For Mike Coleman ’88, giving back is part of his DNA. Following his graduation from Wilmington Friends, Mike has remained a fixture at the School as a coach, a mentor, a volunteer, and a financial supporter. Throughout his 23-year stint at the YMCA in Wilmington, running youth sports leagues and summer camps, he refined his skills in youth development, skills he’s brought to his work at Wilmington Friends. “I loved my time at the YMCA,” Mike explained. “It really helped me to understand a lot about youth development, and also helped me hone my relationship building skills.”
Mike has been coaching at Friends for decades, and feels that coaching is a real opportunity to connect with young people. “I love coaching. I think about it more as mentorship than anything,” he said. “I always looked up to the coaches I had in youth leagues and at WFS, and so I try to bring that same mentality to my coaching.” Being able to be a mentor, particularly for students of color, has been most rewarding to him. “When (students of color) can see someone like them who went to the School and can understand what they’re going through, that’s an opportunity for me to really make a difference in a kid’s life.”
With that said, Mike is well aware that Friends, like all schools, is not perfect, and he acknowledges that he had tough times as a student of color at Friends. He believes the tough times at Friends, the times of discomfort, were important to his growth, helping him to navigate uncomfortable situations throughout his career .“I would never trade my experience at WFS, the good or the bad,” he said. “And there was certainly more good than bad.”
As a member of the recently formed Black Alumni Advisory Council, Mike is hopeful that he and his fellow alumni can act as a sounding board to help students of color and their families navigate life at Friends. He hopes to help develop a system where kids and their parents or guardians can connect with alumni and engage in dialogue about their experiences. “I’m proud of the work we’ve undertaken as a School community,” he said. “It’s my hope that we get to a point where, when it comes to equity and inclusion, we’re not working on it anymore, we’re just there.”
When asked what is special about Friends, and why it remains such an important part of his life, Mike pointed to the rigors of academics and athletics. “Friends made me work harder, pushed me to give more academically and athletically than I ever thought I could give,” he said. “When I went to pursue my Masters degree, I really leaned on the skills and lessons I learned from WFS to get me through.” He also highlighted the interconnectedness of our community as something unique to Friends. Networking and relationship-building are important in every facet of our lives, he explained. “The Friends connection is always a great foundation to start a relationship.” Wilmington Friends is grateful to Mike for all that he’s done and continues to do in support of the School, in support of young student-athletes at Friends, and in support of the larger Wilmington community. He truly sets an example by letting his life speak.