The legacy left behind by former Chicago Bulls great and Comcast SportsNet Bulls analyst Norm Van Lier is one of hard work, teamwork, truth and an unquestionable love for Chicago and its people.
Continuing that legacy has been his wife, Susan, whose sense of obligation has spearheaded a mission over which her husband is surely watching over and is proud.
The Norm Van Lier Scholarship Fund was founded in 2010, and along with that spawned the idea of the Chicago United Hoops Classic a high-school All-Star game that pits some of best players from the South Side against the West Side. But the importance of the game goes beyond city bragging rights and helps raise awareness of the some of the challenges facing todays youth.
Chicago is home to the third-largest public school district in the United States -- one plagued by one of the nations highest dropout rates.
Violence amongst youth is another troubling factor and each student selected by the Foundation has to sign a 125-word pledge, giving their word to not engage of any acts of violence and also encouraging those around them to follow their lead.
Mrs. Van Lier spoke with CSNChicago.com about the Norm Van Lier Foundation, the Chicago United Hoops Classic and carrying on her husbands name.
Besides his love for Chicago and the Bulls, Norman was a strong advocate of education.
Can you just talk about the mission of the scholarship foundation as well as the non-violence pledge?
I formed the scholarship form, really, when Norman passed away, which was also the same day as Red former Bulls coach and broadcaster Johnny Kerr did. There was such an outpouring of love from the city for both of them. It was just stunning, really. I really felt obligated to carry on Normans legacy and his beliefs for Chicago, for the kids, particularly. He loved the kids of Chicago. All I really did was I asked a question and I continue to do that. Whenever there is an issue or a problem that I have to make a decision about on any of this, I just ask myself, What would Norman want me to do? I was married to Norman for 30 years, so its very easy to answer the question.
When it came to starting the fund, it clearly had to be a scholarship fund because Normans mantra was education is the way out and the way up for young kids everywhere and that they should not be focusing on getting in the NBA. He felt the chances of getting in the NBA are very small, but if you have a good education, no matter what happens, you can do well in your life and you can transform your life. He would always preach, literally preach, that you should get a good education and not just focus on basketball and sports. That was why I started the scholarship fund.
He and I had very strong opinions about the South and West Side of Chicago and how they needed people to pay attention. The people in those areas are very good people. Thats why my focus is exclusively on the South and West Side.
The three prongs that have developed over the last two years since I started that are education, leadership and then non-violence. I came up with a formula that I know that Norman would agree with which is education plus leadership equals non-violence. If a person is educated and they are a leader and have learned to be a leader in their community, they will not pick up a gun, they do not need to bully, they do not need to bully over the Internet and they will be protective over their neighbors and so forth. Thats kind of where were at. Its very disturbing and very distressing.
Right now, what Im focusing on in the Robeson High School and Crane High School area. Its not going to be just Robeson and Crane, its going to be the entire South and West side, but you have to start somewhere. I wanted to go to what I perceived to be the most violent areas of Chicago and begin our leadership program.
Beginning in the Fall, we will begin our leadership program in Robeson and the junior high schools that feed into Robeson and Im not sure how thats going to work with Crane because I know theyre closing. But we didnt want to abandon Crane. We chose Crane and it was later announced that they were closing, sadly. We want to stay with them until theyre closed but we will continue to work in that area anyway and we currently have a leadership program going on.
Its called the Dream Leaders Program and we have one going on already in the Roseland area and that was chosen mainly because it was already ongoing and it was a nice way for us to get started.
My vision is to have hundreds and hundreds of graduates of these leadership programs so that we develop a culture on the South and West side of leaders. When someone is a leader there and their also a scholar, I believe that will increase the likelihood of non-violence. So thats kind of my philosophy but its really Normans philosophy.
As a parent and now being someone who works so closely with kids, how does it feel to see the numbers of kids losing their lives get to a point to where we as a society almost overlook it?
Its devastating. Its completely devastating. Norman and I have two daughters and its devastating. Ive spoken with some of the parents of some of these children that have been murdered and quite frankly, its the hardest thing to do to have to talk to these lovely people who have lost a wonderful child. I know from being married to Norman for all those years and being in Chicago, I know personally that there are so many good people on the South and West Side. I really feel its just unacceptable in the United States of America that good people can be sitting in their homes and be afraid that a bullet that may come through their wall or window and harm them or their baby and its happening. I cannot even believe that were not rising up. This is just unacceptable and these are good, working people that are kind and loving people that I have met and its unacceptable. I feel like all that I can do is keep saying that its unacceptable.
Where did the idea for the Chicago United Hoops Classic come from? Theres always the argument over which part of the city has the best talent and its really the first time its been done where youre pitting some of the best players from the South Side against the West Side.
It actually came from a very close friend of mine. I wish I could claim the idea but I cannot. It was some very close friends of mine that have worked closely with me for a number of years. When I wanted to start the fund, they thought it would also be nice to also start this game because I said the fund would be exclusively focusing on the South and West Side. Someone had a dream and his lifelong dream was to have a game between the South and West Side because theres such great basketball talent coming out of those two areas. The game is really a way to showcase these wonderful young men, their talents and also to celebrate them. Celebrate these wonderful kids we have on the South and West Side because all we hear is the negative when in fact, the vast majority of the people on the South and West Side are fantastic.
Adding to the importance of the non-violence pledge and this years game, one of the players scheduled to play in this years game Ryan Royall (senior-to-be at Hillcrest high school) lost his life last year to gun violence. Can you talk about what youre doing to honor him and his family?
I spoke with his mother, Wanda, recently and she has agreed to come out and accept a jersey honoring Ryan, honoring her and her whole family. We were extremely devastated when that occurred. Ryan passed away, I think within a month of our game last year. Its insanity that these wonderful kids are being murdered and it really made us want to do more. Im really looking forward to meeting Wanda and she sounds like such a beautiful woman and Im looking forward to hugging her.
It almost goes without saying how loved Norman was here in Chicago, but have you been surprised at the amount of support that youve received?
Completely surprised and completely amazed by all the support and theres a lot of excitement about the game. Theres also a lot of excitement about the fund and about the non-violence pledge, which Im happy about. In fact, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed the non-violence pledge, which was really great. He did a proclamation honoring the fund and the game and May 5 will be Chicago United Hoop Classic Day in Chicago, so thats a great honor. He honored a lot of the players from the Chicago Public Schools that are playing in the game.
Its really wonderful that even the mayor was paying attention and its quite shocking to us. Were thrilled. Another thing about the kids that are playing in the game is we have a No Thug Rule. The kids who are playing in the game are all wonderful young men. Many of them have very high grade point averages and already are going on to wonderful colleges. A lot of the kids who played in last years game are already having wonderful college careers with their basketball teams.
Its a wonderful way to celebrate the wonderful kids on the South and West side.
With how much compassion your husband had for Chicago, the children and being such a strong advocate of education, how proud do you think he is with not just the job you are doing, but all of the support and awareness you are helping raise?
Im getting chills. I know hes right here with us as were talking about this. I often feel that. I guess he would be proud. I really feel this is all happening because of him and because of the goodwill and love he creates. He loved Chicago and Chicago loved him back, so I dont feel like its about me at all. I feel its all about Norman. As far as what were doing, were carrying on. He was an extraordinary man and I feel like its my obligation to carry that on and its really all about Norman. Its about the kids on the South and West Side and thats what Norman would want it to be about.
As the Chicago United Hoops Classic as well the influence of the Foundation grows, what more would you like to do as far as helping more children?
Its been suggested to me, and I agreed, that we add a literacy program to our efforts. Weve only been in existence now for maybe a year and a half, so were really in the early stages and it grew rather quickly which really surprised me. As far as the work, certainly I will be awarding scholarships in Normans name and well be calling them the Stormin Norman scholars. Well do that and over time that will be developed as we have more and more money coming into the fund. Well certainly be doing the leadership program; I really want to expand that. The literacy component was suggested to me and its suggested that we work with younger kids and thats really a wonderful time to reach them and teach them about leadership and non-violence. Well go younger and I think the literacy program will be about making sure the kids can read.
What Ive learned from teachers and principals that Ive met with in Chicago is that literacy is a very big problem or illiteracy if you will. If a person cant read, how can they go on and become a scholar or leader? They cant. I think literacy will be added and its very important.
The Second Annual Chicago United Hoops Classic will take place May 5 on the University of Chicago Campus at the Gerald E. Ratner Athletic Center. Tip-off time will be at 3 p.m. and tickets for the game can be purchased here. Info on how you can donate to the Norm Van Lier Scholarship Fund or to sign the non-violence pledge can be found here.