When Fenger High School Principal Liz Dozier found out that another of her former students was shot and wounded, she quickly spread the news in a tweet that made headlines.
“Fenger grad featured on CNN’s “Chicagoland” TV show shot,” the papers reported.
“Most people who watched the show have no clue about what it’s like in Roseland, but they knew Lee through his story. That’s why I tweeted it out,” Dozier said. “They can connect to what’s happening because they know Lee, and he was shot, and that makes the conversation more real.” […]
[Speaking to a DNAInfo reporter at his home on Tuesday,] He hobbled on crutches from the bedroom of a tiny apartment, sat on the couch, struggled to prop his bullet-fractured leg on the coffee table and shook my hand.
Lee McCollum Jr. — the namesake son of a former South Side gang member who lost a leg to gunfire and took a bullet in the head — is 20 years old.
Lee grew up in Roseland gang territory called “The Ville” and by grade school already had enemies he had never even met.
Lee’s father was in and out of jail when Lee was a boy, and at one point both his parents were incarcerated at the same time.
“Most people think their parents are supposed to get things for you. I know what it feels like not to have your parents there to take care of you,” Lee told me. “Me having that experience at an early age forced me to be a man on my own.”
For a time it seemed that the man Lee would become didn’t have much of a future beyond street life.
But he was fortunate to have special teachers, and a high school principal that treated him like a son, to show him there was more to life than the streets.
“One day my third-grade teacher gave me a book and said, ‘Take this home with you and ask any of those gangbangers on the street who talk to you to read this book to you,’” Lee said, holding his wounded leg where a bullet remains lodged. “You know how many people was able to read it to me? Two. Two people. That’s it. And I knew that wasn’t right.
On “Chicagoland,” we learned of Lee’s transformative years at Fenger, where, under principal Dozier’s guidance and tough love, he made a remarkable transition from being a gang-affiliated street tough hated by rivals to an honor roll student-athlete and prom king with his sights set on junior college, a first for his family.
“People think my senior year of high school I had it made because I looked happy. But they don’t know the whole time we were homeless as a m———. We ain’t got nothing during whole year of high school. Nowhere to go,” he said. “We were living house to house. I still came to school every day, still made honor roll, still graduated.”