Contributions for student shows residents can help solve problems: Mitchell
By MARY MITCHELL April 25, 2014 6:42PM
Norine Williams and her son Vonzell Coleman outside De La Salle Institute in 2006. | Sun-Times library
Updated: May 28, 2014 6:36AM
This is not a typical Chicago story.
In this story no one gets shot; no one cries; no one goes to jail.
No, this is a story about a city that is gentler than the chaotic image that emerged from CNN’s “Chicagoland.”
In 2006, Norine Williams came to me with a desperate plea. She and her husband had lost their jobs and their son’s tuition at De La Salle was way past due.
Although I could sympathize with Williams’ plight, it was really her personal problem. After all, lots of parents can’t afford to even think about sending a son to the prestigious Catholic high school.
But Williams wasn’t too proud to plead.
Her son, Vonzell Coleman Jr., had a 4.6 grade-point average and deserved the chance to attend a school where he didn’t have to worry about safety or gangs or nonsense, she said.
If she could just get her story out there, she knew the good-hearted would respond.
She was right.
After reading about Coleman, Sun-Times readers contributed enough money to pay the teen’s past-due tuition, and that helped him stay at De La Salle and to ultimately earn a college scholarship.
Over the years, Williams has kept me apprised of her son’s progress: “Vonzell traveled to Tanzania for a community-service project; Vonzell graduated from De La Salle with honors and earned a four-year scholarship.”
On Friday, I got another call from Williams. She was bursting with excitement.
“I just want your readers to know that Vonzell is graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 17,” she told me.
Things also had improved for Williams.
She and her husband are working and were able to send Coleman money throughout his college years. In the interim, another son also graduated from college.
“I have two college graduates, and that has elevated our whole family. Because my sons have done what they were supposed to do, we can all do what we need to do as a family, and nobody is pulling anybody else down,” Williams said.
As for Coleman, he said the college experience was surreal.
“Going through high school, you are told that college is coming up and how fast it will go by, but you don’t internalize it until you get to this point,” he said.
“The support that I got in high school was amazing, and I definitely appreciated it. Those people who supported me, they can rest assured that their money and their contributions paid off well for me,” Coleman said.
Today, there are many crowdfunding websites where people can raise funds.
But just eight years ago, Williams didn’t know where the money could possibly come from to pay her past-due tuition bill.
She swallowed her pride and reached out to the city for help.
In doing so, Williams opened my eyes and showed me there are more caring Chicagoans than there are haters.
Since then, readers of this column have stepped up to help other college bound students.
Last year, you contributed $22,000 to help Jason Roberts attend the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2012, you also contributed more than $18,000 to help Byron Pickett pay tuition at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The compassion readers showed these young men was an affirmation that there are enough people of goodwill in this city to solve our most difficult problems, including ending the violence.
After graduation, Coleman is hoping to come home and find a job as a financial consultant.
“I keep up with the news about Chicago on the Internet, and it is usually about shootings and failing schools,” he said.
“If I can serve as that star in the dark sky, that would be good.”