Education

White Knight

February 01, 2000 2 min read
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Arnie Kamen was always a kid in a hurry. A Roosevelt classmate of Manny’s and the son of a liquor wholesaler, he grew up in a cold-water flat in Albany Park. By the time he was 30, he had started a business on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Trading was an ideal occupation for this bright and energetic young man, nimble with numbers and quick to figure odds. He swapped butter and egg futures, even though he didn’t know much about butter or eggs. “Who needs to know the products?” he argues. “You have guys trading soybeans, most of them have never even seen a soybean.” Eventually, Arnie owned seats on five exchanges, operating offices in 12 cities. As his wealth grew, he bought a big house in the suburbs, traveled the world, put his kids through college, got divorced, remarried, had two more children by his second wife, sold his seats, and settled into a rich and restless retirement.

With time on his hands, Arnie became obsessed with sports at Roosevelt High. He is the Rough Riders’ most loyal fan, a regular at school athletic events. Gangbangers on the sidewalk and guards at the gate watch him curiously as he bounds up the steps. You can see them wondering, Who is this white guy?

Arnie is also a one-man booster club, raising desperately needed dollars for Roosevelt teams. He has a dozen projects, hundreds of new ideas. In recent years, he has organized an old-timers’ basketball game, a sock hop, and a reunion in Las Vegas. He’s in the school three or four times a week—kids call out his name as he walks the halls—and he even has a mailbox and a key to the teachers’ bathroom.

Arnie began his crusade for the school in part out of loyalty to Roosevelt. “Roosevelt groomed me and my classmates for success,” he says. “It nurtured us, it gave us spirit and pride; it was our gateway to a greater world outside Albany Park.”

But Arnie also cares for the kids. He’s chaperoned field trips to museums and plays. Once, he befriended a gangly freshman named Danielle Greene and watched her blossom into one of the city’s best girls’ basketball players, an honor-roll student who won a full athletic scholarship to Notre Dame.

Most of all, Arnie wants Roosevelt kids to get their shot at success, just as he did. At one boys’ basketball game in the suburbs, he charged the court when the referee made a bad call that snatched away victory from the Rough Riders. “They just couldn’t let it be fair,” he said afterward, still seething. “They just couldn’t stand for a bunch of black kids to come in from the city and beat them fair and square on their home court.”

He stood silent for a moment, then said, “This is why I do what I do. This is why I fight for these kids. This is why I won’t ever give up.”

—Ben Joravsky

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