Michael Stackens knows what a great impact a mentor can have on a young person. Now, he has dedicated his life to making sure others do, too.
The former college athlete and intramural coordinator in the Department of Campus Recreation at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is a founding member of an outreach foundation named Ignite the Torch, that is focused on providing positive role models for teens.
Comprised of six college-educated, working professionals from Selmer, Tennessee, including Stackens, Eboni Crayton, RoDerrick Stackens, Perrico Robinson, PhD, Justin Atkins and Johnny Floyd, the group is on a mission to inspire and encourage high school seniors to become leaders.
“This is an exceptional movement,” said program participant Charles Atkins. “While many of our young men and women across the nation are dying, these individuals have come together for a great cause. Not for approval, but to provide inspiration and a platform.”
Stackens is no stranger to hard work and dedication, especially when it comes to sports. He has worked in the intramural/campus recreation field for nine years at UTHSC and for the University of Memphis on the main and Lambuth campuses.
He played sports — football, basketball and baseball — throughout high school. He was a defensive end on the University of Memphis’ football team for three years. Now, he plays pro-development football for the Memphis Blast in the Gridiron Developmental Football League. He is also the proud father of a seven–year-old daughter, Aniya, and has a second child on the way.
Ignite the Torch founders give motivational talks about pursuing education and attending college, share personal stories of obstacles and barriers overcome in order to attend college and graduate, and raise funds for a scholarship awarded to one young person with a compelling essay, a 2.5 GPA and an acceptance letter from a college or university.
Stackens and his partners felt it was important to first offer services in Selmer, but they intend to expand to other communities. “The current state of living in Selmer has changed for the worse in some cases, but this is nothing that you wouldn’t see in any city setting in this day and time,” Stackens said. “You see young people that have so much potential getting off the straight-and-narrow road to success, not wanting to work for anything. They want things handed to them, or they get things the wrong way. The most important area of focus for Ignite the Torch is to ‘ignite’ the minds of the youth in a positive way. Simply, we want to show them that you can conquer all things with hard work and discipline.”
In April, Ignite the Torch held its inaugural scholarship event. “We spoke about our failures, successes and changing our mindsets,” Stackens said. “We gave the youth a blueprint to help them make better, smarter decisions moving forward. We also recently presented a $1,000 scholarship to one participant, Kintevius Newsome, who will be attending Bethel University and will play on the football team.” Newsome must return to next year’s event to give a talk.
“The unique element behind this, is that it signifies the first time a group of young people from Selmer came back to share their different experiences along the road to becoming successful,” Stackens said. “Some of our members dealt with single-parent households, starting college later in life, and made decisions that could have altered the outcome.”
Stackens’ favorite aspect of being involved in the organization is sharing his story. “We like to assure them that they can make it through anything, if they start making right decisions now and work hard, regardless of their current situation.”
J. Lee Taylor, MEd, MBA, director of Campus Recreation at UTHSC, said, “Stories like this touch me at my core and restore faith in humanity. I am very proud that we have someone the caliber of Michael on our staff.”
Stackens hopes this group will become one of the top motivational groups for teens in the country. Group leaders have been in talks with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church district of north Louisiana for a possible event. Also, there have been discussions with some school-related sports teams in Selmer and surrounding areas to possibly host a sporting and team-building event.
For more information about Ignite the Torch, contact Michael Stackens at (731) 610-8164 or RoDerrick Stackens at (615) 879-9334, or go to the Ignite the Torch Facebook page.