Teaching kids to be triple threats: athletes, students and leaders

CNN Hero Marquis Taylor: Coaching for a change
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CNN Hero Marquis Taylor: Coaching for a change 02:09

Story highlights

  • Marquis Taylor, 32, is using basketball to help young people see and realize their potential
  • His nonprofit pairs college and high school students to coach middle-school teams
  • Nominate a CNN Hero here

Brockton, Massachusetts (CNN)When he was growing up, Marquis Taylor's mother used to lock him out of the house to make him practice basketball.

"She wouldn't let me in until I hit 250 shots," Taylor said.
    Until age 6, he and his mother shared a bunk bed in a one-bedroom apartment, just blocks from where the Los Angeles riots took place.
    "We weren't poor; we were broke as hell," Taylor said. "I wasn't a great student. I was lost and a loner. ... Basketball was a place that allowed me to escape."
    It also helped him stay on the right path. Taylor attended Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, on a basketball scholarship, remained in the area and went on to a successful career in finance.
    Today, the 32-year-old is using the sport to help young people see their potential. But his method is unusual. His nonprofit, Coaching4Change, recruits college students to mentor high school students. Together, they then coach middle school basketball teams.
    "The kids get to see what their future could look like," Taylor said. "They get to talk to a college kid -- something they've never done before. And suddenly, that future becomes more attainable."
    CNN Hero Marquis Taylor: Passing the ball
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      CNN Hero Marquis Taylor: Passing the ball

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    CNN Hero Marquis Taylor: Passing the ball 02:26
    The high school and middle school students receive tutoring, and six times a year, Taylor and his group take them to visit Boston-area college campuses.
    CNN's Meghan Dunn spoke with Taylor about his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
    CNN: You quit your job in finance to start this organization. What drove you to do this work?
    Marquis Taylor: I thought of all the kids that were smarter than me, that were better athletes than me, my neighbors that were still stuck at home. I felt like there were so many kids being overlooked and didn't have access and didn't have opportunities that I was awarded.
    My mom never sacrificed the extracurriculars. My mom carted me around to all these different places to make sure that I got that experience. We sacrificed in other ways. Sometimes, we didn't have groceries. Sometimes, clothes were too small; my shoes didn't fit. Small things like that -- because the one thing she talked to me most about was having opportunity and access.
    But not every kid has a parent who's going to do that. I'm taking what my mom did for me and bringing it to a school. It's a one-stop shop.
    CNN: Who are the kids you're looking to help?
    Taylor: We're looking for the kid in the middle. There are the high-achieving kids and the kids who are struggling to stay in school. Those two extremes get access to a lot. But the kids in the middle are oftentimes forgotten about.
    Being a coach gives them a sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment to have younger kids look up to them. Because they're normally just talked at or told what to do. But now, they have the opportunity to apply their leadership skills, and that's a completely different thing.
    Marquis Taylor: "Being a coach gives (kids) a sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment to have younger kids look up to them."
    CNN: Give me an example.
    Taylor: We had a high school student who was talking back and not paying attention. We finally got him focused, and he went through our training. Then, the first day he had to run his program at the middle school, his players were all over. They were rambunctious and excited. He was a little overwhelmed. He turned to me and said, "Is this what I'm like?" I said, "Sometimes." It hit him right then and there. He goes, "I'm sorry." And ever since then, he's improved his own behavior. He's working hard.
    CNN: Your program also helps kids improve their grades. How do you do that?
    Taylor: No one cares about sentence structure. Kids care about fashion. They care about sports. They care about what's going on in the community. They want to have lively, engaging conversation about things they care about.
    What better way of turning that into a fun environment, allowing them to lead their own learning process through projects? They write their own newspaper, or they write children's books. They analyze their own math statistics, to be able to develop the skills that schools are looking for.
    Marquis Taylor (back, in blue hoodie) with some of the middle schoolers he reaches through his nonprofit.
    CNN: What is it like when your kids see a college campus for the first time?
    Taylor: For some, college is like a unicorn. They're the first in their family to go to college. They don't know what to expect. When they go to a college, they're amazed at how beautiful the campuses are and how big they are. I'm fascinated by how infatuated the kids are with simple things like the cafeteria and just ... chicken fingers.
    It's really remembering that it's the simple things that really excite the kids. It's giving them this exposure and then going back to their school and giving them the support they need to help them get to college.
    Want to get involved? Check out the Coaching4Change website to see how to help.
    You can make a donation right now to Coaching4Change. Just click the CrowdRise widget below!