For Will Green, who grew up poor at the end of the steel mill area in Gary, Indiana, basketball was a way out.
“I had a great coach and he just always taught us that what you do in life is how you’re going to be as a basketball player,” says Green. “Perseverance, working hard, teamwork, all those things that you need in everyday life, it always just stuck with me. And even to this day, I push those traits onto the kids.” The kids he’s referring to are those he guides through Mentoring Positives.
Founded by Green in 2004, the non-profit program serves at-risk African American youth in the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood of Madison. “We work with kids from a socio-emotional standpoint to help them be successful adults. They’re in conflict. We grab them and say, ‘There’s another way.’”
Rapheal Ragland is a graduate of the program. A proud father raising three young girls, Ragland appreciates what Green taught him.“Me growing up, my father wasn’t always there,” says Ragland. “And that was one of his main things: what could we do to still succeed without having that father and be there for our kids when we have them.”
Green has a special gift when it comes to mentoring kids. His wife, Becky Green, who also works at Mentoring Positives, describes it. “He’s just the person that raises people up, that’s always positive around them. Especially the kids that we work with, they see that he’s genuine. They know when people care or not and Will cares. He allows them to see him, to really see who he is.”
But he also has a secret weapon to appeal to kids in the neighborhood. Basketball.
“I use basketball as a hook,” says Green, who also coaches the LaFollette High School girls’ varsity basketball team. “They all think they’re going to the NBA. I don’t crush that dream, but they’ve got a better chance of being a doctor or a lawyer and so I just use that as a platform.”
Green, who at 48 still has impressive basketball skills, was a star high school and college player at UW-Eau Claire. He loves the game and appreciates the wisdom it’s given him. Perspective he passes on to the kids he serves. “Kids want to be a part of community, because we all do,” says Green. “It’s inside of us to be accepted and wanted, and it’s on us to make them feel valued and seen. And we’re going to give them that.”