Breakfast of Champions: Michael Goar
The 3-time lottery winner tracks his path to Big Brothers Big Sisters
Jun 27, 2017

Words by Nichelle Brunner  | Photos by Josh Olson

Standing in the large meeting room at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities in St. Paul, one could easily feel lost. The floor to ceiling glass windows and open space creates an environment that is inviting, but also the feeling that you are one among many.

How could a person command attention in this room?

Enters Michael Goar. Walking into the space confident and relaxed, he got the attention of YNPN Leadership Breakfast attendees without saying a word. The conversations around the room ceased as the Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO introduced himself.

Following his introduction, Michael had each young professional introduce themselves. He listened attentively and was extremely perceptive to each attendee’s response. Focusing on his mannerisms, it’s clear to see how the CEO was once a former educator and school superintendent.

Winning Three Lotteries

To start the breakfast off, Michael highlighted his “strange journey” to Big Brothers Big Sisters with a story about winning three lotteries and how early mentors helped prepare him for his current position.

“My journey to getting here is strange for me because this [non-profit industry] is not my world, but there were areas in my life where mentoring made a difference.”

Michael said that the first lottery of his life happened when he was ten years old in South Korea, where he was placed in an orphanage specifically for biracial children. “This guy named Sergeant Singley came into my life. He decided, as an African American G.I., that he would visit our orphanage. Someone who looks like us, made time for us—and that made all the difference for the kids, and that made all the difference for me.”

A few years later, Michael was adopted by a Minneapolis couple. When he entered high school, he won his second lottery.

“I had a coach who encouraged me to do more than I was doing and really pushed me to go to college. His name is George Myer and he became a mentor because he made me believe I was capable of things I thought I wasn’t capable of doing.”

Michael didn’t win his third lottery until graduate school. Though Dr. Carol Johnson was his third mentor, she is the one who has guided him the longest. Michael described her as his “third mother.”

From public schools to the nonprofit world

After graduate school, Michael dove into his career. As Michael began to outline his career path from public schools to his current position, he held up his iPhone. He wove a story of the significance of his iPhone during his public school journey and how that directly correlated to his significance as a human being.

“This piece of technology,” Michael said waving the iPhone, “defined so much of who I was. So when I moved to nonprofits and my phone wasn’t ringing all the time, I felt less important.”

With this anecdote, Michael talked about his experience working within the public school system. He started with Minneapolis Public Schools as a leader in K-12, then left for Memphis, Tennessee to become the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Memphis City Schools. After that, he left for Boston to become the Deputy Superintendent of Boston Public Schools.

Michael remained in that position for nine years, before returning to the Twin Cities to become the founding executive director of Generation Next. Later, he returned to Minneapolis Public Schools to become the CEO.

Then he received a call from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, the largest and oldest mentoring agency in the region.

Bridging the gap

When an attendee asked Michael why he took the job to become CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, Michael explained the importance of having mentors who look like him.

“Nonprofits are not my world, but having kids who look like me, who have a mentor is important. Kids are in school for five to six hours of the day, with instruction from teachers. The nonprofit world takes up for the other nineteen hours. Being in this position, I am able to be a champion who guides not only mentors, but also kids, and make a difference.”

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