Veronica and her son, Eric.

Eric Wilson is an ambitious young man with high hopes for the future. He says he owes his mindset to the family who helped raise him in his father’s absence. Eric was 3 years old when his father was shot and killed. But alongside his mother came a grandma, aunts, and uncles to provide structure—something Eric views as critical to surviving violence in the neighborhood.

He spent most of his youth at home on 69th and Claremont, nearby historic Marquette Park in Chicago. Eric’s grandmother had lived in the home for 40 years, and most of his extended family still lives in the neighborhood. This meant many watchful eyes could keep vigil over the block on which Eric played. Beyond safety, Eric recalls the challenge his mother Veronica had of instilling values like work ethic and education. “She had to become both Mom and Dad,” Eric says. “But when my Dad died, other people came together to fill the gap. I got one-fifth from my uncle, another one-fifth from grandma, and so on until I had the complete picture.”

“I see Sunshine as a space helping to create a better environment.”

Veronica recognized Eric’s potential and pushed for college, encouraging him to apply for Sunshine’s College LIFE program. Through College LIFE, Eric received help with the college application process. When he graduated from Kenwood Academy, Eric began taking tours, ultimately deciding on Clark Atlanta, where he’s currently majoring in Mass Media. Having a natural bent toward social media, Eric wants to do more than find a job upon graduating. He wants to use online channels to help connect communities back in Chicago. “Communication can help bring about change,” Eric explains. “The more [different] people and communities connect, the less there’ll be violence.”

Eric and his mother have lived in Woodlawn for the past three years. He sees places like Sunshine as helping provide structure for youth in the neighborhood. Eric believes that structure is necessary for cultivating opportunity. “You need space and resources in order to create a better environment. I see Sunshine as a space helping to create a better environment.”

The environment Eric grew up in continues to face challenges, as his mother Veronica acknowledges. “Every mother feels the challenges of trying to raise a son,” says Veronica. “But Eric had so many [additional] voices to help offer guidance.” Additional “voices” like that of Sunshine leave Veronica just as hopeful for the future as her son. “I want to see him continue to develop into the man he needs to become,” she says. “I know that he won’t let me down.”