Christopher Jay McCoy, executive director of New Level Sports and senior pastor of Faith Assembly Christian Fellowship Church in Battle Creek, believes that leaders are trailblazers. Through his work, local kids are experiencing healthy relationships through mentoring and finding success in school, while negative cultural stereotypes are lessoned.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
New Level Sports Executive Director Christopher McCoy:
First of all, it means putting yourself second. It means not being afraid to communicate those things that are going to affect the whole, such as not being afraid to go against the system. I am not against the public school system, but, for instance, when I go to the public schools, I don’t just speak about what’s wrong, but offer solutions to the problem I am addressing and work the solutions. A leader has to be fearless – that’s why you lead. You have to be a trailblazer. You cannot be a follower.
A leader has to be fearless – that’s why you lead. You have to be a trailblazer. You cannot be a follower. You have to believe that your calling is your calling and if you don’t believe that, you won’t be very effective.
What is your dream for kids?
That kids at an early age can find their purpose and destiny and not be influenced by the things they see in the media, the things they see their friends doing or by the things that their friends want them to do. I see a lot of kids whose parents want them to do certain things that they don’t want to do and sometimes they are the things that the parents wanted to do instead. They try to live their dreams through their kids. When you allow kids to choose their own way, you find out that kid is something special. When you don’t, they can fall into a trap.
For instance, especially in an African-American community, if you go to any park, you might see 300 kids, most of them black, playing basketball and hoping to go to the NBA. I tell them that there are other things besides basketball and rap and that they have a better chance of becoming a surgeon than a professional basketball player.
I tell them that there are other things besides basketball and rap and that they have a better chance of becoming a surgeon than a professional basketball player. I come right out and tell them, and we’ve had kids moving away from that.
I want them to know that someone has to pay the bills for the basketball team. Someone has to own the team. Someone needs to be the team’s attorney, someone has to be the team’s agent. We help them take what they are good at and discover that platform.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for
social sector work in Michigan?
We have taken traditional youth programming and have not allowed grass roots programs that are tailored to this culture’s needs. I think we have to look beyond boy scouting and girl scouting, boys and girls clubs and some sports leagues. We can’t depend on these traditional programs alone because those institutions are not reaching the masses.
Funders need to support these non-traditional grass-roots programs. How can programs work for all kids if so many in the system are so family-oriented? How many black children do you see in those programs? Not many. They don’t all have the family support that it takes to get involved. Still, black people go to church. I think that more kids would be guaranteed to attend sports leagues and other programs like ours if we took them into the churches.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We have kids who are not only succeeding through the S.T.A.T.S. mentoring program, which is an offshoot of New Level Sports. It began in 2007 and most of our original members and students have either graduated college or completed college and moved on to study for their master’s degree or Ph.D.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being able to develop a grass-roots program from a vision that God gave us. Because this is a gift from God, it will not die if I leave. It will not die if I die. A vision from God does not just serve local kids, but serves the masses.
What (perceptions, messages, historical influences) create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
Fear. Not understanding that most youth in Michigan who are influenced by hip-hop culture do not know that it is not original – they are just mimicking what they see. If they go down the street not speaking correct English, hats all crazy, they have no fear because they don’t know where it originated. They are just copying something that they see. Everything means something and I don’t care what color you are. One example: kids think it’s cool that everyone goes around wearing saggy clothes, but what they don’t know is that it came from prison mentality. They have no fear of that. I teach my son the right things, but if a son has no father in the home, hip-hop culture can sometimes take the father’s place.
In most cases that is a negative and people who don’t understand why it happens fear it.