Ali Muhammad is a proud Corliss High graduate. Now, he is working there. He is the principal at Corliss, a neighborhood high school of just under three hundred students. It is located in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago, on East 103rd Street near South Cottage Grove Ave.
He is a dedicated principal, and you can see that clearly in the way that he presents himself, collected and focused. He holds himself to high standards, and he expects his students to do the same.
“Neighborhood schools have challenges,” he says. “We suffered with enrollment. We suffered with students who may not have the academic skills we want them to have… We don’t really call them challenges; we call them opportunities to get better.”
The student body reflects and amplifies the dedication and positive attitude of Muhammad.
When asked what message they would like to broadcast to the world, his students offer up affirmations that are direct, thoughtful, and full of compassion.
“Let’s take the world to a higher level than it is now,” says Lucky Guise.
“Let’s come together. Love all. Keep Giving Back. Never give up,” offers Jurule Taylor.
“Stop the violence. Keep pushing. Sweat for your dreams. Never give up,” echoes Tirenz Wiley.
To help Muhammad and his students continue to improve their school, Corliss recently received a grant under the New Chance Arts & Literature program. Muhammad plans to use the funds to offer up more diverse program offerings to his students.
“We’re a STEM school, so we have the STEM piece,” he says. “What we’re lacking are opportunities for kids to explore other areas.” He plans to bring programs to the school that focus on the arts, like visual art, music, and dance. Already the school has purchased new band equipment that otherwise they would not have been able to obtain. In addition, the school has been able to provide support for a web series created by the students called Behind the Bleachers. The students write, act in, produce, and direct the series with support from the school.
Behind the Bleachers is the brainchild of Corliss students Angel Potts. It focuses on the lives of the student managers of the school football team, all young women of color who attend the school. It aims to depict the realities of high school in a sincere and honest way. Potts says she created the show to increase representation of voices that aren’t heard regularly in mainstream media.
“I want to give a voice to people who feel like they are left out or feel like their opinion doesn’t matter,” she states with a clear sense of purpose. “I want people to be able to watch and see themselves and what they go through.”
Already, Muhammad has seen a positive impact from the grant funds. “Attendance is up five percent from last year,” he reports. “Fights are down. And morale is up.” Opportunities to get better, as Muhammad would call them, still exist. But the school is improving, and obstacles are being overcome.