Charles Brown and Vinay Mullick's chance meeting in Chicago's South Side explains their desire to give back
By Bryan Kitch
Building student-teacher relationships, much like building athlete-coach relationships, isn’t always easy. But those bonds, like those of family, can be lifelong. When a young, high school student-athlete Charles Brown met a young teacher, Vinay Mullick, at Paul Robeson High School in Chicago's South Side, the two immediately recognized an internal desire to succeed in one another. And that’s where our narrative begins.
Charles Brown was already a known quantity on the playing field in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago. Always an excellent athlete, Brown’s internal sense of competition—the need to be the best he could be—meant that his push for excellence was fluid, spilling over into all aspects of his young life.
"For me, it goes back to an early age. Someone in my position had no choice but to try to be the best," says Brown. "That was true both in school and in athletics. That's what drove me to get good grades, and to be so competitive on the field."
He's not kidding—he was recognized at the time as one best high school athletes in Illinois, in both football and track.
That drive to succeed, both in sports and in academics, partly comes from his home life. Brown was one of two kids in a single-parent home—his mother, Gloria Williams, was a hugely positive influence on his life, leading by example. While working for a non-profit counseling ex-offenders and looking after her children, Williams enrolled as a part-time student at Chicago State University. Suffice it to say, Brown didn’t have to look very far to find a role model.
Brown met and became close with a Teach For America corps member, Vinay Mullick, who was both a classroom teacher and an academic advisor to the football team. He immediately recognized Brown’s promise, and committed himself to helping Brown take those next steps that so few from Paul Robeson High School had taken before.
"My first year teaching was Charles’ sophomore year," Mullick, a graduate of Northern Illinois University, says. "A lot of people that I trusted, who were fellow coaches and people that had given me an opportunity to get involved with the football team at that school — they saw Charles as a kid with a very strong work ethic, and a ton of potential. He had a mom that was passionate about education and the opportunities it would provide for him, to take him to new heights. And then obviously the mix of academic and athletic excellence really made him stand out among his peers."
He adds: "He was very no nonsense. Very reserved. He was kind of a quiet kid back then. But you knew you could count on Charles, inside the classroom and out, and even in the hallways with other peers of his, to be a good example."
"I definitely think that in programs like the ones I came through, obviously, the formula works." — Charles Brown
He was the kind of kid that Mullick (who was the Athletic Director for Perspectives Charter Schools when NBA star Anthony Davis was a student there) knew he could push, in the right way, to go beyond what Brown thought were his horizons and accomplish something more.
"Over time, he started to trust me more, and see some of these other opportunities on the table," Mullick explains. "It just kind of snowballed."
Brown graduated with a 4.2 GPA, the highest in his class, and received a scholarship to attend Northwestern University—the first such scholarship ever awarded by Northwestern to a student at Paul Robeson High.
"Being the first of my family to go away to college, there were some things that I needed some advice on," Brown says, "coming from a predominately black high school, to a university where I was a minority, and also a student athlete. So, there was an adjustment period, especially in my first and second years [at Northwestern], where I just needed some questions answered and advice. And Vinay was definitely my contact that I had to reach out to — we had some long nights and talks to help me understand what was going on. For me, that was very instrumental."
Brown played wide receiver for the Northwestern Wildcats for four years, while Mullick went on to become an Athletic Director of the Year recipient from the Illinois State Athletic Directors Association for his work at Perspectives Charter Schools.
Fast forward to the present day. In early 2017, When Brown was looking to make a move from California back to his native Chicago, Mullick—now serving as Regional Executive Director with UpMetrics—knew that an opportunity with UpMetrics would be a perfect fit.
"It was always there — my passion is to give back through sports, in some capacity. I just didn’t know how that would happen, necessarily," Brown says. In fact, Brown and two of his high school teammates from Robeson had already started giving back at their alma mater, through a life-skills and football summer camp serving roughly 200 kids.
"I came in, interviewed, and liked what I saw," says Brown.
He continues: "I definitely think that in programs like the ones I came through, obviously, the formula works. Understanding that the mentorship, the engagement with the coaches—having something to show that what they do works, being able to capture that with data and being able to articulate that is something that can help any number of programs. Having those coaches and peers around from an early age helped me out a lot—just to be able to create those friendships and relationships that are going to last over time, and that are still intact to this day."
"It's been 13 years since we first met, and now we're peers," Mullick says. "We're working together, and that is powerful. Extremely powerful. It shows the power of education and community. As a lifelong educator I am ecstatic that I get to come to work with Charles on a daily basis."
Which brings us to the newest challenge facing the former pupil and teacher, and now peers, in their hometown.
"Charles, and his progression and growth from a young person into an adult—he, at the core, is the perfect example for why there’s a need for the kind of technology we provide through UpMetrics," says Mullick, "because our technology can help foster and develop more young people like Charles.
"The people we're serving — the coaches, teachers, and administrators — sometimes don't have the tools to manage the balancing act between school, their day job, home life, etc., to successfully support kids during afterschool hours the way they want to. That's where our technology can help do that, and Charles is a perfect example. The core of what we’re doing — putting numbers behind the work of these community leaders, quantifying it, marketing it, publicizing it, and doing all of that to better their situations for the young people they serve — is something I am extremely passionate about."
In other words, Brown and Mullick know just how much of a difference numbers can make.
"Going through it, I know that there are more kids like me out there," Brown says. "When I worked at a non-profit in Chicago, I saw it first hand. And at nonprofits, data are a high priority. So to have that experience, and understanding that data can be such an important selling point—it's invaluable. I can see myself doing this for a long time."
Given their track records, it seems like a safe bet that they’ll be pretty good at it, too.
Story by Bryan Kitch. Originally published to the UpMetrics blog, Data for Good, on Medium.