Will Green, executive director of Mentoring Positives, is a humble man and he tries hard to stay under the radar with the tremendous work he does with young people in the Madison community.
But earlier this week, Forward Community Investments announced that Green was the recipient of their annual “March for Justice” Award made in memory of Nan Cheney, a tireless advocate for social justice in Madison. Green was selected over numerous Madisonians doing great work in the community.
You’re not going to be able to fly under the radar anymore, Will Green. You’re on the radar now.
“Bro, I was just talking to my wife about this,” Green laughs. “When you’ve been on the ground for so long, it just takes one recognition for the greater community to recognize you. And then they think you’re new, but you have 15 years under your belt.”
Green has gotten awards before, but this is a big one.
“Yes, sir! Yes, it is. I got a call from [Forward Community Investments President] Salli [Martyniak] and I was like, ‘Gosh, man. Why is Salli calling me in the evening time? What’s going on?’ She told me, ‘We’re going to give you the Nan Cheney Award’ and I was like, ‘that’s kind of crazy!’ Of course, I am very honored,” Green says. “You never expect to get awards like this, you just do the work every day.”
Forward Community Investments (FCI) is a statewide community development investment organization that aims to reduce disparities. They provide support and funds for “on the ground” organizations that work for issues like affordable housing, economic development and social services — things that Cheney was passionate about.
“When I asked people who was that one person in our community who led with courage, conviction and passion but whose accomplishments were not always given the spotlight they deserve, the person who rose to the top was always Will,” Martyniak says. “Now, it’s our privilege to shine the spotlight on Will.”
The annual award was inspired by Nan Cheney, a passionate social justice advocate who once traveled to Selma to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cheney hit the front lines at immigration reform rallies and helped found the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice and the Social Justice Center.
“I didn’t know Nan Cheney, personally, but so many of my friends knew her and have been talking about her to me,” Green says. “Her working with Martin Luther King, traveling to Selma, Alabama, and fighting for social justice … to be a part of that – that’s what the struggle is about.
“It’s real out here, bro, for people of color and that fight for social justice,” he adds. “I’m just going to keep fighting that good fight to change the dynamics of what is going on out there. That’s what Nan Cheney was fighting for, and that’s what I try to do.”
This will be the second year that this award has been presented. Dr. Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano of Dane County, was the inaugural recipient of FCI’s “March for Justice” Award last year.
“Karen won it last year. That was big. Remind me, I got to give her a call,” Green laughs. “I’m honored to follow her. We’re two individuals who are doing the work and walking the walk.”
Green is well-known on Madison’s east side for being the girls’ high school basketball coach for Madison La Follette. For the past 14 years, he has been the executive director of Mentoring Positives, a nonprofit that mentors and guides youth in Madison’s Darbo neighborhood.
“Right now, we’re just focused on our entrepreneurship. We are at all Metcalfe’s right now and we’re at all Willy Street Co-ops. We’re at Regent Street Co-op now,” Green says of Mentoring Positives’ Off the Block products – salsa and pizza – that are helping to teach the young people he works with about entrepreneurship and business. “I’ve hired a teen that was in my boys’ basketball group over in Darbo and he runs all of my demos right now. He’s our sales guy. It’s nice to have a young man coming up through the program and now we’ve hired him.”
Green and Mentoring Positives’ young entrepreneurs have grown and harvested an acre of tomatoes and peppers to produce a large quantity of salsa (and now, pizza) to sell to help support the program. The youth branded the product “Off the Block” because they saw the project as a way to keep them out of trouble in their neighborhood. Sale proceeds of the salsa and pizza go towards supporting the work of Mentoring Positives.
“The [Off The Block] Pizza will be at the public market when that finally does open up so we’re hoping to solidify our spot in that space to sell our pizza and the salsa, too,” Green says. “My key goal is to push these products right now and get kids jobs this summer. They are going to be doing this with us.”
Everything Green does – and every award he receives – he dedicates to his mom, Muriel Pipkins, whose initials “M.P.” were the impetus for Mentoring Positives. Green’s mom died of breast cancer at the young age of 46. Every year, Mentoring Positives presents a Muriel Pipkins Award in her honor given to someone in the Madison community that exhibits compassion, empathy, caring, nurturing, integrity and dedication among numerous other great qualities.
“My mom put everything on the line for me. She had me when she was 14 years old. She only had a 7th-grade education but she raised three boys without a father and did an incredible job,” Green says. “No matter how tough things got, she stayed focused on giving us the best life she could.
“She worked in a nursing home and she loved her clients. She talked about her clients that she worked with all the time,” Green continues. “I just found a love working with people, too, and giving back. Even though my mom passed, I feel like I’m keeping her energy alive in this world by what I do in my community.
“I appreciate the recognition for the Nan Cheney Award,” Green adds. “It’s also a recognition of mom. Those are her initials in Mentoring Positives – M.P. This is what she was all about. This is for her.”
Forward Community Investments will present the Nan Cheney “March for Justice” Award to Will Green at a Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center event on Thursday, May 3, 5 p.m.