Last night I judged the Public Speaking contest at Build, Inc., a wonderful nonprofit serving 3500 students in 22 of Chicago’s worst communities – including Cabrini Green and Austin. Nine high school students each stood up in front of a large crowd to share their life story, emphasizing the difficulties which brought them to BUILD, Inc. and how the organization has helped.

Talk about troubled childhoods!

The winner, Carissa Knox, who is standing just to the right of the banner in the photo below, moved me to tears with her journey from being unable to ever speak in the first person because she had been molested by her uncle as a child and no one believed her. “I came from a family of separation… BUILD, Inc. awakened my inner poet, helped me speak with my own voice, become social and have ambition.”

Hector Rodriguez is the youngest of 4 boys and 1 girl, raised by a single mother. His two oldest brothers joined rival gangs. The eldest was in prison by the time Hector was 7. The second oldest has been shot – “laying covered in his own blood” – 10 different times, usually by his brother’s gang. Hector called himself “short, fat and frightened” when he found his way to BUILD, Inc. He’s now tall, fit, confident and has great smile as you can see in the photo. He is just to the left of the banner.

LEFT SIDE OF BUILD BANNER – Dr. Roslind Blasingame, Executive Director; Christine Bakkalar, Highland Park; Lavelle Rodgers, Gala Dinner Speaker; Rachel Gray, 3rd Place; Hector Rodriguez, Honorable Mention and Gala Dinner Speaker.
RIGHT SIDE OF BUILD BANNER – Carissa Knox, 1st Place and Gala Dinner Speaker; Marci Klein, Winnetka; me; Aramis Pates, 2nd Place; Amarian Pates; Ron Libman, US Messenger President.

My admiration, and society’s thanks, go to the North Shore’s Marci Klein and Christine Bakkalar for many years of passionate and creative work to build BUILD, Inc.’s capacity. It’s new colorful, light filled facility should attract more youth too. Thanks also to Ron Libman, US Messenger President and Rik Vazquez, BUILD, Inc.’s Positive Youth Development Coordinator who worked most closely with the speakers too. Thanks to their hard work, every teen who spoke should feel like a winner.

BUILD, Inc.’s annual gala dinner will be May 3rd at Soldier Field’s United Club. Make It Better is proud to be the media sponsor.

For more information on BUILD, Inc. or the event, please see

Selected Quotes on Build, Inc.:

“BUILD helps protect Chicago’s at-risk youth and empowers them to rise above the influence of drugs, gangs and violence. BUILD’s many programs give children the support and tools they need to achieve their dreams and be a positive, driving force in their community.” – Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
“When I hear the stories of our youth, I know the importance of why BUILD exist. Our youth are my inspiration to continue to provide a place where they can find their voices and realize their God-Given potential.” – Dr. Roslind Blasingame-Buford –
“I have respect for BUILD’s vision and programs and commend them for their long history of commitment to provide assets-based assessments and services that empower youth and communities. I have confidence in BUILD’s ability to be an asset within the Austin Community with the overall impact of transforming highly “at-risk” youth at the margins in our community into greatly “at-hope” youth who will enter and enrich the mainstream of our society.” – Deborah Graham Alderman, 29th Ward