In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved into an apartment in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood — less than a mile from where Providence St. Mel stands — to protest housing inequality, segregation and poverty in this embattled community. A few short years later, Paul J. Adams III, the founder of Providence St. Mel School, moved from Alabama to that same neighborhood in Chicago to make a difference. Mr. Adams shares that his life’s work and the mission of Providence St. Mel are inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.
Mr. Adams remembers how Dr. King impacted his path as a young man. “In 1955, I met Dr. King. That same year Emmett Till was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi, and Rosa Parks sat down on a bus. At that time, I was the same age as Emmett Till. I remember walking home and feeling the sweat run down my hand thinking that could have been me fished out of that river. The events of that year shaped my life. They set me on my road to whatever I was going to do. There is not a day I wake up that I don’t think about Emmett Till.”
Many of the societal woes that Dr. King protested still strangle this west side Chicago community, yet Providence St. Mel remains a beacon of hope. Since 1978, 100 percent of our students have graduated from high school and have been accepted into four-year colleges and universities. Many students begin their time at Providence St. Mel with significant academic deficits and personal obstacles, but we know that when given high expectations, support and proper instruction, all students can achieve.
Our mission is shaped by the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the drive to challenge young people to reach their full potential. Mr. Adams notes, “Without a proper education, a person is doomed. If we can provide the right environment, our children will enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper.”
During his more than 40 years impacting the west side Chicago community, Mr. Adams has received countless awards and recognition for his work improving the community. Most recently, on Feb. 13, he received The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award from The Leaders Network, a collaboration of clergy and community stakeholders in Chicago.
The mission statement of Providence St. Mel that students recite each morning states, “we believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work” and “we believe one must earn the right to dream.” The determined students at Providence St. Mel understand that the dreams of the Civil Rights movement must come through determination, hard work and education.
“Our school’s mission statement is essentially what Black History means to me,” shares senior Jalen F. “Every morning is a reminder to look at ourselves when we commit to ‘take this place, this time and this people and make a better place, better time and better people.’ You can’t say those words and not think of our ancestors’ sacrifices.”