Edgar Florentino was skeptical that he would be successful in life. He came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of two with his entire family and grew up in the Back of Yards neighborhood. He stopped-out of high school because he didn’t feel safe. Sometimes he got into trouble. He floundered for a while before he came to the realization that he needed to change, and that he needed to go back to school and earn his high school diploma. If not for himself, for his father. “I enrolled at Malcolm X College and applied myself. It took about four months, three days a week, but I did the work and finished high school, earning my diploma,” said Edgar. “My dad was so proud of me and I was proud of myself.” A little more soul-searching and Edgar realized he felt a deep connection to nature in the form of flora. Today, Edgar is a community gardener brightening up the neighborhood he grew up in by landscaping streets where “there is a lot of community violence. This work gives me joy and peace,” he shares. Most of his work is along 48th and 49th street in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Beautifying the residential streets and intersections is Florentino's way of helping people feel safer. For this work, he was recently profiled on ABC 7 Chicago’s show “OUR CHICAGO: NUESTRO SEGUNDO HOGAR.” He also created a bilingual gardening group on Facebook called Jardineros Y Jardineras De Chicago to provide a space for local Spanish-speaking gardeners to get inspiration and seek advice from one another. “I’m going to graduate in December from my apprenticeship with Green Corp and I hope to get a position working with flora.” Edgar would like to keep his future education and career path in the green industry.
Toyia Parker has held a lot of titles: wife, mother, fitness instructor, student, and most recently, scholarship recipient.
In December 2022, Toyia completed her associate degree in general studies at Malcolm X College. Immediately after graduation, she began classes in the Medical Assisting program and received her advanced certificate in the summer of 2023.
Prior to returning to school, Toyia worked as a fitness instructor for 11 years. She wanted to further her career and help others, and since her clients already looked to her for answers about health and their bodies, she chose to pursue medical assisting.
The instructors at Malcolm X and the training Toyia received set her up for success during her program and in her future career.
“It was a wonderful experience to have this hands-on training,” she said. “We got vaccine training and did blood drawings on each other.”
Toyia felt supported every step of the journey. City Colleges’ partner One Million Degrees offered her personal, academic, and financial support during her education. She was also a Project MPACT recipient, which covered the costs of her tuition and provided stipends, job training, and professional skills development to help her get to work after graduation.
In return, Toyia gave back to Malcolm X and her community when she could. She partnered with the Wellness Center to teach yoga at a women’s event at the college. She was also a volunteer medical assistant at a Walgreens vaccine clinic.
All that Toyia has given to others is coming back to her. She received a $1,000 scholarship through American Medical Technologists and plans to use the money to continue her education. Toyia was also among 60 recipients of the Cook County Health Foundation’s Provident Scholarship, a $10,000 award that she plans to use for scrubs, a laptop, and to earn more certifications.
Thanks to all the support she received from One Million Degrees, Project MPACT, and her instructors at Malcolm X, Toyia feels ready for a successful new career.
“Malcolm X helped me build more confidence in myself,” she said. “The Medical Assisting program helped me realize I can overcome a lot of things.”