Terrell McKinney

From Harvey to Humanitarian

“Education will set you free,” Terrell McKinney likes to tell his students. Terrell is an ambitious, 30-year old Chicago Southland resident who will be leaving his post as the Director of Online Outreach at The Family Centered Educational Agency in South Holland this month to follow his own advice. “Go out into the world and experience things for yourselves rather than listening to what other people tell you.”

A Thornwood High SchoolSouth Suburban CollegeGovernor’s State University alumnus, Terrell will continue his educational pathway in Bogotá, Colombia, teaching English at Universidad La Gran Colombia.

With his trademark enthusiasm and humility, Terrell posts the news on his Facebook account: “Today, I celebrated turning 30 surrounded by the kids that I’ve worked with for the last 6 ½ years and it is bittersweet. I’ve been blessed to live and work at home with people who remind me of everything I want to be myself. These kids are curious, imaginative, and unyieldingly kind. It feels surreal to think that I’m actually moving away next month. I’m excited about meeting new people and bringing everything that I’ve learned with me to another corner of the world. I’m beyond grateful for life and I want to spend all of mine looking at the world like these kids do. Thank you, for all of the love that you’ve shared with me today and for however long we’ve known each other.”

Terrell is a self-proclaimed writer, educator, and spoken word artist. His journey to serving others with limitless energy and positive attitude started long ago with his family roots. “I’m so thankful that my family raised me to be the type of person to be open to experience, to build bridges, and to help other people working towards the same goals. I treat that seriously—helping others, my thing is people. My mom calls me a humanitarian.”

Terrell was a bright child growing up in Harvey. He always enjoyed reading and writing and at the age of 12 became a participant in Upward Bound—a federal grant program for disadvantaged students. Terrell earned a teaching scholarship from Thornwood to assist 6th and 7th graders and he connected very well with the students.

“I reflect on all of the things Terrell did that young kids typically don’t do—he’s never been judgmental, and he has an eye for those in need,” said his mother, Cynthia Morris. She references a program Terrell spearheaded in 2015 for underprivileged kids called Roses for Roseland through which he spent his summer Saturdays entertaining those who didn’t have opportunities for many vacations and life experiences. “He began demonstrating his compassionate heart for others at a very young age and just continued that throughout his life.” (One of his Roses participants continued the program in future years, paying his compassion forward.)

Upon his high school graduation, Terrell first pursued his higher education at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, before settling in at SSC. “I had to find my way and ultimately South Suburban worked with me and I really enjoyed my time there,” said Terrell. “They have great teachers that are very attentive to the needs of the community, and I personally know that. And I don’t know of any other school that makes scholarship money this accessible for students who qualify and need the help.”

Terrell earned several college scholarships from the SSC Foundation before his speech teacher Sandy Bein set his Colombian destiny in motion. “I always had lofty goals and when she encouraged me to apply for the SSC Study Abroad Scholarships, it was on. I ended up getting chosen to go to China—a place I had never even considered before—and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned that people are the same everywhere no matter how drastically different the cultures are; I know that people have good will and I was excited to take that type of energy and build on it.”

Last fall Terrell’s friend invited him on a trip to Colombia, and true to form, Terrell started looking for opportunities to serve and discovered the teaching opportunity. Following a highly competitive process and many Skype interviews later Terrell earned the job that, as fate would have it, will begin at the end of his vacation.

“Feels like growing, I am excited about my world expanding,” said Terrell. “Someone showed me that education was a way to gain value that couldn’t be judged or taken from you.” His Colombian students will soon learn.