“I have high hopes for this neighborhood,” Yale graduate and Chicago native Timeica Bethel said. “I mean it’s a really good area, it's right next to Midway so it's great real estate so hopefully it becomes something better.”
Bethel has already seen something better than her childhood home: the projects on Cicero Avenue. They were torn down this year, while she was graduating at the top of her class, on full scholarship.
After training with Teach for America, she's bringing her lessons back to youngsters who need them, as she did when she and her three young siblings moved in with their grandmother.
“My mother was addicted to cocaine and alcohol and she couldn't raise us,” Bethel said. “So my grandmother quit her job, took us in, adopted the four of us, and raised us, and she was absolutely amazing.”
Le Claire Courts posed all of the dangers typical of big CHA developments.
“My grandmother was always worried about us,” Bethel said. “She kept us in the house all the time. I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was 12 because she wouldn't let me out long enough to learn to ride a bike.”
Her journey to safety and success started with a push from her 8th grade teacher.
“I received a scholarship when I graduated from 8th grade,” Bethel said. “To go to any private high school in the country.”
She landed at the $22,000-a-year Frances Parker School, 10 miles away, on Chicago's Gold Coast.
“But it was a real culture shock, the first couple weeks,” Bethel said. “I had no idea that there were, that there was this much money in Chicago, that there were high schools that expensive in the world, um that teachers could be that open and welcoming and that um an environment like that could be that friendly.”
At the prestigious private high school, she excelled, ending up with offers for full rides from a half dozen top universities, she's well aware of what she missed.
“How do I get around these drug dealers?” Bethel asked. ”How do I get here safely without walking through the shot zone, without going through the fights and all of that?”
Bethel stays in touch with her friends from the old neighborhood - and with the experience she has in common with many of the third graders she started teaching this month.
“I really hope to inspire them, and to show them that anything is possible. You don't have to be limited by your surroundings, and you don't have to be what other people are telling you you're going to be,” Bethel said. “So I hope that they kind of see that through my story.”
“[I’m] overjoyed, it's a mother's dream,” Bethel’s mother said.
Even her mother's story proves the possibilities, Tianda Bethel eventually battled back from her addiction and into her children's lives.
They are all grateful for the matriarch who said she followed a simple formula.
“If you’re in school, go to school,” Bethel’s grandmother said. “Do the right thing, pass your classes, come home don't stay out playing all night, go to school, that's all you have to do.”