Paul J. Adams III

by Claudia Herrera Hudson

Students from Providence-St. Mel school
Students from Providence-St. Mel school

Every morning, the entire student body of Providence-St. Mel School recites this mission statement together:

At Providence-St. Mel, we believe.

We believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work.

We are not frightened by the challenges of reality, but believe that we can change our conception of this world and our place within it.

So we work, plan, build and dream - in that order.

We believe that one must earn the right to dream.

Our talent, discipline and integrity will be our contribution to a new world.

Because we believe that we can take this place, this time and this people and make a better place, a better time and a better people.

With God's help we will either find a way or make one!

Paul J. Adams III has long since earned the right to dream. His own talent, discipline and integrity have earned him this right, and together with his adoring student body, he continues to work, to plan, to build, and to dream up even greater dreams.


Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Adams, an African American, himself, well understood the need for civil rights and equality from an early age. In fact, he participated in the Civil Rights Movement in his youth, and after being inspired by Dr. King and other civil rights workers, he moved north, to Chicago, specifically, to pursue an education and to allow himself the ability to progress, away from an area he felt was still heavy with racism and oppression.

And progress he did. He received his collegiate degree in business, but went on to pursue his real love -- education. His desire for a quality, equal education for all was so great that in 1978, when the Archdiocese opted to close the last Catholic high school in Chicago's West Side for financial reasons, Adams not only saved the Providence-St. Mel School, but made it flourish into what would eventually be considered one of the country's premier learning institutions for African American students.

Adams was able to raise money to help the school by spreading the word about its situation. Nicknamed by the press as "the school that wouldn't die," donations came in from around the country. As his sense of faith in the community grew, so did his desire to turn the school into an exemplary model of academic and overall excellence. He made it his life's work to nurture this special school as its principal, and to this day he is still an integral part of it as its active President.

Adams instilled a "high academic standard filled with challenging college-prep curriculum" into a school which, by most standards, would not have been expected to excel academically, both because of its location in a tough neighborhood in Chicago, and because of its high percentage of disadvantaged students. Yet these factors did not scare off Adams -- but rather, they encouraged him to push ahead to overcome the obstacles set before him and before the youth of the community.

"I took on this challenge when a lot of people were simply afraid of our youth," he said. "I've found that children appreciate adults who aren't afraid of them, who respect them and will reprimand them when they are out of order."

In order to help students focus on education and academic excellence, he helped instill a strict code of conduct for students, not permitting "behavior unbecoming a future leader," and with set consequences for breaking the conduct code. Allowed to thrive and to reach their full potential, students have grown to not only respect and admire Adams, but to respect themselves and their education.

"I learned early on that without a proper education a person is doomed. I knew that if I could provide the right environment, our children could enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper," he said.

And prosper they have! The school touts an amazing academic record - far exceeding national test score averages, despite the fact that unlike most college prep schools, they accept students who score even 2-3 years below grade level upon entering the school. In fact, the importance of higher education is made so clear in the minds of these oftentimes otherwise underpriviledged youths, and resounds so loud in their long-term success, that the graduating classes of 2003 and 2004 received an astounding 100% admission rate to 4-year universities! And of these, 50% of the students received admissions to Top Tier and Ivy League schools! Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is the fact that since 1978, 100 percent of its seniors have been accepted to college.

He took the youth of a community most would have otherwise found little hope in, and recognized their great potential and their talents, teaching them discipline and integrity to make those talents flourish.

Adams took what had once been forsaken and turned it into something respected. Clearly, if, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," then Adams truly embodies the ultimate measure of a man.

Page created on 8/24/2007 11:57:17 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 7:22:28 PM

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