Scholarship recipients (on stage) returned to the 19th Century Club to report on their progress and activities. The students are (left to right) Rachel Young, Jennie Bull, Kaleigh Clarke, Caroline Robling-Griest, Sabine Roser, Sarah Pilditch, Danielle Guralnick, Matylda Jamroz, Amelia Rossbach, Talib Becktemba-Goss, Peera Serumaga

The 19th Century Charitable Association has a long history of providing scholarships to local students at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The resilience of Gen Z has been salient through the past few years. As we are coming out of this and moving toward rebuilding our futures, emotions, and even our confidence, there are lights at the end of the tunnel.

The event that took place Jan. 2, was to hear updates from the students who were scholarship recipients. Janet Barkley, chairperson, a lively, assertive, and kind woman, blends in as a longtime Oak Parker — self-aware and relevant. Her message was about “hope,” referencing Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness,” and adding that “hope has to be harnessed, to work.” It is easy to forget that people who do the work are the most impressive when they overcome opinions and actions that we are conditioned into through upbringing.

Barkley is a part of a group of women (LCP6), which means Ladies Who Chat with a Purpose. She said the women of the group had “life experiences with prejudice that affected them,” so they worked through it. Their goal was to learn how to better help people of color and work toward a more diverse and inclusive world.

She and her LCP6 ladies actually cared to “be the change they wanted to see in the world.” This was reinforced when student after student share their updates about how their first semester of college went and thanked Nineteenth Century for their scholarship support and mentoring. Almost every student, of their own volition, got involved in “paying it forward,” helping younger and disenfranchised students by tutoring them.

Two students formed organizations to help tutor kids. Talib Becktemba-Goss extended his support with his mother’s help and founded a nonprofit organization helping kids in the Lawndale area. Matylda Jamroz’s eyes danced when discussing helping elementary kids to the point where she even considered switching majors to become a teacher. I was amazed that these young Gen Z-ers, who have been through so much, put their hope into action out of concern for the generation right behind them (Gen Alpha) because of how the pandemic affected them academically. Partially catalyzed by Janet Barkley, her group and the 19th Century Club, the kids decided to be hope for the younger generation though they are now college students of Law, Astrophysics, Economics, Political Science, Media/Film, and Nursing among others.

I suppose Lord of the Flies, required reading during my school days, got two things right.

1) Children will take care of themselves regardless.
2) There is hope in the world and hope for future generations.

I can’t wait to see what these child benefactors do next and where they go. Community and world change start at home.

Stay tuned.

EL Serumaga is a resident of River Forest and Founder of

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