Michael Ayrrion Willis, an 18-year-old junior at Michelle Clarke Magnet High School, is many things, including one of Austin’s brightest rising stars.
Willis is class president and maintains a 3.0 grade point average while juggling a very busy schedule. He is an entrepreneur and coaches the Chicago Chargers, a youth football team he founded more than three years ago.
Willis is the youngest of five and the only boy born to Janice and Michael Willis. He lives with his divorced mother and has three sisters; Julie, 25, Chiquita, 23, and 10-year-old Jazamay. His oldest sister Shywana, who would be 30, is deceased.
His mother, an entrepreneur, has owned a home daycare business in the Austin community for more than 17 years. She is a great supporter of her son and helped shape his love for and support of his community, he said.
“My mom was always involved in community events,” Willis said. “I watched her and learned how to plan events and do things right.”
Willis loves to read and write, which comes in handy as he drafts letters seeking contributions and support for his football team. He is business minded. Willis is a disc jockey and boasts being able to provide “music for any event, for any audience. I play old skol, hip hop, gospel, and more,” Willis said.
After high school, Willis plans to attend college and obtain a degree in business management. Upon finishing college, he said he hopes to return to the Austin community and continue his entrepreneurial endeavors.
“I plan to start different businesses in the Austin community, including a funeral home and music studio, and produce under my own rhythm and blues record label,” Willis said. “I also want to start a not-for-profit organization to teach young people how to be entrepreneurs.”
Willis said he started his own youth football league because he wanted to do something to help the youth of his neighborhood.
“I live on Congress and Lotus and the youths were involved in selling drugs and other bad things,” he said. “I wanted to do something positive and to help them get out of negative activities. I wanted to do something to get them off the streets. Football was something I loved and was good at, so I organized a youth football team.”
Assisted by his brother-in-law, 31-year-old Robert Rhodes, the Chicago Chargers was formed and continues to hold practice at Columbus Park. The league is open to any Austin area youth, regardless of talent.
“If they don’t know anything about football,” Willis said, “we start by teaching then the basic fundamentals of the game.”
Participants are not charged a fee for joining the league. Willis continues to hold fundraisers such as bowling and skating parties, car washes, steppers sets and youth dances to raise money.
The Chicago Chargers now have four teams involving about 60 kids between the ages of 6 and 14. Although the league is not coed, girls are recruited as cheerleaders.
Over the last three years, more than 250 players have participated in the Chicago Chargers.
As a credit to Willis’ hard work and diligence, the Chicago Chargers became part of the Pop Warner league, the largest youth football league in the United States.
“I called them and told them about my group and told them we wanted to become a part of the league,” Willis said.
As part of the Pop Warner league, the Chicago Chargers gain valuable experience playing teams from other areas.
“We played against white leagues, which often had more support and a lot more money than us,” Willis said. “Their uniforms are usually great. Ours are new, but nothing like theirs. Some of our kids have to share uniforms. We have to hem them up for the younger kids.”
The Chicago Chargers is a non-profit organization and depends on contributions and a small grant Willis has been able to obtain. As a freshman, his entrepreneur teacher, Sandra Glenn, taught him how to write grant proposals and helped him obtain his first $2,500 grant in February 2007.
Willis does get a lot of support from his family, particularly his mother and older sister, Julie, and his father, who often attends the games. Willis also gets support from the team members’ families. The head coach at Michelle Clark, and other teachers and staff, have also been supportive. Willis said he does have a wish list that includes more funding and more support from the Austin community.
When asked why he does the things he does, Willis, who admires President Barack Obama and enjoys the talents of Kanye West, said it’s because he wants to help young people. Willis said he is his own role model.
“I feel that I am the type of person who wants to do the right thing. I try to be perfect. I have always had a mind of my own,” he said.
Willis is most proud of a mentorship he formed with a young man he saw going down the wrong path and engaging in destructive behavior. Through talking to him, Willis was able to get him involved in good things and to return to school where he is now a freshman at Michelle Clark.
“I mainly talked to him and said, ‘you have a bright future. You’ve got talent,'” Willis said.
As a word of advice for other young people, he said, “Be you. Go with your mind and try and change the world for the better. Be a leader, not a follower.”