Mikal McKoy was assigned two jobs when he moved in with his father in 2009: Get an education, and don’t get caught in the streets. McKoy listened, pulling in a 3.7 GPA, earning admission to Albion College and, it seemed, already sounding like a success story.
But by the second semester of his freshman year, the first-generation college student was back home in Muskegon, Michigan, living with his father and working at a metal factory that made automotive parts. He held onto his dream of returning to school. Whether he could afford it, though, McKoy wasn’t sure.
Amid the uncertainty, McKoy was hit with a blow bigger than the prospect of not going back to Albion: His best friend and former high school football teammate, Quinton Miller, was shot and killed in Muskegon. The two had shared many conversations about their future plans. They hoped to play college football. They planned to earn their degrees.
McKoy became determined to return to college, for both himself and his friend. “After those conversations, it opened my eyes,” he said. “We made this commitment. Now, I have to do it.”
Miller’s death sharpened McKoy’s resolve and made him think more clearly about how to push his life forward. “I would rather work on campus, go to school and pay for it now,” he decided.
That fall, a year ago now, McKoy was back on campus. He pursued his interest in psychology and became active in causes on campus, including leading community outreach for the Black Student Alliance and serving as a mentor for new students in under-represented populations. A receiver, he rose from last to fourth on the football depth chart in 2013 and, in the spring, ran on the 400-meter relay that won the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship.
And the hard work didn’t stop there. When he wasn’t wearing Albion uniforms, McKoy helped wash them for the athletics department on the weekends. Over the summer, he worked for the campus grounds crew – mowing grass, mulching and picking up trash – and at a factory in a nearby town, until the long hours cut into his training time.
It seemed McKoy had a renewed sense of purpose.
“He really feels a calling to be of service to others, especially youth,” said Daniel McQuown, Albion College chaplain and director of global diversity. “I think he has a seriousness of life because he’s had to grow up faster than a lot of our young adults. And instead of rebelling or piddling around hoping someone would give him answers, he’s taking advantage of the opportunities and saying, ‘There are the answers.’”
McQuown has watched McKoy grow as the two have worked closely together on various campus initiatives. “Whether he’s washing towels or leading a group, I would expect him to have the same mentality of, ‘Everyone’s equal.’”
This year, McKoy landed a job as a resident assistant. When he can find time, he’s working to launch a mentoring program for elementary and middle school boys in Albion. He says he’s drawn to that “big brother role.”
“This is a great way to expose young, under-represented males to positivity, mentoring and college – and to mold them into young men,” McKoy said. “Where I’m from, most young black males are either going to jail or in gangs. That’s something I want to change.”