“When I was young, I remember that I couldn't wait until my older brother left for college. I was ready to take over his room and be in charge. It is a joke between my father and me to this day that when I was able to move into my brother’s room – it also meant taking on his chores,” jokes Solomon McGee.
Tony and Novena McGee raised their sons Dave and Solomon and daughter Shayla with a solid foundation which would equip them later in life. With concrete character traits and the wisdom laid out before him, Solomon remembers those lessons of his youth making him the man he is today as he takes his place in this world and helping our community’s youth to do the same.
“Wanting to be in charge after my brother left for college taught me that with more privilege came added responsibility. I had to tell myself, ‘slow down, don’t always push for more before you are ready to accept everything that goes along with it’,” Solomon relates.
“After a while, I looked forward to my brother coming home during holidays so that he could take back some of his own chores,” he quips.
Solomon moved to Chattanooga in 2006 after fiancé Latisha Turner convinced him of what he could bring to Chattanooga and what Chattanooga could bring to him.
“We dated for seven years; she was always talking about a nice place called Chattanooga and with me being from D.C. with the city life, she was constantly telling me about the beauty of the land in Chattanooga and the opportunities in the city, just bragging about her home town,” Sol says. “When I had visited her during the holidays, I fell in love with it myself.”
Solomon played professional ball in Europe after having obtained a basketball scholarship and playing college ball.
“I was blessed with height and given a basketball scholarship to Eastern Michigan University. That was one thing that helped me to be able to achieve my goals. Being a pretty decent player, I was able to play professionally in Europe for a few years,” Solomon declares.
In 2004 he began teaching elementary for District of Columbia public schools.
“I have a degree in recreational management and I am working on my master’s in education. I have always wanted to work with children. I am led to work with children and that is what I have been doing working for the state as a case manager and now my position with the school system for the last four years as a family resource coordinator,” he maintains.
Being a case manager I had worked with foster care and juvenile justice. I got to experience a lot of home life situations which let me see so many of the blessings that I had growing up - to be able to come from a whole family with a mother and a father. With a lot of my case load, it is either that the mother wasn’t there or the father wasn’t there - or both. Which is one thing I can say about my childhood in comparison; my parents made sure that all three of us steered in the right direction - as far as knowing what we were doing at all times. That’s probably why I do a lot of these things around here to help these parents out in the community and give their kids some of the same thing that I had,” he says.
Using his own upbringing as a measuring stick, Solomon could see what was missing in these kids’ lives. “Talking to these children, I would hear, ‘Mr. Solomon, I wasn’t like you where if I did something wrong, my father knew about it’ and many of these kids are raised by their mother alone, so being a mentor is something I want to do to help those parents and their kids,” he says. “One of my biggest blessings is to have been brought up with a strong family connection.”
Solomon is a mentor and program director for the Hamilton County Department of Education Family Engagement and Community Partnerships such as the United Way and YMCA, Parks and Rec and Chattanooga Housing Authority programs.
“One of my focal points is helping kids who suffer academically when they come into the center and to know where they need to be strengthened. I am trying to build different opportunities to help kids in the community and have taken on different projects. I have a set of tutors that I have been involved with for five years from Baylor Academy – children that excel academically. These tutors help strengthen my children in their weak areas,” Solomon says.
As well as encouraging students to have strong scholastic skills, Solomon believes these youths need to have other things that are important in their development. “A child that has worked academically all day but had no recreation – it gets tough on them, so we incorporated a program where once they do their homework they have opportunity to get into basketball or football leagues. We offer a sports package so the kids can unwind and focus on something else besides just academics. We have had a basketball team for five years and a football team going on two years,” Solomon upholds.
The United Way was eager to have someone with the vision Solomon has. “I steadily need supplies so once they saw my needs for what I am trying to do and where I am trying to go with it; they know as a school system that our hands are tied so it is all the partnerships - they come together with different ideas of how we can raise money,” he affirms.
“Before I got here, I heard that there had been no remodeling or no re-painting - nothing done in eons and one of my intentions, aside from increasing the enrollment level from 10 children to 50 children, is to make improvements. This is my site that I have to work out of every day. Once they started hearing me I didn’t realize that they were going to take a full hand in it. When they heard my speech, they were here donating supplies. The community said they hadn’t seen this for a while,” Solomon states.
“I realize that every day - it’s tough on these children; whether it is the issue of gang violence or the issue of bullying and children feeling like they aren’t accepted,” Solomon insists.
When a United Way billboard in Chattanooga had Solomon’s picture displayed, his sister Shayla proudly posted on her Facebook, “My big brother is on a billboard in Tennessee. It's not because he played basketball - though he had a successful career in high school, college and as a professional overseas; It's not because he is a model - though good looks run on all sides of our family; it's because he has always wanted to help kids who are in need, in trouble and underserved. It's because his dream has always been to run his own recreation center for kids - helping them with their studies and combining it with the discipline of athletics and the concept of teamwork so that they truly learn how to succeed. He now supervises such a center and because of his efforts he gained the attention of the United Way Campaign. Quite simply, God gave Sol a ministry with youths in need - one Sol has embraced since being a teacher and varsity basketball coach in the DC school system. And because Sol has been obedient, God is elevating Him.”
While having the upbringing he did and having such a close-knit family, Solomon doesn’t have a heart-wrenching story where he had come from the brokenness that some of these kids have endured. So what motivates him to care and to make a difference?
“Just coming to work every day and just being with the children pushes me on. There is always something they deal with every day and I just want to encourage these kids for the positive,” Solomon vows.
Staying after hours or on the weekend is nothing out of the ordinary for Solomon McGee. He is genuine and he cares. He didn’t have a ‘wrong in his own life that he is trying to make right’ – he just has a heart for these kids and wants to do what he can to make their lives improve.
“These students are our next generation and I want to see them be the best they can. I still see that there is a lot of work to be done – yes, we have accomplished a lot but there is still so much more to do and I am ready to do it,” Solomon says.
“People will talk about how much has been done and now I can relax – but I can’t relax. Every day I come in thinking – I have a job to do.”