When Micheal McElveen met Stephen Minix, it was on the basketball court—McElveen led the Locke High School squad from the point guard position, but also took a leadership role off the floor.
By Bryan Kitch
"Growing up, I always had great men in my life," McElveen says. "My biological father wasn't around, but I had my stepfather since before I can remember. But in addition, whether it was through sports, or in the classroom, or at home — the impact that my coaches and teachers had on me, knowing that they didn’t have any real obligation to me, that was something that was really critical to my growth."
"I remember, specifically, in sixth grade, my mom said, 'do you want to go to college?' I'm the sixth child of seven, so she had already had this conversation five times. None of my other siblings had gone on to college, though at first they were enthusiastic about the idea. But I said, "Yes I'm going to college — I want to go to out of state."
He continues: "That really crushed her. She was like, 'What do you mean? You want to leave home?' And I said yes — I want to see if I can make it on my own."
"I don't know where that came from, but I knew it was something that I wanted to do. So, when I got to high school and met Stephen [Minix, then a coach at Locke High School where McElveen matriculated, and now Director of K-12 Solutions with UpMetrics], I learned that he had made a similar decision — he left Washington, and everything he knew, to head to Southern California."
At the time, McElveen didn’t know exactly where he wanted to apply — but he knew that he needed that challenge.
"All I knew is that I wanted to help people like me, and when I say that I mean I wanted to help folks that might be underrepresented, under-resourced, people from low-income communities."
"Meeting Stephen made me feel even more empowered to make that decision. As for what I wanted to do when I got there—wherever that would be — I hadn't figured that out yet either. All I knew is that I wanted to help people like me, and when I say that I mean I wanted to help folks that might be underrepresented, under-resourced, people from low-income communities. I wanted to help them get the resources and tools that add value over time, because the resources—and the people—in my life, both men and women, helped put me in a position where I could help others; in a position where I could work to change not only the trajectory of my life and my family's life, but also that of my community. That's how I think about impact."
How was McElveen going to accomplish such a daunting, but overwhelmingly worthy goal?
"That was going to be up to me and the opportunities that presented themselves."
Talking to McElveen, that same, almost zen-like approach functions as a lens for nearly everything he pursues. What it does for him is help him avoid rushing into things, instead carefully awaiting the right moment to apply his talents as both a detail-oriented organizer and thoughtful, relatable person.
"When I got to Locke High School, my intention was not to stay," McElveen explains.
He and a friend-group of four boys (who had grown up playing basketball together) had planned to attend another school where they thought they’d get the best team sports experience. When it came time, McElveen went to meet with the principal of Locke to turn in his transfer papers and explain his desire to move on.
However, upon seeing McElveen's grades and historical academic performance, the principal was reluctant to let McElveen make that change. "I remember he told me, 'we need guys like you here, at Locke.'"
He asked McElveen what he liked to do. "I told him, well, I like playing basketball."
Enter Stephen Minix.
"I tried out for the freshman team, and all I remember is that there was an assistant coach who was really great at being both a coach and a person — he was relatable. The head coach had a little bit more of a military style, at that time his assistant — this guy named Stephen — was relatively new, and just much more approachable and easy to talk to. So we just gravitated toward him."
And that was it. The group of friends followed suit—if Micheal was sticking with Locke, then they knew that must be the best move for all of them.
"I can't really remember the exact circumstances, but we [McElveen and Minix] pretty much just hit it off from the beginning."
"That was his entire thing — if we could be great men, it would take us further than anything we could do with basketball. Basketball was just one of the things that brought us together."
Minix was growing into his new role (he was promoted to head men's basketball coach after the previous coach was fired), overseeing nearly all of Locke’s sports programs and coaching several teams himself, he immediately recognized something similar in McElveen. In essence, McElveen knew how to bring people together — his peers looked to him for advice, and knew that he always had their best interests in mind.
(It also didn't hurt that McElveen was the top-performing student on the team — he continued to help his teammates off the court, and in the classroom.)
"One of the talks that Stephen had with us that I definitely remember, is one where he said, 'This is not about basketball. This is not about wins and losses. I’m not teaching you how to be great basketball players, I'm teaching you how to be great men.'
"That was his entire thing—if we could be great men, it would take us further than anything we could do with basketball. Basketball was just one of the things that brought us together."
McElveen moved up to the varsity squad as a junior, and led Locke through some of its most successful seasons as the starting point guard.
"Young man, you're going to work with me someday." —Stephen Minix
"When that happened," McElveen says of the above quote, "I don't remember exactly, but it was some time during senior year.”
The two had a strong friendship by this point, built on the strong foundation of mutual respect, commitment to team, and ping pong — lots and lots of ping pong.
"He had this room G11 — it was his office. It was a space where we could all just connect. There was a ping pong table set up, and there would always be people in there. You'd have the 6'5", 360 lb. center from the football team playing a 5'7", 145 lb. soccer player, and they'd be playing against each other and talking."
It was there, over a game of ping pong, that Minix made the comment.
"I remember specifically that he did not say 'you’re going to work for me.' He said 'we are going to work together.' It stuck with me."
Fast forward to the present. McElveen had graduated from Locke, and gone on to get his degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Minix had moved on from Locke as well, to a company that was then called SportUp (now UpMetrics) — a coaching and communications platform meant to help student-athletes just like McElveen had been.
"Stephen gave me a call — we would talk every couple months or so, and I had a strong connection with his wife, Rachelle, as well, as she'd been a big help to me in my studies throughout high school and college. But he gave me a call, and he was very excited — he said he had gotten a position with a technology company, and all the things he hoped to accomplish there, and how it was right up his alley. It sounded to me like it was 'the job' — like something he would want to do and keep doing for the next 20 years. There was almost a 'youthful' energy in his voice."
The two continued to talk—as SportUp grew, so did the potential opportunity at hand for both Minix and McElveen. McElveen’s fianceé then decided to make a move to Philadelphia for graduate school. At the time, McElveen was working for a nonprofit, and was negotiating a way to take that work with him up the East Coast to Philadelphia to be with her.
Then, McElveen got a phone call.
"I have job opportunity for you to open a SportUp office in Philadelphia—I can explain it to you, and all I want to know is Yes or No," Minix told McElveen. "We set it up, so it's up to you to knock it down."
"Is there opportunity for growth?" McElveen asked.
“Yes there is," Minix said.
"Do you care about the people who work with you?" McElveen asked.
"Come on—is that even a question?" Minix said.
"Count me in," McElveen responded.
Since that time, McElveen has been dedicating his time with UpMetrics to growing a network of support and understanding, and to helping afterschool, community, and nonprofit organizations understand the tools at hand and the growing importance of data to measure impact.
"Why am I the way I am?" McElveen asks. "It's because of my mother, my dad, the folks around me from a young age, and having an open ear to what they were saying before trying to make a path on my own."
Where that path will lead, of course, no one knows. But what is certain is that McElveen will approach every opportunity the same way he always has—with the care, thoughtfulness, and desire to help others find their way just as he works to do the same.
Story and photos by Bryan Kitch. Originally published to the UpMetrics blog, Data for Good, on Medium.