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Rising Stars: Meet Melvin Cole

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melvin Cole.

Hi Melvin, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in the projects of South Memphis, surrounded by gangs, murderers, and drug dealers. I was oftentimes left unsupervised and really had no positive male role model in my life.

As a result, I joined a gang and became a father at the young age of 14. My life reflects the lives of many young males in our community, even still today, living in situations that are ultimately out of their control.

I graduated from Whitehaven High School and received a football scholarship to Bowling Green State. After graduating high school, I told my mom, “I will make money by being a pro football player or a drug dealer”.

I suffered an injury in college which ended my football career and sealed my fate. Without football, I felt alone and had no support, guidance, or resources. So, I turned back to what I knew – selling drugs to support my daughter. During a drug deal, I was shot in the head and all of my aspirations disappear before my eyes – my dreams vanished!

I did go on to receive my bachelor’s degree in Sports Management, but I also ended up serving 2 years in the Ohio State prison. While in prison, I swore that once I was released, I would dedicate my life to serving others and make sure to save young men like myself from the seemingly never-ending cycle of incarceration and/or death. So, I wrote my plan in detail.

In 2012, I formed PURE Youth Athletics Alliance. PURE stands for Progressing Under Restraints and Extremes. PURE is a non-profit private school that provides at-risk students the resources they need to achieve academic success.

PURE has paved the way for students to attend college and break the generational curses our young black men struggle with daily. Many of our students become first-generation graduates/collegiate students. Many receive athletic scholarships and play football at the college level.

I no longer look back on my life with regret. Instead, I stand on my past to build a better future for each and every student that walks through the doors of PURE Youth Athletics Alliance.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It was certainly not a smooth road. The path I walked to get to where I am, has been full of bumps, holes, and many obstacles that needed to be climbed. The environment during my teen and early adult years exposed me to “fast money”, in other words, criminal activity – which ultimately revealed itself to be the fast way to violence and prison.

I was told by many that I would never succeed, that I would either die in prison or in the streets. But finding myself behind bars opened my eyes to see a brighter future, not only for myself but for those whose I could reach.

I am by no means condoning the actions of my past, but they allowed me to become the person I am today and have given me the drive to ensure a smoother road for the young men in my community.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a firm believer that an output relies heavily on the input.

If you put good in, you will get good results. The opposite is true as well – negativity breeds negativity. My life was filled with wrong choices, which led me down bad roads. However, God had different plans for me and has allowed me to use my story as motivation to help others who are in similar situations to step aside from that style of living and plant seeds that will blossom into fruitful and lasting successes.

I established PURE as a safe haven, a place where our students can gain educational, motivational, and emotional tools and strengths to overcome the outside pressures surrounding them. I honestly cannot say that I am too proud of myself, but instead, my pride lies in my students. They work so hard and consistently show improvement in both the classroom and on the field.

They have grown to become teammates instead of enemies, brothers instead of strangers, compassionate and self-motivating young men who have hope for the future. I love to see them succeed, even in the small things like acing a test, or signing up for the ACT and studying hard for it.

Watching them graduate with huge smiles on their faces – is what I am most proud of.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
I believe that nothing worth obtaining will just land in your lap. Everything has some level of risk to it – the risk of failure, the risk of displeasing friends and family, the risk of success! I am certainly a risk-taker. During the onset of Covid-19, I believe I took a great risk.

The superintendent for Shelby County Schools had closed the doors and decided on 100% virtual learning, and additionally had ended the football season. At that time, I opened my doors for in-person schooling, as well as offering high school football players from different schools to play the sport they love. Everyone told me that I was crazy, but I thought it crazy to take away the one consistent avenue that many of our young men need for stability in their lives.

Covid-19 may have been a difficult time for many people, but for some, it would have been devastating if they had not been given an opportunity to continue their education face-to-face, and to have their dreams of playing football snatched away.

Contact Info:

  • Email: melvincole@pureyouth.org
  • Website: pureyouth.org
  • Instagram: @pureyouthaa
  • Facebook: PURE Youth Athletics Alliance
  • Twitter: @PUREYouthAA
  • Youtube: PURE Youth

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