Marquis Mason knew he was on the right professional track when the mother of a boy he mentored said his program changed her son’s life.

“It’s when I knew this was my calling,” says Mason, founder of the Young and Gifted mentoring program for middle school boys on Madison’s far north side. The program, which Mason started in the summer of 2015, focuses on youth in the Kennedy Heights apartment community and surrounding areas. The goals are simple: Get kids off the streets and show them that the outlook for the future is bright.

Mason, who grew up in a single-parent home, knows what it’s like to overcome challenges and accomplish goals. An outstanding athlete in basketball and football at Madison East, Mason graduated in 2010 and went on to play football for the Wisconsin Badgers before suffering two knee injuries. He kept the promise he made as a fifth-grader to his mother that he would earn a college degree and in 2014, he graduated with a degree in nonprofit management.

Mindful of the enormous impact that mentors made in his own life, Mason formed Young and Gifted to share important lessons with youth. “I tell them to do the best they can,” Mason says, “but I tell them there’s a difference between not knowing and not doing. We can do something about not knowing. Not doing is just lazy.”

Young and Gifted invites youth of all ethnic backgrounds to come to the Kennedy Heights community center from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on weeknights. His boys group meets two to three times per week.

“If I can change one kid’s life, I know I’ve done my job,” Mason says. 

The M List

Madison Magazine’s M List is a who’s who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its fourth year, the M List recognizes those making strides as mentors and teachers. Last year's list of honorees were making impacts in the area of social innovation. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored "Foodtastic" entrepreneurs and innovators.