When Flossmoor resident Kristopher Steward started volunteering, he didn’t set out to win any honors. Giving his time through 100 Black Men of Chicago was simply his way of being helpful.
His efforts have paid dividends, both for the teens and the organization.
The first-line supervisor for ComEd won Exelon’s Energy for the Community Employee Volunteer Award. He was one of 24 employees from across the country to win the honor that came with a $5,000 check in Steward’s honor to 100 Black Men of Chicago.
He is recognized for one particular incident in which he helped a high school student turn his life around. The teen was going to be expelled, but Steward convinced his school counselor and assistant principal that the boy deserved a second chance. Steward believed it was peer pressure and the student’s attempts to find a way to fit in that were the cause of his acting out.
Steward remembers the boy “in front of his peers was a totally different kid than the one we saw. Now he’s done a complete 180.”
Through Steward’s mentorship, the teen now has a 3.0 grade point average, is a junior in high school and is plotting a college career.
Steward doesn’t know if all the teens he works with will be as successful as his mentee, but any help he can give is worth his time. Since 2014, he has given more than 50 volunteer hours in a year, dedicating his Saturdays to the teens at the 100 Black Men in Chicago office at the South Suburban College satellite campus in Oak Forest. The group also works with young women.
After graduating from Leo High School, Steward went to Florida A&M University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. During his time in college, Steward knew of the football rivalry between Florida A&M and Tennessee and traveled to Atlanta to see the game played. He met representatives of 100 Black Men of America that hosted the game.
In 2006, Steward got a summer internship with ComEd. After graduation in 2007, he was hired on full time. Today he works out of the University Park ComEd offices. During his 11 years with ComEd, he’s been promoted six times.
Work keeps him busy, but he decided to give back in some way. He’s participated in the 100 Black Men of Chicago college fair for minorities that draws 250 colleges each year. The organization also does a number of activities in the community.
At 33, Steward is not too far removed from the students he’s mentoring. He credits his parents, Barbara Steward and John Fulton, for being his mentors who kept him involved in high school sports and expected that he would keep up his grades to get into college.
Steward, who was raised in Chicago, knows it can be discouraging to hear about the violence in the city. His words are meant to encourage teens to strive to improve their lives.
“I try to let them know that it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. We have a lot of work (to do) and keep your head straight and you can get there,” he said.
His weekly conversations convey the importance of hard work. He talks about his job and what it entails.
“Work hard, be honest, be on time. A lot of the stuff we tell the guys is what I use on a daily basis and that helps,” he explained. “You have to know how to talk to people; know how to engage people. Always respect people, always look presentable, never raise your voice. That’s what helped me.”