January 15, 2009
BY ANDRE SALLES
AURORA — In 1997, Salome Thomas-EL got a promotion and a raise.
A teacher at an inner city middle school in Philadelphia since 1989, Thomas-EL had more than earned his transfer to another school, and the $20,000 salary bump that came with it. As a teacher and a chess instructor, he’d transformed the school, and his chess students had gone on to win local and national championships.
But he turned the promotion down, deciding instead to stay with his students. As the only male role model many of them had, Thomas-EL knew his students would see just one more black man who got out while the getting was good.
He’s been in that Philadelphia school system ever since — he’s now the principal at another school and he still coordinates after-school chess programs. He turned his experiences into a book, called “I Choose to Stay.”
On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Thomas-EL will come to Aurora to talk about his life’s work of inspiring inner city youth.
“Young people need to hear his story, to see that they can make it,” said Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns, one of a team of city leaders who worked to bring Thomas-EL to Aurora. “He was able to motivate hundreds of kids with the game of chess, and show them they can make it out of the inner city.”
This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event takes place at Long Island Sound Banquets on New York Street. Thomas-EL will hold a seminar for students at 10 a.m., with lunch and his talk following at 11 a.m. He will stick around for a book signing afterward.
Hart-Burns is particularly excited about the fact that “I Choose to Stay” has been optioned by the Walt Disney Company, which may turn it into a feature film. Thomas-EL also is the author of “The Immortality of Influence,” and regularly appears on CNN and National Public Radio.
Seats for Monday’s event are limited. For reservations, contact the Aldermen’s Office at (630) 844-3619.
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