Michael Phillips is an education advocate and change agent, who is using his second chance to create positive change in developing social impact initiatives to solve community-based and systemic problems.
Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” At 18, Phillips, a drug dealer by default, facing a 30-year prison sentence, stood in front of a judge whose choice would affect the rest of his life.
Instead of the judge handing down a sentence, he gave Philips a choice: go to a college program for adjudicated youth or face the possibility of going to prison. Phillips chose college. In doing so, he discovered that education was the opportunity to find his purpose which changed the trajectory of his life.
The judge’s decision changed generations that allowed a kid from Baltimore’s Park Heights, to escape the school-to-prison pipeline—A trend that pushes students out of the school system and into the juvenile detention centers and the criminal justice system through a network of policies and practices within schools that criminalize youth and set them up for failure and incarceration.
“When we acknowledge the challenges and trauma certain communities face through a lens of equity, a heart of empathy, and a willingness to act with moral courage, we can create significant change,” says Phillips. “Education is the path, but we need to start with changing the system.”
Phillips who often says, “Empathy doesn’t need a lot of detail, it just needs a mirror,” meaning if you can see your life in someone else, it's easier to want to help them live a better life,” explains how his life unraveled.
“At 12 years old, my father died. It was an earth-shattering event in my life because of who he was to me. My father kept me away from the elements of the world that would entice me to take part in the environment in which I grew up.” He continues, “When he died, it forced me to lose my spiritual connection and gravitate to the street life. That was the beginning of my ‘undoing’ as a teenager however, the only thing that kept me on track was sports.”
But things would change for the worse, throwing Phillips deeper into trauma. A horrific car accident that almost took his life—lower torso caught under the dashboard and upper torso went through the windshield— would leave him without a college scholarship from a division-one school. This sent him on a spiral to a dark scenario where he “did not want to go.”
“After I lost my scholarship, I bought into the assumption that the only way I could be successful was to go back into the streets. Unfortunately, it led me to get arrested and potentially face prison.”
While waiting for his trial, he spent over six months in a cell. “When those prison doors shut, the reality that this could be my life kicked in, but my heart also opened to the possibility that I was built for more and purposed for more. And these concrete walls and cinderblocks would not be my destiny. “
Today, Phillips is living out his purpose working nonstop to help people live better lives. His determination to drive social change with lasting transformational benefits to society has led him to become an innovator and thought leader in social entrepreneurship and education.
He is the Chairman of 50CAN, a leading education advocacy group that advocates at the local level for a high-quality education for all kids, regardless of their address. He serves as a board member of KuriosEd, a non-profit, educational organization created by faith-based leaders primarily focused on servicing Black Communities.
And as the recently appointed Chief Engagement and Fulfillment Officer for the T.D. Jakes Foundation and Potter’s House, his humanitarian and philanthropic efforts continue.
“Joining Bishop Jakes and the work that he wants to do in legacy building to make sure that we’re building sustainable communities and transforming lives is an honor. I’m excited to wake up every day to help scale those efforts through his global impact.”
Making an impact is nothing new to Phillips. As an inspirational speaker, his powerful story and message of collateral hope have transformed many lives and helped to revitalize communities. In his TEDx Talk, “When Kids Learn on Broken Chairs,” an inspirational speech with over a quarter of a million views, Phillips speaks about a broken chair—a metaphor for the broken K-12 public education system in the U.S.
He explains that if the four “legs” are not intact, the “chair” will not function properly. Four legs: parents, students, schools, and communities. The inspirational speech has had over a quarter of a million views to date.
“Only when all four legs work together and are reinforced by a moral frame, will we have a sturdy enough chair for our kids to sit on. When any part of the chair is weak, kids will continue to fall.”
Phillips’ success story is the epitome of the necessity of advocacy, resources, and opportunities, for young, underprivileged students around the world. He has transformed many lives and continues to help revitalize communities.
In January 2022, he will release his book, Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: A Pardoned Man’s Escape from the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Our Mission to Dismantle It. He discusses how he reinvented himself and what his journey can teach us about turning the collateral damage in the lives of our youth into hope.
A man who has faced many hardships, he is expanding his opportunities and interrupting tragedy.
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The original article can be found in Bronze Magazine.