Madison man uses basketball to break racial disparities in community

Mentoring Positives program helps beat statistics in Race to Equity report
Madison man uses basketball to break racial disparities in community

A recent Race to Equity report showed African Americans in Dane County are still struggling with poverty, education and unemployment.

The Darbo community in Madison has been classified as a troubled area by residents for the last 30 years, further proving the statistics found in the Race to Equity report. Despite the odds, there are proven programs, like Mentoring Positives, that are beating the statistics.

However, the program’s founder, Will Green, said it will take funding to continue to see improvements.

“I know what these kids are going through. I am those kids,” Green said.

Green isn’t just passionate about basketball; his coaching goes beyond the court at the Salvation Army.

“I just wanted to inspire them to be good people and make good, positive relationships and things can happen,” Green said.

Lucky for Green, he had those relationships growing up in Gary, Indiana, at a time when the area was deemed the murder capital of the country.

“I was in the house when the street lights came on, and I was just happy being on a basketball court shooting a ball,” he said.

Now that same childhood motivation in Green plays out on the court and has helped him level the playing field for young black men in the Darbo community for the past decade.

“I used to be just one of the kids out on the street. I started coming here and getting in the gym more and my life went in a 360,” Raphehal Ragland said.

At age 9, Ragland needed somewhere to turn other than the streets. Luckily, he ended up at Green’s door, something his dad is grateful for too.

“When you get a program that teaches a child that they can have and they can dream and they can succeed, that beats the odds already,” said Raphehal Ragland, Raphehal’s father.

Mentoring Positives is about beating the odds off the court, competing head to head with racial disparities reports in Dane County, which list the county as the worst in the nation for the well-being of black children.

“It’s not that we didn’t think it, but it’s installed in our mind that there is nothing else past this. It’s installed in your mind at that age and he made us see life in a totally different way, there are other ways to get out,” Ragland said.

Green said fighting the odds doesn’t mean adding more programs, but making sure existing programs succeed, and that takes funding.

“It’s been a struggle not having the resources we need to build our capacity and serve more kids,” Green said.

That’s really what Mentoring Positives is all about, serving more kids, saving more kids and giving them a chance to pass it on.

“Just seeing everything that he dealt with me and why can’t I do that? You know, why can’t I save a life like he saved mine?” Ragland said.

Now Ragland is a mentor, even in his father’s eyes.

“I see a young man that has potential, that’s out here and he is giving back. I see a man that is going to make it,” his father said.

He sees his son connecting with more kids and leading them on the right path in the same way Green mentored his son.

“That’s why we have mentors. That’s why we have coaches to bring the best out of you. Even when you think you have gotten to your best, there is still a little bit more that you can bring out of them,” Green said.

The program has mentored over 2,000 kids in the last decade. Most of their funding comes through individual donors.