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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Helping Heart: Michael Wells is driven to help people who can’t help themselves

Bryce Light
Family Focus Michael Wells, PACE driver and landlord, has always been driven to help people. Led by his heart, Mr. Wells hopes to be a role model for the younger generation of his family.

For a long time, Michael Walls knew he wanted to help people. There had always been something inside of him that wanted to make sure that no one had to live like he lived growing up in the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago. 

“Growing up was a little struggle,” Mr. Walls said. 

But that didn’t stop him. He knew that to get out of that struggle, he had to work his way out.

Michael Walls is a helper at heart. In the jobs he’s had, from working at Jewel-Osco to now working for PACE and renting out buildings, the only thing he has had on his mind was making sure people were helped. 

Sasha Walls, Mr. Walls’ sister, said that growing up, Michael always put family first and wanted to make sure that everyone was doing well. 

“His heart is really big, especially for people who are in need,” Ms. Walls said. “We are really close to our grandmother, and she uses PACE a lot. He’s always trying to come up with ways that he can help make things easier for people. He’s a king — to me a king just makes sure that everything is taken care of no matter what.”

In 2021, he bought a two-flat building in the Woodlawn neighborhood because of his own rent being unfairly raised in the middle of the pandemic. After the news of the rent being raised from $1,200 to $2000, Mr. Walls decided that he could rent out the building.

“I bought it for me and my sister because I was tired of renting from other people,” he said. “So that’s what lit the fire under me, like, ‘Hey just get your own building!’ I had read a lot of articles about how we should own our own properties and businesses and that sort of thing. So I was ready and that’s how I got the building.”

Purchasing his own building was a big step, and then buying a house in west suburban Woodridge was a leap — only to start renting out his two homes six months later. 

But before that, Mr. Walls started out at Jewel-Osco for 13 years. He started out as a grocery bagger and a cart handler, then three months later he worked at the service desk.

Mr. Walls then moved to an assistant and then a customer service manager a couple of years later. Helping customers came naturally to him. 

He said, “I just have the personality of customer service.”

He knew that the key to his job was the customers, that treating them right and helping them would be the key to his success. That mentality stayed with Mr. Walls when he bought his properties. 

So from Jewel-Osco to PACE he went, with hopes of having a bigger impact on people. Then when the opportunity to rent buildings to people came along, he knew this was his chance to make an impact. 

“I want to purchase some more buildings,” he said. “For one, I want to make it affordable for people. Rents are going sky-high, and working for PACE I see a lot of people in wheelchairs and things like that. I want to make it accessible so people [with disabilities] have nice things.”

Renting out these buildings is as much help to the tenants as it is to people in Mr. Walls’ family, as the business is family-run. He finds that being a model for the younger generation has been a motivation for him. 

“I just wanted a foundation, I wanted to build something so my niece could look at me and say, ‘I want to do what my uncle does,’” Mr. Walls said. “And my little brother moved down to Danville, Illinois, and bought a house and fixed it up. He watched what I did and changed his life because of it. I think the business is so amazing, for other people to see and think, ‘We would like to do that too.’ I think being a role model keeps me going.”

With everything Mr. Walls has accomplished, he continues to remember where he came from, amazed by how far he has come.

“I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and think, ‘Wow you did that,’” he said. “I grew up in Robert Taylor projects. I didn’t know that a little Black boy from the South Side of Chicago could do this until I did it.”

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About the Contributors
Chloe Alexander
Chloe Alexander, Arts Editor
Chloë Alexander is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as the arts editor. She joined the journalism family in the 2021-22 school year as a ninth grader and previously served as an assistant editor. Chloë enjoys journalism because it allows her to create a space for Lab students to be represented through writing. Her favorite story that she has written is “‘SOS’ showcases a wide range of styles and themes.” Outside of working on the Midway, she is a Maroon Key, plays the piano and enjoys reading. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Honorable mention, feature writing 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, news editing, headline and current events 2023 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, special coverage: (with Clare O’Connor, Amy Ren and William Tan), superior 2022 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: Briefs writing, first place (with Louis Auxenfans, Joaquin Figueroa, Chloe Ma, Amy Ren, Katie Sasamoto-Kurisu), Vol. 98, Issue 8 (March 10, 2022), Page 3
Bryce Light
Bryce Light, Photographer
Bryce Light is a beginning photojournalist and a member of the Class of 2025. His favorite part of photojournalism is documenting school events. Outside of photojournalism, Bryce enjoys soccer, video games and taking his dogs on walks. Awards: 2024 Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, sports photo: excellent 2024 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Award: First place, single spot news photograph, “U-High celebrates community spirit in annual Homecoming assembly” (Photo 4: Teacher Matt Bonges)

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