Constituent Spotlight: Roosevelt Griffin
Band leader wins Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching
At the start of his second period class, Roosevelt Griffin was stunned when a long procession of family members and school officials flowed through the door. They were there to congratulate him on winning the Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching.
Griffin, a band instructor at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Harvey, knew he had been nominated, but was completely surprised to learn he was one of ten statewide winners.
“I was in shock,” Griffin said. “My wife and two kids were there, my grandmother, aunts, my mentors, former students, superintendents from other schools. And there must’ve been close to 100 kids in the band room.”
Griffin is in his tenth year of teaching at Brooks—his alma mater. His very first mentor was his band instructor at Brooks, John Webber, who also attended the surprise celebration.
“Mr. Webber started me out in band in fourth grade,” Griffin said. “I replaced him as band leader when he retired. I’ve been blessed to have had a mentor during every part of my life. My mentor at Thornridge High School was the band leader there, David Eanes. He was a 2007 Golden Apple Award recipient. My other mentors were Ronald Carter, my band director at Northern Illinois University, and Orbert Davis, who’s artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and a world-renown trumpeter. They’ve all instilled a lot in me. And they were all there to congratulate me on May 7.”
Griffin was nominated for the Golden Apple by Arletha Bolton, director of community education for Harvey School District 159.
“It’s not just a job for him,” Bolton said. “He was once that student he’s now teaching. He’s had the same experiences and dreams as these kids. He has a story to tell his students. The school district has many alumni—I’m an alumni. We come from the community and have come back to the community. My saying is: ‘Go get great and bring it back to your community.’ That’s what Roosevelt Griffin did.”
The message Griffin works to impart to his students is: “Give 100%—100% of the time.” He also believes children can learn to be leaders through musicianship.
“I spend a good amount of time teaching jazz because that puts students in a situation where they have to work together and learn to be accountable to each other. It teaches them to feel together through sound and phrasing in jazz. I tell all my students that even if you have no desire to be a professional musician, you can use music as an avenue to become a better citizen, to help the world, to go to college and to see the world. You can do anything you want to do and still be a musician as well.”
Griffin also believes music opens the doors of communication with a diversity of people.
“If you appreciate jazz, you can have a conversation about jazz with anyone of any age group, ethnicity or class.”
Griffin also knows how to unite his students.
“I tell them they are coming together to work for a greater cause—music. As a result, they treat each other like one big family.”
Many of his former students have stayed in contact with him over the years, and a number of them showed up to congratulate him on his award.
Griffin’s dream is to open a performing arts school in the south suburbs.
“I want a facility or institute where students have access to the arts—choral, orchestra, theater and dance. I want to reach more students across the south suburbs.”
Each Golden Apple Award recipient receives a tuition-free, spring semester sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and a $3,000 cash award. Griffin plans to use his free NU semester next spring for post-doctoral studies in organizational leadership.