Representative Christian Mitchell with several college-bound Chicago youth, minutes before the parade began
Every summer, families on Chicago’s Southside gather to celebrate the start of the school year at the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade. This 87-year-old tradition launched with a noble purpose: “to provide underprivileged youth with the chance to be in the limelight.”[i] In this spirit, a new unit composed of dozens of college-bound charter public school graduates joined the marching bands, performers, and local celebrities. We at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools were honored to march with them.
These students represented 3,200 charter public high school students who are also headed to college this fall. This is an astounding feat considering charter public school students make up 17% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduates, yet they comprise over 23% of CPS students enrolling in four-year colleges. College readiness and completion are at the core of the charter movement, and these results speak for themselves.
Proudly adorned in their college t-shirts, these students proceeded down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the second largest parade in the nation and were greeted with nothing but cheers from the crowd. As they passed one parent lovingly extolled, “He’s next,” while pointing to a toddler resting in a stroller. In this moment, the spirit of the Bud Billiken Day parade truly materialized as young people were in the spotlight because of their academic accomplishments.
These students are a symbol of hope to their communities, and they are living proof that students from all neighborhoods in Chicago can overcome incredible odds and be college-bound. The Illinois Network of Charter Schools is thrilled to celebrate the future leaders of Chicago. INCS applauds the students, parents, and school communities for working hard to make this accomplishment a reality, and we commit to continuing our work until every child in our state has access to a high-quality, life-defining education.