Perhaps what makes C.J. Green excellent, beyond the 3.5 GPA he’s maintaining at Memorial High School, where he’s in the class of 2021, and beyond his athletic prowess, is that he has a very tough story to tell and he shares it openly and with love and hope. “Hatred never gets you anywhere,” he says.
Until C.J. moved to Madison in 7th grade to live with his father, a Madison bus driver, he grew up in an abusive household—one in which he believes his mother is still caught. For that reason, C.J. works hard in school so he can attend college to get a degree in a health or mental health field, a dream he’s had since he was young enough to have one.
“What drives me everyday is this goal I created when I was younger about my mom,” he says.
“We grew up together, life sucked, we had a lot of hardships, like bullying, fights and struggles with the people who lived with us, there were police calls and mental and physical abuse. I want to be successful to help my mom not struggle anymore,” he says. “I want a better life for her.”
C.J. has come a long way from when he was five and plotted to run away from his life in Chicago. Since moving in with his father and step-mother, life has improved. He finds school a safe place and a refuge from the chaos in his head—fallout from his former life. He intentionally wears colors that changed his mood since child.
“When I was a little kid, bright colors were inside of me. To this day I like to mix a lot of bright colors and make my own. Certain colors trigger certain emotions, like yellow and pink catch my attention and change what I’m thinking.”
Now, C.J. focuses on a healthy future. He loves science and math and art and works hard to succeed academically. He’s excited about upcoming apprenticeship and internship opportunities that he attributes to his AVID teacher, Len Mormino, who he says is an important advocate.
“CJ is a driven student, especially motivated to reach his goals, possibly in the health care field. He is an independent leader, quiet and focused in the midst of the chaos that can sometimes exist with peers around him,” says Mr. Mormino. “CJ likes to take advantage learning opportunities that can benefit him. He works hard in college preparatory coursework, some at the honors and Advanced Placement level, plus CJ is likable, respectful, and a great team player.”
C.J’s also great at sports. He’s a self-proclaimed “track star”—“because I believe I’m one”—on a competitive team for which members must vie to keep the kind of positioning that C.J. maintains. His athletic talent also extends to football and wrestling, but C.J. says he’ll be smart about choosing a college based on an athletic scholarship.
“I read about a college football player doing football and nursing at the same time. That’s what I’d like to do,” says C.J. “I want to go to UW-Madison or Alabama or LSU or Clemson or Texas A&M. I’m not working toward an athletic scholarship, but if I get one I’ll most definitely go for it but first ask what does this provide me, will I get a good health career?”
Meanwhile, C.J. sees his Black Excellence as a vehicle for support, like through Black Student Union and the connections he makes there. “Black Excellence means I am not alone,” says C.J. “Like at home. I like that my dad has my back, it makes me feel warm inside.”
- Pat Dillon