For more than a quarter of a century, Darnell Payne has dedicated his life to working with urban at-risk youth in the city of Chicago. During the last fifteen years, Darnell has worked at Sullivan House High School, an alternative educational school in South Shore, a campus of the Youth Connection Charter School high school network.
South Shore is one of the toughest inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago, plagued with active gang activity and its accompanying violence. Getting to and from school, safe and sound, for the students of Sullivan House presents a daily challenge. Once students arrive, they need to be assured that a safe and nurturing environment awaits them as they proceed to engage in academic learning and developing strong interpersonal skills with fellow students and staff.
Darnell Payne’s role is much more than a mentor and big brother to these students, who have returned to high school after previously dropping out of other schools. Darnell is a role model and a friend. From meeting them upon registration, to serving as their counselor, acting as basketball coach, moderating Glee Club, organizing Summer School, mentoring during an Extended Day Program and coordinating TAOEP, Darnell he has been able to introduce our students to issues and social exposure at the district and region level, expanding advocacy for our youth.
Two of the activities that Darnell leads are coaching basketball and directing the Glee Club at Sullivan House. He truly believes that, “My job is to help build these students up, through positive activities, and teach them the confidence they need to succeed.”Darnell knows “that on the street it’s sometimes dog eat dog. Here at Sullivan House kids work together in activities with a common purpose, achieving positive results and gaining respect for others and for themselves. I feel blessed doing this kind of work.” He has played a huge part in the success of the school but most importantly in the educational growth and future success of so many at-risk students and graduates who routinely reach out to him years after they have left our Sullivan House.
“In truth, we at Sullivan House, are truly blessed to have Darnell as part of our team,’ adds Dr. Thomas Gattuso, Principal of Sullivan House. “This is why I nominated him as someone worthy to receive the ‘Excellence in Education Award’ from the Illinois Coalition for Educating At-Risk Youth (ICEARY).” The ICEARY Excellence in Education Award is given to an educator who performs his/her job in an exemplary manner, providing strong leadership in efforts to support at-risk youth.
On March 7 of this year, at the state-wide ICEARY Conference in Bloomington, Darnell received the “Excellence in Education Award” for 26 years of strong leadership and support of at-risk youth. Dr. Gattuso and other colleagues from Youth Connection Charter School joined him at the conference to celebrate this achievement. Congratulations Darnell, you are an inspiration to us all.