- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Heroes, it has been said, are made not born. The character qualities that make a hero are courage, sacrifice, and vision. Heroes are those who dream bigger than most and live out their purpose and ideals in the face of danger, threat or hardship. In the end, a hero saves lives, confronts evil, and someone lives to tell the tale. Bob Muzikowski is my hero.

Bob and I met inauspiciously on a rugby field 35 years ago in New York City. Bob, a Columbia University graduate and MBA, was standing on the sideline watching me play (while he held a sippy cup which contained hidden cocaine). When I got kicked out of the game for a typical rugby scuffle, Bob mused to a friend. “hey, that guy who just got thrown out of the game, is he really a priest?” Yes, I was and am (a married Anglican priest, just for reference). It took a while for Bob and me to move from teammates to friends. I hung in for four years of friendship, and prayed and counseled as curiosity and sanity began to merge in Bob’s life then watched as he ventured into the realm of faith. A new life arose out of Bob’s addiction and despair. He found the joy of a sane, sober and spiritual way of living. If Bob Muzikowski’s story ended there, it would have been a victory in and of itself.

Bob’s life was not just about sobriety, but rather a fresh reality. With a newfound faith and his dedicated and beautiful wife, Tina, they moved to Chicago and chose to live in a poor, African-American neighborhood, as one of the only professional families living near the former Cabrini Green housing “projects.”

Twenty years ago on a daily jog, Bob noticed some vacant lots and overgrown baseball fields. He had an epiphany, “Why not start a Little League and bring back baseball to this inner city community?” He challenged his business friends with a call to service and the Near West Little League was born. Each year it grew, until there were more than 1000 kids actively involved and still are today. Parents began to take notice. They too started to volunteer and coach. The dismal neighborhood took on a new sense of purpose, community spirit and pride. Children now had a new healthy activity, whereas earlier they had no clean or safe place to play. Lives were being changed.

In 2004, Bob called me unexpectedly. “B. J., there is an old Catholic grade school that just closed in our neighborhood. I think we should buy it and start our own school. After all, the Little League is a great first step, but we don’t want to just apply bandages to open wounds. We want kids to have a more transforming experience that will change their whole future.” With Bob’s unparalleled courage and leadership, an ingenious tax credit plan, and vigorous fundraising effort, he and his friends purchased the school facilities. With help from hundreds of volunteers and friends, Chicago Hope Academy opened its doors to the poor. Having seven children of their own, Bob and Tina enrolled their own children as the “minority” white students in the school. With a decidedly traditional Christian moral and value system, Chicago Hope soon flourished with 200 high school students, a 100 percent college acceptance record, and a winning tradition in sports—football, track, soccer, baseball and rugby—with spectacular regional championships and state qualifiers from this comparatively small high school, often a David among Goliaths.

Eleven years after the school’s founding, Bob’s mission to serve and care for the poor seems to have no bounds. It was a risky stretch to acquire three sport fields for football, soccer, track and rugby, which now grace and benefit the whole Near West side of Chicago; plus attaining the use of a world-class nearby gym. This exceptional man, affectionately called “Muz,” runs a successful insurance business, with his wife raised seven children of their own (three of whom attended Ivy League universities), personally oversees this private Christian school, does most of the school’s fundraising, works out every day, cares for his neighbors, and is faithfully committed to his marriage. It is utterly true that without his wife Tina’s own dedication, sacrifice and leadership, Chicago Hope would never exist. But the vision for transforming lives doesn’t end for Bob—he recently bought derelict abandoned houses in their neighborhood and put men to work on housing renovation and resale to benefit the school—which has given men jobs and upgraded the look and feel of the entire community.

Bob Muzikowski’s life was changed by God. Now countless numbers of poor and disadvantaged kids have true hope for a new future, and an entire underprivileged neighborhood—perhaps Chicago itself—is being changed by Bob’s heroic leadership and sacrifice. If ever there was a modern day William Wilberforce, it is Bob Muzikowski.

• B. J. Weber is the President of New York Fellowship.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide