Father, Scholar, Peacemaker: A CPS Student’s Astonishing Transformation

More than any other group, the high school graduates of 2024 faced unforeseen challenges that no other students in recent memory have had to face.

They had to contend with the specter of the pandemic, the unfathomable loss of friends and relatives, either from Covid or other causes, and George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent fallout. They had to adjust to virtual learning while facing the threat of learning loss. 

Amid numerous and nefarious challenges, many of these 2024 high school graduates persevered and managed to walk across the stage and earn diplomas. They are now bound for college, trade schools, work, or other post-secondary arrangements.

The Chicago Defender recently spoke with Black Chicago Public Schools graduates who epitomize resilience and tenacity.

What follows is the story of Gregory Cooper, a Roberto Clemente Community Academy graduate bound for Southern University.


Gregory Cooper’s high school journey was anything but smooth.

“At first, I was a troublemaker,” he admitted. “I was always into the ladies, around the ladies. Some guys didn’t like that. I’d get into a lot of altercations, fights and everything. That was during my sophomore year.” 

The constant turmoil made him want to give up on school. 

“I felt like there was no point in me going there. I might as well do something else with life and just stop going to school.”

The Turning Point: Meeting Principal Morales

During this turbulent period, Devon Morales, who would become the principal at Roberto Clemente, became a pivotal figure in his life. 

However, their early interactions weren’t always smooth, either.

“At first, I didn’t like him,” Cooper recalled. “But Morales saw something different in me. He said, ‘Maybe if you chill out on the ladies, something will change about you.’ 

That message struck a chord.

After learning he would be a father, Cooper’s transformation began in his junior year. 

“I was having a baby on the way. I realized I had to make a decision. To see my son come out and recognize me, I had to do better, not just for me, but for him too.”

Morales became a mentor, guiding Cooper through this critical period.

“I told Morales I could change. I wanted to show everybody the real me.”

Working night shifts at Portillo’s, Cooper juggled his job and school, determined to make it through. “I was trying to make as much money as I could to provide for myself. I wanted to show Morales and everyone else that I could do this, not just for them, but for me and my son.”

Senior Year Success

By his senior year, he had undergone a significant transformation.

“When I came back to school, everyone was like, ‘Where’s Greg?’ They didn’t even know that I was back at school. I’m like, yeah, man, I’m a whole different person.”

He credits Principle Morales and two other Roberto Clemente staffers. 

“They helped me change my whole life, career, and school.”

His efforts paid off as he excelled in his classes, particularly in math. 

“I like working with numbers. I even have a board at home where I write things down to keep me focused.” 

Cooper also began playing football and earned scholarships, a testament to his hard work and determination.

Becoming a Peacemaker

Yet, his metamorphosis was about more than just going back to school and getting good grades. 

He became a peacemaker when conflicts broke out, a stark contrast to his earlier years. 

‘I gotta show people that there isn’t nothing good about fighting. School is to learn, get your education and get your diploma,” Cooper said. 

When fights happened at school, he was the one helping security break them up, or he would meet with the conflicting parties.

“The people that got into fights, I’m talking to them. I’m making them laugh [and getting them] to shake each other’s hands. I’m telling them fighting ain’t gonna do no good for you,” he said. 

“You know how many people lose their lives a day to gun violence? Like, we shouldn’t want to do this.” 

Future Aspirations

Looking ahead, Cooper plans to major in business and pursue a career in real estate. “I want to help my community. I’m not from Humboldt Park, but I love this area because of the high school. The community has been very supportive, and I want to give back.”

His son also remains a constant source of inspiration.

“I didn’t want to follow the same path as my father, who was in and out of jail. I want my son to see me on his birthdays and every holiday. I want to be in his life through every single moment I can. Even when I go to college, I’m going to miss him, but this is to better me and him.”

Gregory’s story shows resilience and the power of positive mentorship. Once a self-proclaimed troublemaker, he has become a peacemaker and aspiring businessman. Cooper’s journey highlights the transformative impact of education and determination.


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