Rosalio Medina, Forest Park resident and husband of Proviso Township District 209 school board member Claudia Medina, framed the recent turmoil on the board as a battle. A coup of sorts occurred recently when, by a 4-3 vote, Claudia Medina was replaced by Brian Cross as secretary and Theresa Kelly, Medina’s slate-mate, was replaced by Teresa McKelvy as president.
Having lost that particular battle to reform the educational system in Proviso Township — which includes Forest Park — Rosalio is focusing his energy on the battle to win a majority in the next school board election. He said in an email, “We [209 Together] are intact. The fight will continue. We need to win one or two seats in the next election.”
He sees his role in the effort to reform D209 as strategic.
“I’m working as Claudia’s back-seat strategist,” he explained. “I’m treating Claudia’s campaign like a war because after emigrating from Nicaragua in 1998, I found out that, here in the U.S., many politicians are dirty. They’re doing things and getting away with it.”
What woke Rosalio and Claudia up was the realization over a year ago that their 13-year-old son would soon be of high school age and that, in their opinion, Proviso East High School was not a good option.
“I was angry,” he recalled. He responded to that emotion by holding up a banner at the 2014 Casket Race that declared, “We want a better high school” and then attended the first “Brown Cow 20 meeting,” at which Forest Park residents shared their frustrations and ideas on how to change the high school district. One meeting led to another and Claudia found herself running in the 2015 election for the school board.
During the 2015 campaign, Rosalio advised his wife and her two allies, Ned Wagner and Theresa Kelly, to be angry and passionate in their fight to bring about change but not to be bitter.
“Anger is good,” he said. “It will motivate you to do what needs to be done to change a situation, but bitterness is not good. I’ve learned in my life that I’ve had to forgive people. Otherwise, I’d be carrying that heavy stone of hate around my whole life.”
Rosalio speaks from his own experience when he talks about forgiveness.
Born in Nicaragua in 1964, a time when opposition to the 40-year dictatorship of the Samosa family led to armed conflict and the death of 50,000 of his countrymen, including many of his friends and neighbors. He responded to his growing awareness of the atrocities being committed by Samosa’s Guardia Nacional by distributing informational fliers in high school. In college, he joined the Frente Estudiantil Revolucianario, participating in mass meetings and burning tires in the streets.
After a few years of medical school, he joined the Sandanistas who had won their war against the Samosa regime and by 1979 were fighting against the U.S.-backed “Contras.” He came out of one fire fight with holes in his back pack and a piece of metal near his tail bone.
After the Contras were defeated, he returned to medical school. His mother asked him why he still kept all his military gear in the closet.
“She was right,” he said, “so I took my AK 47, my 90 mm pistol and my hand grenades to a local police station and gave it all to them. Then I went into a church.
“As I sat in the church,” he said, “I thanked God for saving my life during the fighting, and I promised God that anywhere I go from now on, I will be a peaceful man and will be available to others who need my gifts. I left the church feeling like a different person.”
Even though he had a doctor’s degree from a medical school in Nicaragua and had been the director of a medical clinic there, when he arrived in 1998, he was not licensed in this country and therefore could not practice medicine without passing several examinations and meeting other requirements.
Rosalio interprets what happened next as another example of God’s grace. After trying and failing to get a job as a resident physician, two surgeons at Rush Presbyterian named Robert Schenck and Donald Nash brought him on as a surgical assistant.
True to his promise in that church in Leon, Nicaragua, Rosalio has traded in his AK47 for sutures and a scalpel, but the fight goes on.
“I’m passionate about my dreams,” he declared. “My dreams for my kids, my dreams for my family are here in Forest Park. Nobody is going to take those dreams away from me. This is my community, and I will fight to keep it.
“My job now,” he added, “is to hold the family together so Claudia has the freedom to do the work she is doing. My job is to support her, bring in the money and take care of the family while she is fighting the corrupt educational system that is killing us.”
He also challenges the community of Forest Park which he loves.
“One big weakness in our community is lack of participation,” he said two days before the D209 board’s vote. “209 Together is making some cracks in the wall of corruption that has been built up and strengthened for 40 years, a wall of bad habits, nepotism and a corrupt system. The wall is strong. [We are] trying to make cracks in that wall of corruption.”