When Michael DeVaul was growing up in Evanston, his whole world was segregated. He went to the Black YMCA and lived on the south side. Until Evanston integrated its schools in 1968. DeVaul was in the first class to integrate.
“I’ve been alive long enough to have seen that journey,” DeVaul, 60, said.
Although his teachers like Ann McMahon at Nichols Middle School would describe DeVaul as a really good student, he said he struggled.
He was arrested three times before turning 18. But after each arrest, Bob Roy at the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy was there to nurture DeVaul’s potential.
Devaul had two hands-on parents who were members of the Ebenezer AME Church, but even that foundation wasn’t enough to overcome violence in the city, he said.
“I’m not the prototypical kid who didn’t have family, and I needed help,” Devaul said. “Imagine the kids who don’t have that. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.”
The Moran Center helped give DeVaul the tools and support he needed to graduate from high school, college and, ultimately, become a successful nonprofit leader.
“I was helped, and as a result of that help, I was able to go right back to help folks who look like me,” DeVaul said.
DeVaul will be speaking at the Moran Center Gala Thursday evening as will U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) The gala is themed “Justice Heals” and proceeds will help fund the nonprofit’s efforts to advocate for low-income youth and their families.
DeVaul now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, which he called a second home to Evanston. He has made an impact on young men of color in more than 100 cities as the YMCA of the USA National Director for Boys and Young Men of Color. President Barack Obama gave him the Champion of Change award for his efforts in 2013.
“If Evanston hadn’t loved me; if Evanston hadn’t taken the chance – I’m not sure what I would have been doing,” DeVaul said. “I have tons of friends that I grew up with, some are dead, some have a lifetime of being incarcerated – because the system doesn’t necessarily work the same way for everybody.”
DeVaul and Evanston today
But the Moran Center isn’t the only thing bringing DeVaul back to Evanston. He said he also plans to start the 847 Series Podcast and bring his nationwide nonprofit the Center for Common Ground to the area.
The podcast will be run by Evanston Township High School students. Each episode the students will connect with notable alumni from ETHS to learn how they carved their career paths.
“Evanston really has an interesting alumni base that probably would rival Harvard, Northwestern or any private school,” DeVaul said.
Many of DeVaul’s classmates from the Evanston school district went on to be successful on a national scale. He went to kindergarten with the president of a well-known beverage company. President Obama’s Deputy Treasury Secretary and the president of the National Press Club in D.C. all went to ETHS with DeVaul.
“Our students don’t know that there are people in their city who went to their high school who could help them with their career pathway.”
The Center for Common Ground helps inform and empower communities about voting. DeVaul said he believes that through these efforts, change can be made.
“Justice and healing are the first two steps, but love is what’s transformational,” DeVaul said.