A Few Words from the New CEO of Chicago Scholars, Jeffery Beckham, Jr.
When I was a child, I would ride in the car with my parents and see different parts of the city. While I didn’t know why I felt compelled to point out various buildings, I knew what I wanted to do with them – turn them into youth centers for the community. Before I knew what leadership meant, I knew I wanted to change things for the better. And as I grew up, I did that work at every turn.
My first job in high school was as a youth T-Ball instructor and tutor for a program called Kids With A Positive Attitude. Then I served as a youth leader in volunteer programs in my church, and in college, I mentored in the Columbia Missouri YMCA as part of a program with my fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. When I graduated, I taught youth bible study and summer camp with my church New Faith Baptist Church International, in Matteson, before joining the mentoring organization 100 Black Men of Chicago. I continued to do this work serving on the Local School Council at King College Prep and eventually on numerous non-profit boards, all focused on helping youth. Mentorship and youth leadership has always been the work I was purposed to do. I’m honored to continue it as the next CEO of Chicago Scholars.
Our city needs leaders to step up now more than ever. We are failing our young men of color. The data and daily headlines confirm it. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Mentorship and exposure, coupled with education and career opportunities, are critical components of changing things for the better. For the past 25 years at Chicago Scholars, we have done that work and done it very well. Now we need to do more. We must deepen personalized engagement and expand our technical capabilities to reach more young people. We must continue to work with our College and Corporate partners to create inclusive environments welcoming to our Scholars. We must prepare the world for our Scholars while we continue to prepare our Scholars for the world. We must commit wholeheartedly to READI (Racial Justice. Equity. Accessibility. Diversity. Inclusion) work because it is essential to the success of our community.
I am honored to lead Chicago Scholars. I am our Scholars. As the first black male in my family to graduate from college, I represent my ancestor’s wildest dreams come true, and I represent a focal point of what our Scholars can become when given opportunity and access. I, however, never get to this point without a supportive family and parents who sacrificed to ensure that I had every opportunity they could provide. For my village and their support, sacrifice, and prayers, I am forever grateful. That’s why I recognize that Chicago Scholars must continue to be that supportive family for other young people who may not have the same supports. More now than ever, our organization must be strong both internally and externally; we must be financially healthy and well-connected in the community and corporate sectors; we must always put the Scholars at the center of our decisions to best help them navigate and thrive in a post-pandemic world.
I’m excited to be the person chosen to lead the next phase of work at Chicago Scholars. And I’m very ready to get started. We need you to join us; we need you to work in partnership with us to change this city and country for the better. We have hard work to do, but I know we can do so together. We will create a vibrant Chicago powered by diverse leaders from every neighborhood. This is the way forward. We owe it to our young people, to our next generation of leaders, to get this right. Let’s get to work.