Skills for Chicagoland’s Future’s Employment Champions Breakfast Speech delivered October 2019
Good morning, my name is Marquis Pitts. I want to thank Skills for Chicagoland’s Future for inviting me and a special thanks to Rush for giving me today off to join you here.
I’m from West Garfield Park, a great neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. When I just said that I was from West Garfield Park, you probably thought of two things: one is the Garfield Park Conservatory, the second is probably crime or violence. After I’m done here today, I hope you’ll remember that there is a lot more to West Garfield Park.
I am 21 years old and I’ve spent all 21 of those years in West Garfield Park. Based on the studies Rush and other groups have done, if I continue living in West Garfield Park, I’ve got about 48 years left. That’s right, the average life expectancy in West Garfield Park is 69 years old. Here in the Loop, it’s 85. Given that I’m an African American male, other studies and statistics would say I’m lucky to get to that age, or even my current age. But I’m here to tell you I am more than a data point or statistic. I’m a person with a goal, a plan on how to achieve it, and I have the support of my family and community to help me get there.
I graduated elementary school at the top of my class. Then I went to high school at Westinghouse College Prep, and honestly didn’t really apply myself. I got by and graduated, but I didn’t work as hard as I probably should have and didn’t know what to do next. College wasn’t my next step, so what was? Friends and classmates who were in a similar situation were drawn into gangs and illegal activities. I may not have known what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go down that road.
Remember I said my community supported me? My community showed me the way and introduced me to programs that helped shape my career journey. I was a part of After School Matters, and then I joined the MAAFA Redemption Project at my church. MAAFA is a Kiswahili word that is translated as “great disaster or terrible occurrence,” commonly used to refer to the tragic history of the Transatlantic African Slave Trade, and its ensuing effects on people of African descent. This program takes the name and flips the meaning. MAAFA focuses on investing in the young men of the West Side and helping us create a road of ourselves and our whole community in the process. I received job training, mentoring, and employment services. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those last two. Marshall Hash, Jr. is my mentor and is here today. He has been a guiding light throughout my journey and continues to support me – thank you Mr. Hash. The employment connection is Skills. Chris Gonzalez, a member of Skills’ team, connected me to Rush. Skills was that vital piece. The final connection to the job I needed. Since March of this year because of Skills’ connection to Rush, my goals and plans have become much clearer.
I’m an Environmental Service Tech at Rush, and I really love my job. I work with medical staff and patients to ensure the patients are as comfortable as possible. Usually this involves cleaning their room, but what my favorite part is talking with the patients. I love Rush, but most people don’t love being at the hospital. Being sick or injured for a long-time can be depressing. Whatever room I walk into my goal is to leave that person in a better mood than when I came in. I get to motivate people and energize them. It’s a great job, but it’s not the end of my career journey. Rush is a wonderful place to work, and they truly care about their employees. I’ll soon be starting college pursuing Imaging Services through Rush on my way to become an MRI Tech. Skills was my way in, and now Rush is providing me a way up.
I mentioned earlier my family and community supported me, but they also drive me. I want to be a pillar of my community. When I’m not at Rush working, I’m volunteering at my church, speaking with members of the next MAAFA class. The trend is to leave West Garfield Park when you become successful. That’s not my plan. I want to help bring affordable housing and community development resources to support and lift-up my neighbors. I’m proud to be from West Garfield Park, and in the future, I know more than just the Conservatory and violence will come to mind when my neighborhood is mentioned – because I am helping change the narrative.
When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers always said I was going to be a doctor. I’m working on that. Skills got me the first step by helping me start working at Rush. Now Rush’s supportive programming is giving me a pathway to MRI Tech. Who knows, maybe I’ll be introduced as Dr. Marquis Pitts one day, too.
On behalf of myself, my family and my community –– thank you Rush, thank you Skills and thank you to everyone here who has supported this work.