Most folks don’t connect Chicago’s South Side with the sport of archery. However, at the McKinley Lakeside Leadership Academy (MLLA), a campus of the Youth Connection Charter School, you will find Bronzeville’s own budding William Tell, a high school senior named Jermaine Gillespie.
Jermaine, like most of his fellow MLLA students, has faced substantive educational and societal challenges in his life. Attending an alternative high school has provided him, and his fellow students, new ways to approach everyday challenges and opportunities to overcome what were past obstacles. Once limited in his mobility to handwrite, keyboard and develop manual dexterity in the classroom and everyday activities, Jermaine at first hesitated to join a cohort of students learning archery at the nearby X-Tennis Center on South State St. MLLA physical education co-instructor, Cynthia Hern, immediately recognized that Jermaine’s hands had the capacity to grip the bow and guide the arrow in a unique manner, almost ensuring success with every attempt.
Ms. Hern and Jermaine’s fellow classmates were inspired by his work ethic as he learned archery, sharing, “Jermaine was tenacious until he finally found the grip that ultimately led to his success. He’s a role model to his classmates.” Once a shy student who only infrequently engaged with others at school, team work through archery has boosted his self-confidence, and now Jermaine finds himself teaching his fellow students the sport that he loves.
Jermaine’s short-term goal has been to get his high school diploma and move on to college. The confidence that he acquired through the mastery of archery makes the future look brighter for him. He is convinced that someday he will compete in archery in the Paralympics and, as he says, “what I achieved through mastering archery, has blazed a trail for me to master any of life’s challenges ahead of me.”