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Shakhari Edwards, the 2014 Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago Youth of the Year, on how the organization changed her life

Shakhari Edwards

Shakhari Edwards

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Updated: March 27, 2014 1:58PM

The following is a speech given by Shakhari Edwards, the winner of the 2014 Youth of the Year Competition, at the March 4 Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago gala.

My Boys and Girls Club, Daniel A. Cotter Club, has positively impacted the person I am today. Having supportive people around has helped me overcome difficulties and has increased my confidence and drive to succeed. I do not know what type of person I would be today if I had not attended the Cotter Club.

During grade school, I struggled to maintain good grades. I wasn’t focused on my education. I would often be put down by family members and close friends who would make me feel worthless when I tried to improve. I felt as if I had no one to turn to. As a result, I had to attend summer school before I started the seventh grade.

As I struggled to make my family proud, I encountered a devastating tragedy that would change my life forever. On August 15, 2008, my brother Aramis Edwards was murdered. I was 12 years old and I did not understand what was happening until the day of the funeral. I then realized I wasn’t getting my brother back. Before his life was taken away at the age of 20 by two fatal gunshot wounds to the chest, my brother was in the process of getting his life together. He had ended his affiliation with a street gang, found a full-time job and was an active parent to his two beautiful daughters. He motivated me to do better, so I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps.

In need of a refuge, I attended the Daniel A. Cotter Boys and Girls Club. I joined multiple programs to keep my mind from wandering, keep tears from flowing and to avoid going home and dealing with the hardship. The club’s atmosphere made me feel welcome and wanted. I joined the knitting and cooking clubs, where I learned new skills I wouldn’t have been taught at home. I then joined ‘Smart Girls,’ a self-esteem enhancement program, and I found myself sharing feelings in ways I didn’t feel comfortable doing with my family. The instructor of the program, Sarah Bank, helped me cope with my brother’s passing. Since I didn’t have his support anymore, she helped motivate me to get my grades up and show the world how bright and motivated I had become.

That drive followed me as I graduated eighth grade on the honor roll and entered North Grand High School. Since my freshman year, I have maintained a GPA of 3.9 out of 4.0. I look forward to attending Western Illinois University in the fall to start a new path of becoming a pediatric nurse. I know I am capable of accomplishing any goal I set forth. I will make myself, my family, and my Boys and Girls Club proud, but most importantly, I will make my brother proud.

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