November 27, 2019

Looking Back & Moving Forward

BGCSM Bids Wilson Club Director Mike Brown Farewell After 60 Years of Service

Boys & Girls Clubs has gone through some incredible changes throughout the organization’s 90+ year history. It has stood the tests of time, racism, feminism, drugs’ wars on our streets and the government’s war on drugs.

Even the name has changed. In 1906, it was known as the Federated Boys’ Club and then adopted the name Boys’ Clubs of America in 1931. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that most of us know came to be – although women and girls had been active in the organization long before the final name change was made.

Boys’ Club of Detroit Staff, circa 1926

BGCSM has been afforded a deep connection to the history of our local Clubs and wishes to offer Matilda R. Wilson Club director, Mike Brown, the fondest and most sincere farewell as he retires from over 42 years of professional service to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan – 19 of which have been at the Wilson Club.

Mike first found his way to BGCSM as a Club Kid. He started playing in the gym of Dearborn’s Guest Club when he was 8 years old.

Over the years Mike has held just about every position that one man can at BGCSM, beginning with a stint as a junior staffer at age 16. At 19, he transitioned to running the teen room. Mike left the Clubs briefly for a job in retail but says he missed working with the kids.

“After that, I came back to the Club and worked maintenance while I finished college,” he says. “I commuted and worked at the Bloomer Club.”

In college, Mike met his wife, Nancy. She has unselfishly shared him with us for the entirety of their marriage. After finishing school at Eastern Michigan University, Mike briefly returned to his home Club as its gym director, and then moved on to the Highland Park Club where he stayed for 12 years. First, as the Citizenship Leadership Development director (a position now known as Program Director), and later as the Club’s director in 1996.

By 1980, Detroit was recovering from a severe case of white flight (down to 34% of the city’s population from 55% just a decade earlier) and had yet to recover from the riots of the 1960s. This was the era Mike Brown found himself in while at BGCSM’s Highland Park (now Fauver-Martin) Club.

“Ike Hoover (Club director) gave me a lot of free reign,” Mike says of his time in Highland Park. We taught the kids about the entertainment aspects of WWE and actually let the kids dress up like their favorite wrestlers,” Mike says.

Former Highland Park Club Director, Ike Hoover

Even then, BGCSM youth were leading the way forward. During the time of Converse, denim and hip hop, the Club hosted its own circus and DJ club.

“Ike even encouraged me to run a circus from the Club because one of the previous staffers had had success some time ago and no one else had done one since,” Mike reminisced. “We practiced all summer, held dress rehearsals and had about 22 acts, including a ringmaster.”

That ringmaster was Ricky Blalock, a Club kid who would go on to write and produce for CNN before becoming CEO of SNAG Enterprises.

The DJ club that then-director Hoover hosted in the Highland Park gym taught the art of playing and mixing music to about 20 youth, each week. They even had a simulated radio show allowing the kids to hone their hosting skills.

While he saw the benefit of the program, Mike didn’t actually teach the kids their musical skills. The DJ club was created and taught by then 9-year-old Reggie Reg Davis. Davis sharpened his skills so much that he got his first job in radio at age 14 at WGPR Detroit.

Reggie Reg Davis
Photo: Michigan Chronicle

“When I was 7, I had a dream that I was in a room about the size of ours (at the Club) at a console and a microphone,” Davis remembers. “Because at that dream and the Boys & Girls Club, I stayed out of the streets and followed my dream.”

Davis would continue in Detroit radio for over 30 years, becoming one of the city’s beloved voices and personalities. He then served the city politically as a Wayne County Commissioner, helping to write the Detroit’s charter.

Blalock and Davis aren’t the only notable BGCSM alumni to pass through Club doors on Mike Brown’s watch. Taylor Boykins started attending BGCSM when she was in elementary school.

“Mike was a great role model,” says the accomplished mezzo soprano. “He gave me my first-ever job, exposed me to what we now know as ‘dad jokes’…he actually ‘launched’ my singing career!”

Photo: Taylor Boykins Instagram (@rolyat_snikyob)

Both Mike and Taylor remember his encouragement for the then-teenager to sing at BGCSM’s annual Steak n Burger fundraiser. The opportunity helped to free the budding songstress of stage fright. She sang for every fundraiser she could after.

“Working with the kids has been so rewarding,” he says. “It was a lot of fun. If you include my time as a junior staffer and a volunteer, I’ve been here almost 60 years.”

There are not enough words of gratitude or praise that can be given to Mike. The dedication he has shown to both the organization and our youth is unmatched. With the perspective he has, what kind of moonshot has he dreamt up for BGCSM?

Mike (center) with champion friends

“In terms of building standpoint, we need some funding to do some major changes to this Club,” he says and hopes to see a new parking lot and roof in the future. “Working with kids, we need more staff to keep the programs available to them year-round.”

BGCSM will continue to innovate and move forward because of the work and examples Mike set throughout his career. Like most great leaders, he shies away from the spotlight and instead credits the leaders he served under with his success.

Mike’s last staff photo before retirement
Photo: Urban Content Studios

“Charles “Buzz” Steffes was the gym director of my Club when I was growing up. I remember him taking me with him once to purchase equipment for the gym and it meant so much to me,” Mike says. “Who knew I would end up working as a gym director one day too?”

Steffes would go on to lead in the organization as a Club director and then later as a Regional director. Mike also credits former BGCSM president and CEO, Joe Kozo and executive VP Ray Jurczyk.  Former Club directors Nathan Rebeck, Tim Kowalski, and Jack Calvert also helped Mike to become the man and the leader he is today.

Mike, we thank you for the time, hard work, love and support you’ve given to BGCSM over the years. Your spark as a child ignited into a career that has truly made a difference – and where it counts most – in your own backyard. May your next chapter be greater than any you’ve already written!

Do you have a passion for working with youth? Consider volunteering in your neighborhood Club or working with us today!

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