowest on tests and the staff would tell us we performed the lowest academically, and that’s just sad. And so, I didn’t really like my school.”

“My school also didn’t have sufficient resources or counselors who could identify how students’ poor performance stemmed from social-emotional needs or have systems in place to support them.”

“Teachers and administrators assumed I was destined to fail, so I believed them. I stopped caring, didn’t turn in work and I started skipping class.”

“Sophomore year, my friend was attacked by another student. I jumped in to break it up and defend my friend, was stabbed in the head with scissors and ended up in the hospital. Even though I had good intentions, everyone involved was expelled.”

“They put me in an alternative school. That was just a room with computers against the wall, everybody sitting next to each other. We put our phones in the box at the beginning of the day, and we had to be there the whole time without no breaks for like seven hours. I had no motivation, so I stopped going. Then COVID hit.”

“I basically hit rock bottom. I knew I needed to turn things around, so I reached out to my old counselor, Ashley. She recommended I look into working at Curt’s Café. They have a work study program which helps kids get back on track.”

“I started working with Curt’s in December, and working with their social worker, Angelina, and their tutor to complete my GED. I liked the program a lot. At Curt’s, everybody’s supportive and it’s just way different there.”

“They would do career talks, and have us do Zoom talks with people in those careers to give us hope.”

“With the Curt’s tutor, I was on track to get my GED in three months. The tutor said I was gifted. I took all the practice tests without getting a single answer wrong. But, I didn’t want to settle with just my GED, I wanted to go for my high school diploma so I could get into a good college.”

“Curt’s helped my find another program though Lake County called YouthBuild. They have classes so I can earn my high school diploma while doing workforce training and construction. Our class is building houses for the community. I have really enjoyed the program, even though I realized I don’t want a career in construction.”

“Through YouthBuild, I was able to complete my course work and graduate with my full diploma in four months. If I had stayed in Waukegan or alternative school, since I only have two credit hours, they wouldn’t let me graduate for three or four more years. Now I am a high school graduate at 17.”

“Several people created the support system which helped propel me to where I am now. Miss Ashley provided counseling and works with kids’ mental health. Miss Angelina connects kids to resources and provides social-emotional support. She’s helping kids keep their head on straight and keeping things on track. Mr. George, our mentor from Legacy Reentry Foundation, took his story, and built off it. That gives kids like me hope that we can mould our bad situations into something good.”

“Currently, I’m looking at colleges. I want to attend an historically Black college or university to be a social worker and help other kids like me. I care about people’s feelings, and I just want to see everybody mentally stable and healthy.”

“It’s crazy to think about how far I have come. I’m very lucky to have had counselors and social workers like Miss Ashley and Miss Angelina, and that special programs like Curt’s Café exist to see the good in me when school didn’t.”

“At Waukegan, teachers and staff assumed I was destined to fail because I made a few mistakes and didn’t support me where I needed it. I felt like the school didn’t have genuine support or teach us the practical skills we need to be successful.”

“Kids in my position, they just need more support. After being the system, many kids feel forgotten or cast aside. And that leads a lot of kids to look for love in the wrong places or act out.

“It was powerful when I came to realize what a successful support system looked like: people met me where I needed help and gave me the tools to succeed.”

Zaniya Campbell
Curt’s Café alumnae
Waukegan, Illinois