Sydney Russell
Category: 2022 High School Winner

Sydney Russell

For as long as I can remember, most people have reacted the same way when I tell them my father is a Chicago Police Officer. Eyebrows raise, heads shake and a genuine look of empathy flashes across each face.

“I don’t know how he does it!”

My response is always filled with pride. My father, Clifford Michael Russell, has been employed by the Chicago Police Department since 1995. His career began as a Police Dispatcher at the age of twenty-two. Since then, he advanced throughout the department, eventually being promoted to Sergeant of Police/Commanding Officer. Over the years, he served as a patrol officer, terrorism liason officer, field training officer and crime analyst. These positions placed him in several precarious, risky situations. In fact, he has worked in some of the most crime riddled, poverty stricken communities in the city of Chicago.

When I was younger, my father’s police stories fascinated me. One of the most memorable incidents required that my father and his partner climb sixteen floors in one of the city’s housing projects. They were responding to reports of gunshots and the building was gang-dominated. True to his character, he often minimized the peril of these encounters while my older sister and I were listening.

The most frightening incident occurred before I was born; my sister was two months old and my father had just been involved in his first shooting. The offender fired gunshots at him during the arrest, forcing him to dive to the ground and fire his own weapon in return. I now fully understand the ultimate sacrifice made each time he put on his uniform and left the safety of our home and his family.

As an African American law enforcement officer, my father’s commitment to mentoring and uplifting Chicago’s troubled youth has been celebrated by community members across the city. During his career, he has built numerous positive relationships and created valuable supportive connections within the city of Chicago.

Some might refer to my father as a hero, but he frowns upon that title.

“I just did what I needed to do. Every shift.”

My father’s commitment to the responsibilities placed upon him each and every day inspires me to do the same in my life. Although I know his calling is not my own, I feel empowered by his courage, tenacity, and commitment to helping those who are unable to help themselves, especially during their most vulnerable moments.

Likewise, when I think about the many adversities my father has encountered in the spirit of helping others, I know that I can meet any obstacle with the same perseverance and fortitude. Through his own selfless actions, he motivates me to be my absolute very best, for myself and others. When life leaves me feeling overwhelmed, I hear my father’s voice above the noise and I feel empowered and ready to take on the world. I simply hear him say, “Just do what you need to do. Every day.”