GARFIELD PARK — Nearly two months after he was shot on his way to class, a triumphant Jermaine Kelly walked across the stage to receive his construction certificate at a special graduation ceremony Wednesday.
It has not been an easy year for the 25 year old. In August, he lost one of his oldest friends, Calvin Seay, to a shooting just blocks away from the Peace Academy, the school he helped build at 75th Street and Stewart Avenue in Englewood.
Still, he pressed on, continuing his volunteer work with Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK) while pursuing dreams of his own. Shortly after the murder of his friend, Kelly enrolled in a 10-week construction program at Revolution Workshop, a nonprofit that helps young men from marginalized communities learn a trade.
Kelly threw himself into his work, rising every morning at 5 a.m. to make the 30-minute drive to class on the West Side, carpooling with friends along the way. He was checking his tire pressure before class one October morning in the 7400 block of South Vincennes when he was shot in his leg.
But the bullet couldn’t stop him.
Hours after he was shot, Kelly was asking friends and family to bring his homework to him so that he wouldn’t fall behind in the program. Days later, he returned to class on crutches, ready to work.
“His enthusiasm, his drive, the motivation he gave all of his classmates … he’s going to do great,” said Gus Sanchez, one of the instructors who worked with Kelly at Wednesday’s graduation at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave. “He should be a motivational speaker.”
For Kelly, completing his training was an important first step in starting his own enterprise, one that would welcome anyone in need of a second chance.
“So many of these construction sites we visited had a lack of black carpenters and black electricians, so I want to open that lane up so that the next cohort has somewhere to go, and they don’t have to fight for it,” Kelly said.
But for now, he just wants to savor the moment.
“It’s overwhelming. Given what I had to overcome, it still doesn’t seem real,” Kelly said as he clutched his certificate.
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