By Latricia Wilson
While Roosevelt University continues to strive towards achieving the ongoing goal to
“create a just society,” “offer opportunity” and “develop individuals,” alumnus John Dev Contreras strives to prepare youth for college in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood.
Contreras, who is the head mentor in the Academic Success Center, has extended his mentorship services to inner-city youth at the Chicago Youth Boxing Club located in Little Village.
Contreras reminisced about the feeling of anxiety and the fear of failure he felt as he prepared to attend college as a first-generation student. He also talked about how his past experiences motivated him to pursue his own personal social justice mission to provide career and college readiness support to inner-city Chicago youth.
Q:What role do you play at the Chicago Youth Boxing Club?
A: I am the college and career readiness coach at the Chicago Youth Boxing Club.
Q: What do you do to mentor youth or prepare them for college at the club?
A: I work with them in ways that help them prepare for college living, especially for students who are first generation or will be first generation college students. My goal is to expose them to as much as possible before actually attending a college or even applying. I was also the first person in my family to attend college, and I know firsthand how scary it can be to attend college without having a family member to support me. I sometimes don’t know how I was able to get through it alone, but I was able to. I want to relieve youth who want to pursue a college education of the stress that I felt. I felt anxiety and a fear of failure, and I can say that being a minority in post secondary education is not an easy task. We need these types of support programs in order to give youth the tools they need to succeed in college.
Q: How do you help them realize what they are good at or professions they may be passionate about?
A: A large portion of how we figure that out, as a whole, is we have all of our coaches working towards getting to know the youth that we work with and get to know them personally so we can cater to each youth, individually. We all work together to see what each youth is interested in, and then we plan accordingly. We’ll set up trips to go visit different colleges that offer programs that a majority of our youth are interested in.
Q: Can you tell me just a little about the activities and events at the boxing club?
A: At the CYBC, we plan different events ranging from college visits to workplace visits. We also plan different service events for the youth and for community building within the Little Village community. We also hold a yearly regional amateur boxing tournament where people from all over the midwest come to compete.
Q: How long have you worked at the club and what do you like most about being a career coach?
A: I have worked at the boxing club for almost a year now, and what I absolutely love about the position I work in is that it allows me to see the passion that each individual youth has for their specific subject or even to succeed in general. Like I said, a lot of these kids are coming from homes that know very little about colleges and universities. Their curiosities about it are endless, and they know that pursuing a college education will definitely grant them more opportunities than not attaining a degree.
Q: What neighborhoods do youth come from who you have mentored?
A: We serve all surrounding neighborhoods, as well as other neighborhoods that are a little further. A majority are from North or South Lawndale, however.
Q: What is your ultimate career or life goals?
A: My ultimate life goal would be to attend graduate school and attain a masters degree in higher education. I really want to continue working with first generation college students in, hopefully, a multicultural center at some university.