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Jorge Tennin

Photo of Jorge TenninIn the Rockford neighborhood where Jorge Tennin grew up, drug deals on street corners were a common sight. Gangs and the promise of big money were a constant temptation that many followed.

Tennin saw for himself how quickly a fast-money deal could turn deadly. While driving one night, he noticed his cousin, a gang leader and drug dealer, standing on a street corner and waving for Tennin to stop. After pulling over and getting out of his car, Tennin noticed another car pull up, and two minutes later, shots rang out.  “I was petrified. My body went numb,” he said.

One of those involved in the attempted drug deal was killed, but the gunman drove off. Tennin was safe.  His cousin also was spared that night, but—tragically— would be killed three weeks later in another armed conflict.

Tennin is now CLC’s assistant director of student activities, and he considers himself lucky. He could have begun life on the wrong path like his cousin. His father died when he was 8, and he had a troubled home life with an abusive step-father. Even so, positive forces kept him out of trouble. His mother’s “open heart” and strong values guided him,  he said, and the fathers of his friends served as father figures.

“I was 18, eating dinner at a friend’s house, and I mentioned that I had a cousin making $1,000 a night,” Tennin recalls. His friend’s father quickly set him straight, telling him: “Drug dealers don’t have a 401K and don’t retire. They end up in jail or dead. You won’t do that.”

Tennin followed his friend’s father’s advice. He enrolled at Rock Valley College where a basketball coach named Carl Armato took him under his wing. “He taught me to be a man, to follow the rules,” Tennin said.

After doing well at Rock Valley College, Tennin transferred to Northern Illinois University, where he was active in the Black Student Caucus and in student government. “Those experiences and networking were a great help to me; they helped me realize that there’s more to life than the negative stuff I had seen earlier in my life,” he said.

After earning a B.A. in communications from NIU, Tennin worked at a nationally known car rental company. A mentor at NIU encouraged him to consider a job as a counselor in the university’s Counseling Help and Assistance Necessary for College Education program. Taking the job, he discovered a passion for helping students succeed, which he continued to follow in a position as an academic advisor at Illinois State University and now at CLC.

“Seeing a student grow personally and academically is something so great, it’s hard to describe,” he said.