From the Pacific Northwest, to Pepperdine, to South Central Los Angeles, Minix knows what it takes to build success from the ground up
By Bryan Kitch
Pacific Northwest native Stephen Minix knew from an early age that he wanted to commit himself to service. The son of a military veteran, Minix learned strong core values that have served him well while working in low-income communities. And the results have been far-reaching, thanks to his clear sense of purpose, and his dedication to helping kids of every background to become their best selves.
Born into a family of modest means in rural Washington, Minix felt that he would need to branch outside his immediate community to get where he wanted to go. "I started working at a golf course, talked to some guys, and I realized that I didn't speak the language of the 'business man,' or the people of influence," he explains. Stephen looked at Pepperdine, and he liked what he saw — as an athlete, he liked that its baseball team was strong, and it offered a sports medicine program that he was interested in. And, it offered a different kind of education — Pepperdine was a complete departure from his upbringing in terms of proximity to the ‘big city,’ real-world connections, and demographics. It was a window into a different way of life. "I figured that understanding that life would give me a better depth of knowledge, of understanding people."
He had made his decision.
"I always knew that I wanted to work in urban areas," says Minix, "because I wanted to help kids that looked like me understand that there's a certain way that we can find success, and it's very easy if you stick to it. I had a very powerful father, who passed away from a terrible disease early in life, so I kind of had this accelerated development into being a man."
Minix's father passed away when Stephen was in seventh grade. But, despite their relatively short time together, he credits his father with teaching him life lessons that continue to resonate to this day, and that can have the same effect on others. "I matured very quickly, and in a way that would later really benefit me as an educator."
Minix had family that lived in Compton, so he knew the area well. He also knew some of the schools where he most wanted to work. "I knew that I could make a difference pretty quickly, just by being myself: An upstanding African American man with a backbone and a moral compass." The first interview that he got was with Locke High School — he was offered the job, and he took it. "It worked out immediately."
"I knew that I could make a difference pretty quickly, just by being myself: An upstanding African American man with a backbone and a moral compass."
It wasn't quite that simple, though — Minix signed on as a PE teacher, as well as coach of the girls' softball and girls' basketball teams. He had the knowhow for PE thanks to his studies at Pepperdine, experience playing basketball, and a sister who happened to be an excellent softball player. He took the jobs that he was offered, but, true to form, he turned his roles into something much more influential than they might have sounded on paper.
"If you get me on campus, I can really have an impact. I can inspire kids, and I can inspire adults, and I make it a point to do those things." Just to give you some background, when Minix was a student himself, he was more than just that. How so? He was the school president, captain of his sports teams, business manager of the school paper — you get the point. "Whatever I could do to make a positive impact, I would do it."
Where did this drive come from? "After my dad died, school and athletics became a surrogate dad for me. I stayed busy; I kept active," he says. "It kept me distracted from this pain of loss." It has also been a quality that has made him more than an asset everywhere he has studied, taught, and worked.
No surprise, this approach paid dividends quickly at Locke. Not only was he coaching two teams and teaching a class, he started a training session that he called 'Point-Guard College,' where he would welcome the boys’ basketball players to join him for a workout at 6am at the school gym; he served as a California High School Exit Exam bootcamp instructor on weekends; he worked as a literacy tutor on Tuesday nights. In Minix's mind, that’s what being 'all-in' is all about.
"Part of it was because I needed to put some money in my pockets to pay the bills," he says, "but the other part was, if I knew kids from every perspective on campus, then I could really be impactful." His main focus had been sports, but he wanted to see the full picture. "Until I had worked with everybody, I wasn’t really a support for the school, I was only a support to those individuals."
"When I first arrived at Locke, the janitor gave me a set of about 70 keys, and said, 'These are for the gym.'" Why? Because the school had changed the locks so many times that no one knew which keys worked, and which didn't. And apparently, it didn’t matter to anyone enough to figure it out. "That was on the way to the gym to show me the office for the job I had just accepted."
The gym floor was covered with gum. The softball field had huge, crater-like sinkholes. There were rat droppings on the desk in his office, to go with the garbage that had been left by the previous PE teacher when he moved on from Locke roughly six months earlier. "It just looked like a place that hadn’t been cared for in years."
To walk away then and there would have been understandable. The conditions of the job hadn't been properly outlined; I didn't sign up for this; that’s not in my contract, etc., etc. Instead, Minix thought, OK, I know how to paint, and I know how to clean. I’ve got this.
"When I first arrived at Locke, the janitor gave me a set of about 70 keys, and said, 'These are for the gym.'" Why? Because the school had changed the locks so many times that no one knew which keys worked, and which didn't."
"The kids were really cool," Minix says. "Yes, there were some knuckleheads, but for the most part, kids are just kids. I worked with them to understand that if we cleaned this court, it would be better for us when we come in to do work tomorrow." Minix showed them that he wasn't above crawling around on hands and knees scraping gum off the floor, and the kids followed suit. "Pretty soon, we had a floor that you could eat off of if you wanted to," he remembers.
"You have to teach ownership, and pride, and responsibility — you have to do that before you can teach hoops. My first couple years there, that's all I did."
Minix had the girls choose the uniforms they'd like to have for the season, and then outlined the expenses. The student-athletes then fundraised for their chosen equipment, and fully understood its value. "They'd ask me, 'Why are we the only ones who have to fundraise?' And I'd tell them, just wait a month, and you'll be asking me why you're the only team looking so fresh on the court." He was right.
The girls' basketball program was 12 student-athletes when Minix arrived. When he handed the program over, it was 75 strong. The same was true of the girls' softball team. "They started to understand the idea of 'if you build it, they will come.' You had to build the system; you had to build the belief; you had to build the vision, before anybody could line up and run suicides and get in shape."
Fast forward, and Minix's experience extends to the boys' basketball team, and further administrative duties — soon, the Athletic Director was helping to groom Minix for the AD role, by letting Minix serve as a kind of AD for the programs he was coaching. In year five for Minix at Locke, there began to be talk of making the transition to charter school, as part of the Green Dot network.
Once the school became a part of Green Dot, it wasn’t long before Green Dot leadership was asking Minix to take on the role of Athletic Director at their newest charter school.
And then, for Green Dot's entire organization.
When he first arrived, Minix had become a part of the community at Locke in what was, on paper, a fairly minor way. What he made of his first roles as coach and PE instructor, and later of his position as Athletic Director, led him to the boardroom that he'd always imagined.
Now, UpMetrics is lucky to call him a part of the team. Minix joined UpMetrics in September of 2015 because he believes that the platform can aid athletic directors and administrators tremendously, and, most importantly, because he knows that that will ultimately mean a better experience for students.
"The platform is outstanding," Minix says. "This platform would have solved so many issues that I had, and so many issues that people are having across the country." That, coupled with an understanding of what's motivating the UpMetrics leadership team — commitment to those that are doing important work in the field — was crucial to Minix's wanting to come onboard. "I needed to know that leadership was as passionate as I am about impacting young people and that they are ready to run through walls in order to do so — that much was evident from the jump."
Afterschool programs are absolutely essential to the success of young students — the period from 3pm-5pm every school day can make or break a child’s or young adult’s future. This is something that Stephen knows first hand, and it’s why he's so committed to giving afterschool programs the best tools, and access to the most important data. Using those tools and that information, after-school programs can not only increase their effectiveness, but also demonstrate that effectiveness through key analytics.
Sports programs engage and connect communities — without those programs, some of the common ground that links entire districts is lost. Those connections forged on the field of play ripple outward from individual student-athlete to mentor relationships, to relationships between teammates, to the wider student body, and finally to the students’ families and friends. The mission, then, is clear: Support afterschool programs for students to help build a brighter future.
Minix continues: "I will go to bat for a kid any day of the week, as long as that kid is doing what he or she needs to do.
"At the end of the day, I believe if a coach is using UpMetrics, kids in that program are better for it. That, you can't put a price on. That's why I signed up."
Story by Bryan Kitch. Originally published in the UpMetrics blog, Data for Good, on Medium.