Michael Hardat is a senior at Hoover High School. He began going to Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM) programs when he was in kindergarten. In the fourth grade, as a participant in The Haven after school program, Michael wrote in a letter to Iowa legislators, “Dear Legislators, my mom would like a raise. My mom works hard and doesn’t come home until 11:00 at night and gets $9 an hour and gets her check every Friday. Soon we won’t be able to get school supplies. Your friend, Michael, 9 years old.”
From an early age Michael was wired for justice. As a fifth grader he and a classmate led a campaign, culminating with a community event to raise funds to help build the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. and make a gift in Dr. King’s name to ChildVoice International’s work in Uganda (an effort that began when they heard at school about the needs of children in Africa and at CFUM about the building of the memorial). In October 2011 Michael and his classmate were in attendance at the dedication of the memorial! Included in the memorial is a series of fourteen quotes from Dr. King. When asked to stand by the one that resonated most with him for a photo, Michael chose this quote. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
Even as an eighteen-year-old, Michael is making those commitments. He is beginning his second year of employment at Scottish Rite, he is president of the Brother to Brother chapter at his school, he is a participant in the Backyard Boyz High School Mentor program taking leadership in “Future: the Alternative F Word” teen pregnancy prevention campaign and the “Mural Project”—a grassroots, youth-led effort to install a mural on the side of the 100 year-old building on 6th Avenue where CFUM gender specific programs meet (called The Future Site). Michael has participated in the rigorous demands of Science Bound since the eighth grade. He also takes very seriously his role as big brother to Quayvon, an active eighth grade Backyard Boy.
When Michael began middle school his father was convicted of a felony drug charge and deported to Guyana, South America. Although Michael has lived with his single mom most of his life, the deportation of his father was devastating. At a critical time in his life the Backyard Boyz became particularly significant in his life. When asked how the Backyard Boyz has made a difference in his life Michael responded:
Every difference. If I wasn’t in Backyard Boyz and CFUM what would I be doing? I know kids my age who are in jail, who have babies. If I weren’t going to CFUM, with help to go down the right path, guidance of a father figure (former Program Coordinator and current Life Coach, Nate Kirstein), where would I be? CFUM helped raise me. The Backyard Boyz was another family with Austin and Ricardo like my brothers. The Backyard Boyz showed me what’s out there in the world, like the trip we took to South Dakota. We saw the Badlands and mountains, we heard the story of Wounded Knee and got a respect for the land. The work is intensive, but it has major payout. I wouldn’t have been in Science Bound without the Backyard Boyz. It is one door to many paths.”
When asked what he would say to the boys in the 5th Grade Crew at CFUM to encourage their participation in Backyard Boyz, Michael said, “I don’t know where to begin. Backyard Boyz is going to take you somewhere—I don’t know where—but somewhere powerful, motivating, that will live within you forever. It is a way out of the everyday life. The Backyard Boyz changes you. Wherever you go—at school, in other organizations, in the community, you stand out as a leader.”
Michael has been accepted at Iowa State University. He is still considering career options. “Whatever I do I want to give back. I would like to earn enough money to open up programs like CFUM and the Backyard Boyz other places. Maybe South America. I’ve seen how hard it is for kids where my dad lives.”