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Principal Rawls Receives the Helen Dumas Excellence in Education Award

Principal Shaka Rawls’ extraordinary work at Leo continues to gain recognition from his peers in education.

Already honored as Principal of the Year for Cook County in February, Mr. Rawls was announced on July 2 as recipient of the first Helen Dumas Excellence in Education Award from the Faith Community of St. Sabina.

Helen Dumas was the long-serving Principal of St. Sabina Academy before stepping down two years ago. She remains involved with the school in the area of development. She is also a staunch advocate for the Auburn-Gresham community, particularly in the area of education … and a true friend to Leo High School.

“We’re pleased to have six young men from our Class of 2021 attending Leo,” she said. 

Mrs. Dumas acknowledged that in past years she was sometimes reluctant to recommend Leo to her male graduates because she had reservations about the school’s academic mission. “(But) you have truly turned the school around and are assisting young men to grow into responsible men as they continue their preparation to achieve their God-given purpose and destiny,” she told Mr. Rawls.

“Your commitment to the young men of Leo High School has truly made a difference in our community as well as in Catholic education and education in general.”

Mr. Rawls will receive the award at St. Sabina’s annual Brighter Futures Scholarship Benefit at St. Sabina on Saturday, Oct. 9. 

“This award is very special to me,” Mr. Rawls said. “First, because it recognizes Mrs. Helen Dumas, whom we all should strive to emulate as educators and as leaders. 

“And second, because it recognizes the long history between Leo and St. Sabina, which is a very special bond to all of us.”

Principal Rawls Creates a T-Shirt Rally to Address Gun Violence

An idea Leo Principal Shaka Rawls borrowed from Winston-Salem State University has mushroomed into a movement on Chicago’s South Side. 

While visiting the North Carolina school for a seminar, Mr. Rawls cams across a “T-Shirt Rally” university students had organized to call attention to the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. Messages deriving from the “no means no” theme and a woman’s right to control her own body had been painted on T-shirts and put on display in a prominent campus location as a stark reminder that sexual misconduct within the school community should not and would not be tolerated.

The strength of the collective message got Mr. Rawls thinking. 

“Gun violence is truly one of the most pervasive problems facing Leo students and other young people in our communities,” he said. “A T-shirt rally like the one I saw at Winston-Salem would give the kids an opportunity to call attention to it, to express their thoughts with their own message, and maybe memorialize a loved one who had been lost to gun violence.”

Mr. Rawls got an enthusiastic response to the project when he introduced it at Leo, as more than 100 students took part. Senior Adam Means’ intricately drawn depiction of the City of Chicago flag with blood and tears dripping from its stars is an especially provocative message.

With a substantial donation of T-shirts from the Big Shoulders Fund, Mr. Rawls took the project to nine other South Side schools, with gratifying results: Nearly 1,000 messaged T-shirts have been created.

While the search is on for a suitable and more spacious venue in which to showcase them, more than 100 shirts are hanging in the Leo Auditorium. The sadly and hauntingly beautiful display caught the eye of Chicago Tribune journalist Heidi Stevens, who described the project and detailed its background in her June 14 Tribune column. CBS-2 Chicago and Fox-32 followed up with broadcast reports.

“What this tells me is we have to do a better job of giving our young people an opportunity to voice their concerns, and then listen to them when they do,” Mr. Rawls said. “Who better to address the problem of gun violence than those who are most directly affected by it?”

Bears’ Rookies on Zoom Meet-and-Greet with Leo Student Body

Thanks to a strong and ever more fruitful relationship with the Chicago Bears, the Leo Lions got a sneak preview of the 2021 rookie class that will attempt to enhance the Bears’ status as a bona fide NFL playoff contender this season. 

On Friday, June 11, the Leo student body took part in a Zoom meet-and-greet with seven draft picks and 12 free agents who are vying for roster spots with the 2021 Bears. Leo Principal Shaka Rawls moderated the discussion. 

The players’ college experience covered a broad spectrum of the football universe: first-round pick Justin Fields, a quarterback, is from perennial powerhouse Ohio State, while free agent linebacker Caleb Johnson is from tiny Houston Baptist and running back C.J. Marable hails from Coastal Carolina.

What they had in common was a genuine desire to share with our young Leo Men the life experiences that have delivered them to the cusp of careers as professional athletes.

“Don’t be limited by being young Black men,” said Charles Snowden, a linebacker from the University of Virginia. “Always strive to be the best you can be. Find what you’re passionate about and pursue it. If you’re happy with where you are in life, if you’re comfortable in your own skin, then you’re successful.”

Fields sounded ready for the ups-and-downs that will be part of life for any rookie quarterback, particularly in Chicago, which does not exactly boast a glorious history at the position. 

“Nobody’s perfect, so you’re going to make mistakes,” the 22-year-old from Kennesaw, GA., said. “What’s important is to learn from them, use them to get better and don’t repeat them.”

Don’t follow the crowd was a recurring theme among the young Bears.

“Always know your company,” said cornerback Dionte Ruffin, a cornerback from Western Kentucky who grew up in a rough part of New Orleans. “Put yourself in good situations and avoid the situations that aren’t so good. A bullet doesn’t have anybody’s name on it.”

Echoed Marable, who grew up in Decatur, GA.,“Stay out of the way and don’t get involved if your boys are doing things that are not in your best interest. You’ve got goals, you know what you want to accomplish. It’s cool to be lame in that situation.”  

A question from Mr. Rawls about whom the young Bears looked up to as football players drew a wide range of replies. Retirees Ed Reed and LaDanian Tomlinson drew two votes apiece, as did quarterback Cam Newton. Old-timers such as Lawrence Taylor, Mean Joe Greene, Randall Cunnningham and Hines Ward were among the others receiving votes, along with usual suspects Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julio Jones and Tyrann Mathieu.

As the son of an educator, Daniel Archibong, a defensive lineman from Temple, expressed strong appreciation for the role of teachers in society. He also drew a favorable impression of Leo from the description of the school rising seniors James E’Akels and Jakolbi Wilson provided.

“It sounds like you’re in a school where you’re getting lots of opportunities, where you’re surrounded by people who really care about you and want what’s best for you,” he said. “Take advantage of that. Not everybody gets that opportunity.”

Another thought-provoking question: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing football?

“I’d be in social work,” said Teven Jenkins, a second-round pick from Oklahoma State who is likely to start at offensive tackle in place of recently released Charles Leno. “I’m not sure what field, but I’d be doing something to help people.” 

As would Snowden, a 23-year-old from Silver Springs, MD. “I’d be doing something related to social justice. Advocating for immigrants and marginalized communities.”

Wide receiver Khalil McClain gained experience as an entrepreneur while in college. “I used to cut my teammates’ hair at Troy (Ala.) State,” he said. “I was pretty good, and it put a little money in my pocket.”

Caleb Johnson would employ his creative gene. “I would be a writer,” he said. “I’ve always loved to read, and I love telling stories, gathering information and organizing it, trying to present it in a way that makes sense.

“I was a military kid,” Johnson added, “so we moved around a lot. I always had to adjust to new schools, new situations, new people, but I think those experiences made me a better person. You’re always more than a football player.” 

Ruffin shares that sentiment and passed it on to the Leo Men. “Football ends, no matter what level you reach,” he said. “What are you going to do then, after football? Have a plan and follow it. You still have to live your life and be productive.”

President Dan McGrath Civitate Dei Award Honoree

Leo President Dan McGrath is the 2021 recipient of the Civitate Dei Award from the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools.  

Based on the “City of God” writings of St. Augustine, the award recognizes those who “seek to establish a positive culture within the school community, assuring all are welcomed and treated with respect … while building bridges to the neighborhood and the larger community through communication and collaboration.”  

Dr. Jim Rigg, the outgoing Catholic Schools Superintendent, and Deputy Superintendent John Glimco, who oversees archdiocesan high schools, presented the award to President McGrath at a school assembly on Tuesday, May 25.

A 1968 Leo graduate, Dan McGrath is completing his 11th year as the school’s president after a lengthy career in journalism, including 13 years as sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. 

“I am honored and humbled by this recognition, and grateful for the archdiocese’s support,” President McGrath said. “Everything we do at Leo we do as a team, so I accept this honor on behalf of the Leo team.”

Please contribute to our Back to School Jam

Our Second Annual Back to School Jam will be Saturday, August 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Leo. We give students book bags, bikes, jump ropes, skateboards, and toys, plus health and wellness information for the community! Free food, DJ, and games for the whole family!

What can you do to help?  Get the word out!

HELP!!  We need bikes, jump ropes, skateboards, rollerblades, any toys that are going to get kids moving! We also need book bags to get students prepared for school (whatever it looks like) and of course, we need volunteers!

Thanks to our sponsors, but we need so much more. You can drop donations off at Leo High School, M-F 9 to 3, Saturday and Sunday if needed. To donate, go to or call 773.224.9600 to make arrangements! You can let me know if you would like to co-sponsor this event! You can also email me directly at

Here is the link to last years Jam!!
Principal Rawls

A Beautiful Graduation Day

COVID restrictions held down the size of the crowd, but not its enthusiasm as Leo High School celebrated its 92nd commencement ceremony at St. Margaret of Scotland Church on Sunday, May 9—Mother’s Day.

A car caravan consisting of parents, alums and friends of the school traveled from Leo to St. Margaret’s and saluted the graduates as they marched into church for the ceremony, which was live-streamed to big-screen TV monitors in the parking lot for those without tickets.

Mother’s Day graduation is a strong and beautiful Leo tradition. This year’s was enhanced when graduates Damen Ward and Emmanuel Wright read poems thanking their mothers for all they had done in getting their sons to this point in their lives. When they finished, each graduate presented his mother with a framed copy  of a Mother’s Day poem he had written.  

A recurring theme of the ceremony was praise for the perseverance the Class of 2021 demonstrated in completing their Leo journey. COVID cost them nearly half their junior-year activities, and disrupted every aspect of their senior year.

“But think of this as the conclusion of a preparatory phase,” Principal Shaka Rawls told the graduates. “Your real life’s journey begins now.”

Damen Ward, who will attend Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, posted the highest GPA among the 2021 graduates and was the class valedictorian. Sammy Pack, bound for Tennessee State University, was No. 2 in the academic rankings and spoke as the salutatorian.

Other graduates honored for their achievements: 

The Andrew J. McKenna Gold Medal for Leadership: Jalen Johnson

The Thomas and Mary Owens Gold Medal for Mathematics: Pierre Miller

The Michael L. Thompson Gold Medal for Music: Chandler McMahan

The Bishop John R. Gorman Gold Medal for Religion: Joshua Carey

The Donald F. Flynn Gold Medal for History: Trajon Davis

The Dr. James J. Ahern Gold Medal for Science: Damen Ward

The Stafford L. Hood Gold Medal for English: Emmanuel Wright 

The Br. James Glos Gold Medal for Foreign Language: Kobe Roberts 

The Frank W. Considine Gold Medal for Social Justice: Damen Ward

The William J. Koloseike Gold Medal for Athletics: Ri’chard Coleman

On the Road to Success: ROTC Participant James Foy ’18

James Foy, from Leo’s Class of 2018, is continuing his wrestling career at the University of Minnesota while participating in the school’s Army ROTC program. Foy, who finished state runner-up at 138 pounds as a senior, will be commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the army when he graduates and completes his training.

Principal Rawls Moderates a Zoom Conversation with Cardinal Wilton Gregory

By Principal Rawls

I had the absolute pleasure of moderating a conversation with Cardinal Wilton Gregory on Friday, March 5. Our entire school joined a call of over 600 people and the boys asked some great questions. What a blessing to see the highest ranking African American male in the church take time out to talk to my boys. I asked the Cardinal for a special blessing, so I’m forgiven for my actions from 1996 to 2004. I’m one step closer to becoming a saint!

Wilton Gregory made history last fall when he became the first Black American to be appointed a cardinal in the Catholic Church. He is now the Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Junior Cameron Cleveland Talks About Dr. King


A request from the Chicago Bears turned into a memorable series of events for Leo junior Cameron Cleveland.

Cameron was one of 12 Leo students who participated in a Bears Care-sponsored distribution of gift baskets to needy families from Auburn Gresham and other neighboring communities just before Christmas.

In January, in conjunction with the Bears’ observance of Dr . Martin Luther King Day, the team asked Cameron and students from other schools to submit an essay on Dr. King’s legacy and what it means to him and his family.

Cameron wrote the essay and recorded it on video as well. The Bears were so impressed that they shared it with some of their media partners, including Chicago’s FOX-32, the broadcast outlet for all of the Bears’ NFC games each season. FOX, in turn, decided to interview Cameron about his commitment to community service as part of a series of stories it was doing in conjunction with Black History Month on its morning show, Good Day Chicago. The interview aired on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The essay, the video and the FOX interview are included here. Cameron, as usual, represented us like a champion, but no surprise there; he is the top-ranked student in the junior class with a GPA well above 4.0 as a result of the honors courses he has taken. He’s also the captain and leading scorer on the Leo basketball team, which again is no surprise; Cameron is the younger brother of Fred Cleveland, a two-time All-State point guard who was Leo’s Class of 2019 salutatorian.

The Cleveland family has been a great addition to the Leo Family, and we salute them.

Dr. King
by Cameron Cleveland ’22

Dr. King’s legacy means everything to me and my family. My grandfather and his siblings grew up in Selma, Alabama and were fortunate enough to participate in the march to Montgomery and be part of such a historical event in American History. They partook in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were trampled over and sprayed with fire hoses. They fought so I would be able to learn and capture the most out of every opportunity that I am given. This is why I am passionate about learning and strive to do the best I can in any and everything I do. Dr. King is an inspiration to me and my family, a symbol of the freedom and prosperity we have in today’s society.  He was a leader, activist and symbol of peace in the African-American fight for Civil Rights. I strive to accomplish and be an icon of those dreams Dr. King expressed in his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech. He lost his life fighting for the rights Me, My Family and the other future generations of Blacks in America have today. This means everything to me and is why Dr. King in the flesh and his legacy mean so much to me.

Cameron’s video

Cameron’s interview on FOX Chicago