Young intelligent people with potential and promise, in need of more opportunity, trapped in the day-to-day struggles of racial and class oppression, are often left at the margins of society.
The drive of Tutankhamum “Coach” Assad lay here, in these realities that link the fate of young residents of Meadowood, a neighborhood on the southside of Madison.
Assad founded the The Mellowhood Foundation, in 2012, in the context of love and community to create more opportunities for underprivileged children and young adults.
As a father of two sons, Assad finds strength in imagining a bright future for them, and other young folks in Mellowhood.
Young people, Assad said, are “incredibly engaged children with a lot of energy but not a sense of direction.”
After seeing many young folks without much structure in their life, Assad set out to change that. To do so, he built an organization that helps young adults feel like they have worth; that they can achieve and be proud of who they are and the work they do.
“If we create initiatives that clearly are within the grasps of the children [and are] easily obtainable but still hard to achieve then you have a group of brilliant young children,” Assad said.
The mission of the Mellowhood Foundation provides children and young adults with opportunities to have fun while building self-confidence and pride in their community. In 2012, the foundation sponsored a flag football league in partnership with a community center in Mellowhood, which included two major rules: 1) no cussing; and 2) no fighting. Players learned to respect the ideal of fairness and to respect the process of the game, even when it seems the game is far from fair. In this way, perseverance in struggle became a key lesson of the league.
Players were also asked to clean the space used for their flag football games, which attests to Assad’s vision about providing a sense of accomplishment to young folks.
Since 2012, the flag football league has expanded to include five communities. Because of the success of the league, Assad is looking to start a basketball league with the same stipulations as the flag football league.
Another part of the Mellowhood Foundation is the work opportunities they have created for students. The foundation started a youth workforce program where students work about “12 hours a week and requires them to conduct themselves in a positive way in the neighborhood,” Assad said.
The foundation pays young folks a dollar more than minimum wage to teach the students the value of hard work. The pay scale also highlights the difficulty of trying to survive on minimum wage job, and the importance of doing well academically. Currently, there are twenty students employed year-round.
When looking toward the future, Assad’s five-year plan focuses on providing programming to youth aged seven to 17. He’s looking to build the next generation of leaders in Mellowhood; folks who after college will come back to the area and manage parts of the program.
“[We’re] changing the way we incentivize and changing the way these youths earn because a lot of the older youths that aged out of our [program] come back to be leaders and management. We’re changing the financial structure so they can earn more money and be leaders and be models for the younger people,” Assad said.