For proof that City Colleges of Chicago can transform lives, look no further than Benjamin Brown. He received his associate degree in Human Sciences from Malcolm X College in the spring of 2015 with a GPA of over 3.9. If that was the extent of his story, it would be impressive, but there’s so much more to the 36 year old who was raised in Jamaica and Florida.

Benjie served five years in prison, getting released in 2013. After meeting an outreach coordinator who was working on behalf of City Colleges to expose released felons to higher education opportunities, Benjie was set to enroll at Malcolm X. Once he learned that he was still eligible for financial aid, his educational journey began.

He took full advantage of all the college has to offer—he served as Student Government Association VP, was a member of PTK, and utilized the writing lab and tutoring services. After completing at Malcolm X with an associate degree, he transferred to UIC. At this point Benjie realized no obstacle was too big and no challenge was too great; he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2017.

“When I say City Colleges changed my life, I mean it,” said Benjie. “It gave me confidence to keep striving—once I graduated at Malcolm X, I knew I had it in me to get my bachelor’s degree and get the job I have now.”

Benjie now works for Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) and loves what he is doing. As a Legislative Aide, he helps amend existing ordinances around all municipal traffic signs (disabled signs, residential parking, tow zones, loading zones, etc) and drafts legislation. He also attends community meetings on behalf of the Alderman and works on job fairs.

Benjie, whose parents graduated from Kennedy-King College, is just getting started. He’ll soon complete his Master’s in Public Administration from UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. He eventually wants to get into research and policy, particularly around re-entry of former inmates, ensuring that individuals like him have resources and support to change their lives.

To that end, he still maintains a relationship with the Administration at St. Leonard’s Ministries, the program he paroled to after leaving prison in 2013. Fully committed to the success of all re-entry programs, Benjie volunteered with Project Safe Neighborhoods (an IDOC Initiative) from late 2014 to early 2015, speaking to parolees as an example of changing one’s life.

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