CHICAGO — A South Side entrepreneur scarred by losing a loved one to gun violence, says his passion is to help Chicago youth prepare for bright futures, while also pursuing his.

Just a few weeks into his first year of college, 18-year-old Jaqueza Thomas hosted a back-to-school giveaway at Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood, giving away over 100 backpacks funded by himself and other organizations.

A boy and a Chicago firefighter were having a 1v1 in a basketball game which was tied 20-20.  

“Just seeing the smiles on the faces of the families and being able to inspire others at the event was enough for me,” Thomas said.

A total of 110 backpacks were distributed, with 50 donated by the Chicago Architecture Center. The Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Fire Department also attended to ensure safety during the event.

Kids from around the neighborhood gathered for activities, backpacks, school supplies — as well as for career advice.

Thomas met Jacobb, a teen hoping to pursue entrepreneurship, and was able to share his experiences.

“I was explaining to him my successes and challenges as a young entrepreneur, inspiring him to go to college and pursue what he loves most, which is marketing,” Thomas said.

Thomas speaking with Jacobb, a young entrepreneur with a dream of marketing

There was also a barbeque with food throughout the day, along with a basketball competition, where Chicago firefighters competed against the community youth.

With a few backpacks left at the end of the event, Thomas distributed them to a family at his church.

Thomas plans to make the back-to-school giveaway an annual event coining the slogan, “For the Youth, By the Youth.”

“Other youth members were running up to me with their parents asking who was doing it, and just seeing their faces when they found out it was a teen, was absolutely amazing,” Thomas said.