Today is a hard day for anyone who knew the namesake of Ryan Banks Academy.  It’s surreal to think that it was eight years ago today that the world lost Ryan.

It was a warm weekend in May (yes, the kind of weather we all wish we were having right now).

Many Chicagoans were glued to their screens watching the NATO Summit protests downtown, while still others purposefully left town in order to avoid the crowds.  I was in the latter camp – I went to the suburbs for the evening so that my friend Vanessa, who was worked at Mercy Hospital at that time, could stay at my apartment instead of having to traverse the crowds in order to get to her own home.

But Chicago saw worse than just protests that night.  My former student Ryan Banks was shot multiples, while playing in his front yard.

Ryan died in front of his childhood home.

The sun was still shining.

His younger brother, Caleb, was there the entire time.

The lives of Ryan’s family members would never be the same, nor would they be for me and all of the school staff who knew, and loved, Ryan.

I’ll never forget exactly what I was doing the moment I received the news. I was about to depart from the hotel I was staying in overnight after a fun night away, and apparently I screamed so loudly that hotel staff came to check to see what was wrong.

I don’t remember the screaming, I just remember the shock.

When I think back to that spring, all I can recall is a blur of horrific memories related to Ryan’s death. Working with the family around funeral arrangements, attending the funeral, and providing grief counseling to the entire school which was collectively mourning the loss of one of the happiest kids to ever walk the halls of our school.

When I started to write this post, I almost glossed over those moments because they aren’t fun to write about, or read about.  But they matter.

Thanks to our wonderful supporters like you, 8 years later Ryan Banks Academy is open. We are thriving. Our students are amazing, and we need to keep pushing forward to ensure that we can serve many more of them – and so that we can soon become the boarding school that provides our students with a world class academic experience in an enriching and supportive learning and living environment. 

When Ryan was killed, his death was a mere blip on the news – a flash on the ticker on the bottom of the screen, a 5 second acknowledgement of a life cut far, far too short.  It is up to all of us to ensure that Ryan Banks Academy fulfills the vision that we set out to create on behalf of Ryan, and for the thousands of Chicago students who deserve more.


And on that note, allow me to bring you a story that I hope will brighten you day as much as it brightened mine.

After reading about RBA in a Chicago Tribune article, 5 year old Izzy and her family were inspired to take action.   Izzy created Izzy’s Rainbow World – a rainbow image and quote inspired by Maya Angelou – which they printed onto yard signs, and car decals.  All proceeds go toward RBA.

I was so touched by this incredible showing of support by Izzy and her family! What an amazing little entrepreneur.  Anyone who is interested in ordering a yard sign or decal can do so by emailing  I would love for Izzy to get an outpouring of support from the RBA community!


And there’s more!!  We are the incredibly lucky pro bono partner of Current Global, a firm which provides us with marketing and PR support.  I’m so honored that not one, but three Current members are running their own fundraisers to help RBA!

Stocks & Sweets by Current Global
Aaryn and Jennifer are running a virtual bake sale including hearty soulful broth and comforting sweets.  Orders can be picked up or dropped off directly. Pricing/options are as follows:

  • Banana Bread – with or without choc. chips ($6 each; $10 for 2)
  • Choc. Chip Cookies – ($12 for 12; $25 for 24)
  • Oatmeal Cookies – ($12 for 12; $25 for 24)
  • White Choc. Macadamia Nut Cookies – ($12 for 12; $25 for 24)
  • Peanut Butter Cookies – ($12 for 12; $25 for 24)
  • Cookie Batter – ($10 for 32 oz container)

Orders can be placed by emailing   Supplies are limited!  You can also donate through Venmo by using the handle @Jennifer-Symmonds.

Current Running Challenge
Another Current employee, Aletta, set a goal for herself to run 80 miles during the month of May. She is challenging her friends and network to pledge 30 cents per mile, for a total of a $24 all-in donation, which can be done through her Venmo handle which is @alletta-simons.  To learn more, follow Alletta’s journey via Instagram at @allettakathryn and check out her Instagram Story Highlight dedicated to this fundraiser.


Wow!!! It so so heartwarming to see so many wonderful people offering to support Ryan Banks Academy, especially on a day like today when so many of us are thinking about Ryan.   Please consider sharing this post with your friends and family members who may wish to support RBA through any of these amazing fundraisers.  Together, we can ensure that Ryan’s legacy lives on through Ryan Banks Academy. We couldn’t have done this without you!


* Click here to donate to Ryan Banks Academy in honor of Ryan

* Want to learn more about the Ryan Banks story? Click here to find Val’s book on Amazon