Craig Coney has always held Flint and its citizens close to his heart. Throughout his life, the city was there to support him spiritually, socially and financially. He has lived his entire life here and owes a lot to the mentors and institutions that helped keep him on the right path. The thought of leaving the city has never crossed his mind. “The Flint community has always been good to me,” he says. “It made me who I am. My family was here and I always wanted to be close to them.”
It should come as no surprise that, as soon as he was able, Coney began to give back to Flint. One of the ways he engages with the community is through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Flint and Genesee County, where he has been a Big Brother for over 45 years. “Due to changing city dynamics and the increase in single parent homes, more people were requesting mentors,” he explains. “When I was young, Flint Community Schools had great after-school programs like square-dancing, sewing or athletics. The kids would sign up and instructors mentored them without even knowing it. I, myself, had many mentors along the way. My father and first cousin really made a difference and my basketball coach was another influence. I want to give that kind of guidance to today’s kids.”
Born in 1951, Coney grew up on 9th street on Flint’s south side and attended Flint Central where he became a basketball standout playing for Coach Clif Turner. He went on to play at Oakland University where he graduated with a degree in sociology. He immediately high-tailed it back to Flint and started his first job as Friend of the Court for Genesee County. He retired from that role in 1992, then worked with the BBBS organization and headed Genesee County Michigan Works! until his retirement in 2017. In 2002, he was inaugurated into the Greater Flint Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements in both basketball and table tennis. Still active with BBBS, he serves on the boards of the Flint YMCA, Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame, and Kearsley Manor Senior Housing, while also remaining active in his local church community. “I’m busier now than when I was working,” he laughs.
“Working with BBBS has been one of my life’s most rewarding experiences. Mentors get as much out of it as the mentees do.”
Recently, Coney was honored to host this year’s BBBS (virtual) Mentoring Inspiration Event themed “The Movement. The Moment. The Mentorship.” He considers his work with BBBS as one of his life’s most rewarding experiences. “Mentors get as much out of it as the mentees do,” he states. “The focus is to guide that young person to always try to do the right thing. Sometimes you have success and sometimes you do not. Just do the best you can.” BBBS pairs a “big” brother or sister with a “little” brother or sister. The organization also matches couples with a single Little, usually male. When mentoring, Coney says that it is important to find something that you and your mentee have in common. For his current Little, basketball is the key. “We both love basketball and we go to games all over the community. Mott, Beecher, Grand Blanc, anywhere,” Coney says. “He has become quite a celebrity at Mott. We got to know the coaches, team and athletic director. It’s a big deal to him.”
Throughout his 45-years of involvement with BBBS, Coney has mentored countless young men, nearly always impacting their lives for the better. “The kids just need someone to look up to. Young people don’t always show feelings, but you can see progress being made,” he shares. “They may not know how to act in certain social situations, but the more you help them, the more confidence they have later. Progress will occur.” Coney does his best to maintain his relationships after the mentees graduate high school and age out of the program. There are two he is in constant contact with – one living a promising life in Lansing and another finding success right here in Flint. “It was great to introduce him to my current little brother,” he adds.
Coney says that becoming a mentor at BBBS is easy and rewarding. “You undergo a background check, home check and orientation where you are given the rules,” he informs. “It’s a minimal commitment of one hour a week, but you will probably end up giving more. All you have to do is contact BBBS to make it happen.”
Through all of Flint’s good and bad years, Coney has seen everything and he is impressed with today’s young people and the city’s trajectory. “All these young people are getting involved in politics and entrepreneurship and the best part is that they are staying. They are staying right here in Flint and making the community strong,” he says. “All we need to do is give them something to aspire to in this city and it is happening. The future is bright! We are getting more diverse and getting more opportunities. My family is an example. We do our best to give back to the city. I have one daughter who graduated from Ferris State and now works at the Flint Institute of Music, and the other works in the pharmacy at Hamilton Community Health Network. They could have left but both wanted to be in Flint. It’s in our family. My wife, Lennetta, is president of The Foundation for Mott Community College. We all love Flint.”
As for the future, Coney can’t see a time when he’s not active in the community and urges anyone to do the same. “I hope I am able to hit 50 years at BBBS,” he says. “I am going to give back to Flint for as long as I can.”
If you are interested in becoming a big brother or big sister, please contact BBBS at 810.235.0617 or visit bbbsflint.org.