Michael was 8 years old when he told his dad he wanted to be president. His dad’s response? “Cool Mike, let’s do it.” When he was 13 and said he wanted to play in the NFL, again his dad responded with, “Cool Mike, let’s do it.” No matter what idea Michael came up with, there was always a “let’s do it.”
What would happen if more young men had this same encouragement to follow their dreams?
Growing up in Stockton and then Sacramento, Michael and his siblings were primarily raised by their single father. Life wasn’t easy, but Michael knew his dad believed in him. This steady support gave Michael permission to dream—a true game-changer at a time when he saw many of his friends and family get tangled up in a system that sends far too many Black and Brown boys to jail. Even as a young teen, he knew he wanted a different path.
Michael loved playing football and dedicated himself to the hard work it took to stand out. Recruited by three universities, he decided to attend the University of Las Vegas to play Division 1 football. Sadly though, while still in training camp, a buddy from home called and told him some devastating news—one of their friends had been shot and killed.
Two emotions filled Michael that day. The first was guilt. At only 17, he understood he would be okay. He’d been able to leave the circumstances so many of his friends were still in—friends with grand ideas, drive, and desire, but who didn’t have the necessary support to make a change. He knew he’d be alright, but that many of his friends wouldn’t.
The second emotion was resolve. Michael promised himself that after college, he’d find a way to go back home and serve his community. He didn’t know how. Or when. But he was determined that his story would not be an exception.
After graduating and working at the State Capitol for 5 years, Michael was ready to put the pieces together. In 2013, he and his best friend co-founded Improve Your Tomorrow with the mission to increase the number of young men of color (YMOC) to attend and graduate from colleges and universities.
The “why” was clear. College creates the single best opportunity for achieving economic stability and mobility. And young men of color, folks who have so much potential, desperately need that opportunity.
Through IYT’s four main programs—leadership development, near peer mentorship, college access and advising, and career preparation—7th through 12th grade scholars receive wrap around support. IYT’s goal is to see Black and Brown boys over represented in higher education, underrepresented in the criminal justice system, and be leaders in their communities. But this doesn’t just happen.
Trust must be built. Relationships must form. It’s not enough to simply help young men learn how to study or offer college tours, mentors want to know all about them. What’d they eat for breakfast? What’s their favorite video game? Who’s their girlfriend?
At first, this “intrusive mentorship” attention can feel uncomfortable, but the intentional connection works. As engagement builds, trust forms, and young men see just how much people care about them—because we do. Participants are told that they are worthy and that they belong. From the very start, IYT establishes that this is a type of family, one that often fills the space that doesn't exist for so many. And now, they are a part of a brotherhood.
IYT started with an annual budget of 20 thousand dollars, and in 10 short years has grown it to $16 million. By the end of 2024, we will be in 3 states and serve 6,000 students every year—with 99% of the young men in the programs graduating high school and nearly 80% going on to college.
Though the impact is scaling, the approach has always been tailored, personal, and hands-on. And the recent move to the Bay Area was an easy decision, as there is so much need and so much potential.
Through the POC-Led fellowship at Tipping Point, Michael has been able to connect with powerful changemakers doing similar work. He’s surrounded by other leaders who understand the challenges of being in the co-founder seat as a person of color. And having a space to share these experiences, to see that he’s not alone, makes a huge difference. Tipping Point’s investment in leaders of color has been transformative and has helped Michael boldly go after additional funding, gain access to new networks, and expand IYT’s future.
Now, when someone comes up with a great idea for change, Michael is the person ready to respond, “Yeah, let’s do it.”