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Jemel Roberson (1992-2018)

As teachers, paraprofessionals and strong advocates for our children, we try to teach our students to be strong and compassionate individuals. We try to instill in them a sense of confidence and a sense of pride in what they will accomplish. Whatever difficulties they may encounter in life, we try to support them, mentor them and demonstrate positive characteristics that may serve them well in their young lives and beyond. Many of us make formidable arguments to our students that we all have a “special gift,” and that they should never stop reaching for the stars while they pursue their dreams.

Jemel Roberson was just that kind of person. He was a kind, courteous and exceptionally bright young man with a bright future ahead of him. He dreamed of becoming a police officer and worked as a security guard in pursuit of making his dream come true. Jemel was dearly loved by his family and his many friends. He was the bright shining light in the eyes of his mother, Beatrice Roberson, who beamed with pride when speaking about him and looked on proudly as he made his many visits back to his old elementary school, A. N. Pritzker, where she works.

Beatrice is a paraprofessional and a 20-year Chicago Public Schools employee. She is a strong union advocate who will speak truth to power and is not afraid to voice her concerns and opinions to her peers and administrators alike.

She’s also a proud SEIU member, wears red in support of all CTU causes and has more than a passing interest in our struggles. She wears her SEIU purple when her leadership advocates for support, and encourages her peers to fully embrace their pursuit of fair working conditions.

Jemel inherited his mother’s strength, advocacy and sense of justice when protecting and looking out for others. He was a gifted and talented musician, who learned how to play drums first, then keyboards. He also was a religious young man who felt that his musical gift should be shared with others. Jemel took his talents and played at many churches in his community. This dedication to music was also apparent in his mentoring of other young men, not unlike himself. He was also a dedicated family man who loved his mother, his son, his siblings and his many nieces and nephews.

Jemel lost his life while working as a security guard responding to a shooting in a Midlothian night club where he was working. That night, someone started shooting into the club and Jemel chased the man and detained him waiting for the police to arrive. Then the unthinkable happened: While detaining the shooter, Jemel—the bright light in his mother’s eyes, a loving family man, future police officer, highly gifted musician, protector and mentor—was shot and killed by a police officer arriving on the scene.

Those of us who knew Jemel will miss him terribly. We will wipe away tears and heave a breath of remembrance longing to see him again. We will carry on in our lives, not forgetting the many boys and girls, like Jemel, who have dreams and “gifts” to share with the world. We will continue advocating and encouraging our students to reach for the stars and to keep pursuing their dreams.

Paulette Flanagan is a Special Education Teacher at A. N. Pritzker Elementary School.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.