June 24, 2017

From taking the wrong path in high school, to making films that uplift a community

Meet Angelo Ross, one of five teens spotlighted by Allstate at the Aspen Ideas Festival

Filmmakers Angelo Ross, Sierra Blackman, and Briona Barker-Davis won the CHICAGO Award by the Chicago International Film Festival’s CineYouth Festival for their short film, “Welcome to the Peace House.” Angelo credits his passion for film and his mentors with helping him achieve his dreams. Photo courtesy of Community TV Network


Here on The Renewal Project, we often feature the stories of young people who are making a big difference in their communities. At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which runs from June 22 to July 1, Allstate is sharing the stories of five individuals who have made a difference in their local communities, thanks to various organizations that it supports. Read all of their stories here. The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.

Where do I start? With my lows and highs, my demise and uprise? Better yet let’s start with the environment that molded me. My name is Angelo Ross, I’m 20 years old and a resident on the South Side of Chicago. I have never been much of a social person; I’ve tended to keep my thoughts to myself while still wanting social acceptance from my peers. In my community you quickly learn everyone wants to be a somebody—I was the same at a very young age. I began hanging around stores with local thugs, hoping some of their ways would rub off on me. Soon enough I learned their language, then hand gestures, and style of clothing. I was like that from grade school and into my high school years.

My primary high school was John Marshall Harlan High School located at S. Michigan Avenue and E. 97th St. As I said, everyone wants to be somebody, and in high school, you must create your own reputation. Quickly I found myself mixing with a bad crowd of kids. I became known as a thug by the dean and principal. I was recognized as a member of an organized gang. I wasn’t happy with that; I just wanted acceptance from others. I continued to head down the wrong path, and soon I was removed from the school. I had no idea what to do next. I wanted more out of life, so I made the decision to enroll at the Charles H. Houston High School.

It's hard for one person to make a difference, but a whole community coming together can make changes that might give kids a fighting chance to have good lives.

The building was once a church. The facilities weren’t in great condition, but it was here that my passion for cinematography and filmmaking bloomed under the guidance of film teacher Bill Sacco. I couldn’t get enrolled into his class, but I took the steps to learn the basics of film. We began working closely after school and on weekends. He gave me my first shot to work on an actual film and I was grateful for the opportunity. As soon as I reached the appropriate age, he put me in contact with his employer at Community TV Network where I received employment doing freelance jobs and perfecting my art.

While at Community TV, other young filmmakers and I received funding to work on a film about Chicago’s violence and the work various community groups were doing to combat that violence. We split up into multiple teams and started the work of interviewing and filming protests, events, and local programs.

At the time, I was also employed through a summer job program where I mentored younger people. This program was very cool and good enough to show how it was a resource in the neighborhood. We brought in cameras there and talked with the instructors and others to gain their insights on the social issues that their safe haven brought to the neighborhood. The first film was called “You Would Still Be On This Earth,” and the next was “Welcome To The Peace House,” which started as a summer field trip with Mr. Sacco’s After School Matters program.

We still had funding left over from the first film, so we decided to expand the Peace House project into a longer work. We visited again in October 2015.
The I Grow Chicago Peace House is in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. Its mission is to provide a place to combat violence and help heal the community by offering yoga, homework help, and locally grown food for the neighborhood.

We sat and talked to the young people who had been there from the beginning. We learned about their work and how the community has embraced them. Not only does the organization help the immediate surrounding community, but they also welcome kids throughout the Chicago area. Their guidance has steered children from the street corners to a safe place where they can study and grow.

There aren’t many resources on Chicago’s South Side, but having visited only a few of the places that help people, there are signs of better times ahead.

It’s a difficult world down here with little money and resources. It’s hard for one person to make a difference, but a whole community coming together can make changes that might give kids a fighting chance to have good lives. This is only the beginning.

Angelo Ross


Angelo Ross is a filmmaker and mentor in his South Side Chicago community. He is currently writing a series of short vignettes showing the humorous and ironic aspects of life on Chicago’s South Side.