One day on the set of Chicago Fire, as star Eamonn Walker sat in a makeup chair and listened to the news before filming a scene at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, he learned that a nine-year-old boy from the south side had been shot the night before. Shocked and horrified, he had never witnessed such blatant disrespect for society’s rules.
Walker turned to crew member Sunni Ali Powell — who is not only a barber for Chicago Fire but also owns a barbershop in Englewood — and asked how something like this could happen.
By keeping an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse of his local community, Sunni was well-equipped to respond. He explained that children are getting involved in gangs at a much earlier age, that the rules of the streets have changed, and that the rigors of daily life require kids to follow a new kind of standard operating procedure.
Sunni also said that he intended to attend a community meeting about the issue later that night, and Walker decided to join him.
Fixing a ‘problem child’
Growing up on the streets of London in the 70s, Eamonn Walker had been described as a “problem child” by a few of the local teachers and police officers. In his young mind, he was just surviving.
But according to a teacher named Mr. Thorn, who took an interest in Walker, he was a young man at a crossroads in life who was making stupid choices.
One day, Mr. Thorn simply asked Eamonn if he was hungry, and Eamonn said yes. Mr. Thorn promised to take him to the shops across the street to feed him if he stopped doing what he was doing. The teacher became the student’s mentor and taught him about chess, history, geography, and life in general.
With the support and encouragement, Eamonn began to have an easier time at school and in life and eventually worked his way onto the road of success that he continues to travel today. Crediting Mr. Thorn for doing something that he did not have to do, the award-winning actor can relate to kids who are not thinking straight and making bad choices.
The launch of One Chicago Inspires Youth
Walker and Sunni joined forces with fellow Chicago Fire cast member David Eigenberg and Makeup Department Head Deborah Dee to create One Chicago Inspires Youth (OCIY).
OCIY is an initiative that allows cast and crew members from Dick Wolf’s One Chicago trio of hit shows — Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med — to educate youth about the TV industry by participating in various community programs. The program was launched with support from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios President Alex Pissios and CineCares Foundation Executive Director Sheila Brown, who administers the effort.
According to Brown, a typical session offers young people a chance to learn from an actor as well as a crew member.
“We do kind of a show and tell and then talk to the children about what it is to work within our community of film and television,” says Walker. “We have affected many children.”
Adding that the syllabus covers “all the different jobs it takes to make television and film,” Walker reinforces a commitment to community that Brown and CineCares have championed for years.
“Many young people think of ‘Hollywood’ as unattainable,” says Brown. “So the goal is to explain all of the various ways that they can get involved and pursue the vast amount of careers that are available in the industry.”
At the start of the OCIY effort, Walker was involved with By The Hand Club for Kids and Eigenberg was involved with SkyART, a pair of community-minded groups that often coordinate with the initiative. Additionally, NBCUniversal supports OCIY by allowing cast and crew to take two hours off to volunteer their time, and Brown hopes to add additional groups as the program develops.
David Eigenberg with local youth during an OCIY visit
About Sheila R. Brown
Entrepreneur, producer, and media leader Sheila R. Brown is the Executive Director of the CineCares Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps young people from the area surrounding Cinespace Chicago Film Studios to gain experience and pursue opportunities in the professional film industry. She has also won numerous industry accolades including:
100 Black Men of Chicago Annual Awards & Benefit Gala: Honoree (2019);
Circle Foundation: Inspire Award (2019);
2018 Global Mixx Music & Film Forum: Game Changer Award (2018);
Reel Chicago’s ‘Reel Women’ (2018).
Chicago Fire crew member J’mme Love teaches kids about film gear during an OCIY session
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