Austin student wins Bank of America award

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Ambition and humility are traits that don’t often coincide. But one recent Bank of America Student Leaders Program recipient has an abundance of both.

Austin resident and recent Frederick Douglass Academy High School graduate Dontae Burton was one of five Chicago-area students out of about 300 applicants selected for the program, said Julie Chavez, Bank of America Chicago’s corporate social responsibility market manager.

The program includes an eight-week paid internship and a trip later this month to Washington, D.C., to network with other student leader recipients, Chavez said.

Burton is interning at Working in the Schools, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy for Chicago youth.

Working in the Schools provides services to about 2,600 children through its summer in the park and early childhood summer programs, said program director Ellen Werner.

Burton will spend most of his time reading to children in several Chicago Park District parks and helping staff drama programs for 4- and 5-year-olds in several Chicago schools, Werner said.

Burton said he’s hopes the experience will to bring him closer to realizing his own entrepreneurial dream.

“I have a lot of plans,” Burton said. “I see myself doing a lot of stuff, and basing my success on one career is something I don’t want to do.”

Some of those plans include opening his own clothing stores, restaurants and a youth center for under-served teens.

“When I do reach my climax, one thing I will do is go back to my community and help other people who are in my predicament, especially teenagers because I feel like we don’t get heard enough,” Burton said.

“I feel like the violence with teenagers kind of overthrows the good stuff we do.”

This fall, Burton will attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and major in business management.

He credits his success and drive to his peers and mentors at Frederick Douglas — where he was senior class president, worked with the Gay/Straight Alliance, served on peer conferences to help settle disputes between classmates, and participated in track and bowling. And he credits, most emphatically, his family.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have a lot of male figures in my life,” Burton said. “I really had the women in my life holding me together. They always gave me strength and promoted me, supported me, and helped me believe in myself.

“I wasn’t the normal, typical boy. I did a lot of stuff — like I would act and I would sing and I would do all this stuff — and they supported me no matter what. And they taught me to stand up for myself and always focus on my business, specifically my money, and stay strong.”

Burton has a message for teens looking to follow in his footsteps:

“Never settle for less, always believe in yourself. Keep going. Don’t listen to what other people have to say about you. Leave a trail for other people to follow. Be iconic. Don’t be like anyone else. And just stand out.”

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