I grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Not the inner city, but what you would call the Near North Side. When I was in sixth grade I became exposed to the beginnings of youth gangs. It basically manifested itself as “rumbles”, where a group of guys would single someone out, and chase them down.

Fortunately, I was swift on my feet, as I recall, the second-fastest person in our class. Usually I could get away, but not always. I became fearful of going to school, and eventually feigned illness, but my mom caught on. I finally, tearfully, told her what was going on.

To my mom’s credit, we moved that summer. The irony was that my Uncle Jim was the principal of Ravenswood Elementary School, where I attended. He lived in Wilmette, Illinois, literally on Lake Michigan. He had an attached “mother-in-law cottage” on his property, and paid my dad to remodel it for us. My parents were divorced at the time.

It was an amazing opportunity for my brother and I. We both graduated from New Trier East High School which was pretty renowned back then.

Early mentor

My Uncle Jim had a huge influence on me. He had a Ph.D. in education and took it upon himself to “tutor” me every chance he got. He was the one who taught me how to drive. He taught me how to do plumbing and electrical wiring on a summer home our family still owns in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

In one summer my life changed, but that experience of “running for my life” (literally running!) taught me more about justice than any other experience in my lifetime.

My Uncle Jim and my Uncle Wally both encouraged me to pursue college, which I did, graduating with a degree in Architecture, from ASU.

My Uncle Jim is gone now. When he passed my dad and I, we were building a home for him in Munds Park, Arizona, which he never saw completed.

It’s hard to explain, but when I’m able to help people who have been wronged, and powerless to do something about it, I find it rewarding.

— Ed Malles