Somehow, Michael Mallory's sneakers have always guided him down the path that led to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. Whether it was walking a few blocks around the corner to the Barksdale Club, or hiking six miles from his Midtown home to the Samelson Club in Highland Heights, Mallory knew the Boys & Girls Clubs was his ticket to staying on the straight-and-narrow.
Growing up as the 10th of eleven children in a two-bedroom Orange Mound duplex, Mallory's family moved to Midtown in July 1974. A succession of lazy summer days and lack of activities for youth compelled him to seek positive outlets to occupy his time. He decided to follow his older brothers, Eric and Kenny, to the Barksdale Club.
The Boys Club on Barksdale, first club in the Boys Club of Memphis, opened in 1962. The Phoenix Club chose to found a local chapter of the Boys Club of America in Memphis as part of its mission to provide professional after-school programming for kids. Jim Carlile was hired as the first executive director and led the organization for more than 30 years, retiring in 1992.
The decision to check out the Barksdale Club represented a turning point for Mallory and is a refreshed memory for him as he joins with others in celebration of the Boys & Girls Club 50th anniversary.
"I had nothing else to do. I was surrounded by poverty where we grew up," said Mallory. "The Boys & Girls Club was a safe haven for me. If it wasn't for the Boys Club, I don't know where I would be today."
Mallory was stretched and challenged by the activities the Boys Club offered, including attending Camp Phoenix, a Boys & Girls Clubs-sponsored summer camp that currently serves more than 250 students each July. From learning about trails and using maps, to experiencing diversity in an up-close-and-personal way, Mallory's initial anxiety about leaving home soon turned into a teachable moment.
"I was really scared to go. I was a long way from Memphis and I didn't want to leave my parents," said Mallory. "But I learned so much through the camp meetings, and it taught me so much about diversity. With no phone, we had to work things out right there. I learned so much about life."
The closing of the Barksdale Club in 1979 represented only a minor detour for Mallory. He navigated his way through Memphis' urban jungle to the Ira Samelson Club. Undeterred by the six-mile distance between his house and the Samelson Club, he caught the bus daily to participate in the Club's sports and education activities.
Now a salon executive, a barber instructor, a limousine fleet owner and a fashion entrepreneur, Mallory uses his salon, Michael's Magnificent Cuts & Styles, as a platform to speak to customers about his experiences as a club kid. He has hired club alumni to work in his salon and recruits new club members by encouraging parents to enroll their children in club activities.
"Michael is a prime example of the impact of the Club on a kid's life," said Charles Griffin, vice president of Operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater. "He is an ideal role model for the surrounding community. Our members see an example of someone who came from their neighborhood and became successful by building on their Club experiences."
Like Mallory, the Boys & Girls Clubs has stepped into its next phase of growth. The organization operates six traditional clubs, a technical training center and Camp Phoenix, a summer residence camp. Club members are challenged in five program areas: Character & Leadership Development, Education & Career Development, Health & Life Skills, The Arts and Sports, Fitness & Recreation.
A national survey of Boys & Girls Clubs alumni showed that 91 percent of alumni say they are leading fulfilled lives, 57 percent say that their Club literally saved their lives.
Occasionally, Mallory takes a stroll down memory lane, reminiscing with his old buddies.
"It's like a brotherhood, and when we get together, it's like a family reunion," said Mallory. "Getting the alumni involved to reach out and inspire people to visit the Clubs would be a great thing."
(For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis or to make a donation, visit www.bgcm.org.)