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As I See It: RPBG Helps Sullivan High School Continue a Special Tradition




Last month, Chad Thomas, Principal of Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, reached out to the Rogers Park Builders Group with a special request:

“We have developed a wonderful new tradition at Sullivan we would like to continue. Can you help?”

Principal Thomas was referring to an incredible event – the annual Sullivan Thanksgiving Celebration – that offers Sullivan’s numerous refugee and immigrant students an opportunity to learn about this quintessential “American holiday.” Over 40% of Sullivan’s student body consists of immigrants and refugees. Collectively, they represent over 50 countries and speak over 40 different languages, resulting in Sullivan proudly proclaiming itself “Refugee High.”

Since 2017, Sullivan faculty and alumni and Rogers Park community members have organized a Thanksgiving feast, held a few days before the holiday, for these students and their families. Everyone gathers together for a time of camaraderie, dialogue, games and celebration that culminates in students from around the world, many from oppressive environments, sharing with us what they are thankful for.

Due to constraints imposed by Covid, last year’s Thanksgiving celebration took a different approach, a virtual gathering that focused on raising much-needed funds for Sullivan immigrant families struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic. The event raised $14,000 to support the faculty-led campaign, which ultimately raised $25,000 to provide 25 families each with a $1,000 grant.

Overwhelmed with the challenges of returning to in-class learning this fall, no one at Sullivan was able to organize this year’s Thanksgiving event, which normally requires weeks of planning. Committed to seeing this tradition continue, Principal Thomas reached out to the RPBG.

Without hesitation, the RPBG agreed to cover the cost of the turkey and fixings (the turkey needed to be Halal out of respect to Sullivan’s many Muslim students). RPBG also arranged for a generous contribution of vegetarian sides from the Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant. Additional side dishes, desserts and the floral centerpieces gracing each table were provided by student families and dedicated volunteers from the Friends of Sullivan, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the school.

Over 70 students participated in this year’s fifth annual celebration, held during two lunch periods.

For many, it was their first Thanksgiving experience. Several students – from countries such as Syria, Sudan and Myanmar – provided short presentations, each sharing with us their love of friends and family, their excitement about the future, and their gratitude for their teachers who are guiding them to a better future in America. Many came to this country only a few years ago speaking no English, but no one would ever know this as the students delivered their speeches in perfect English.

Al Goldberg, of Al Goldberg Real Estate, a founding member of the RPBG, resumed his role as “official turkey carver,” a position he proudly held in the previous in-person Thanksgiving events. Adorned with his famous apron and carving blades, Al showcased his skills to curious students observing this holiday ritual.

For RPBG Vice President Steve Shah of ARS Property Development, himself an immigrant, this was his first Sullivan Thanksgiving. “I’m thrilled to witness the refugee and immigrant students experience their first Thanksgiving,” said Steve. “I hope this helps them feel welcome and eases their assimilation into their new country. It brings back memories of my first exposure to these American traditions when I came to this country nearly 50 years ago,” he added. Steve was so inspired by the event that he decided to create a “Sullivan Engineering Club” with three eager Sullivan students signing up as initial members.

Given the number of leftovers, several of us refused to leave the event empty-handed. I left with a carton of stuffing, Ethiopian injera, and my most coveted take home prize, the turkey carcass that I will use for a soup. Equipped with that carcass, I look forward to making a “Halal of a good soup!”




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