Bethany alumnus Alfonso (Fonzie) Mayfield is driven by a desire to affect change for people in his community.
Mayfield grew up in the urban Milwaukee. It’s well documented that inner city Milwaukee has its problems, and opportunities for Mayfield in the Milwaukee public school system were muted. Through an opportunity to open enroll at suburban Brookfield Central; Mayfield was able to experience education and life outside of the inner city neighborhood he was raised in.
“My mom always encouraged us to seek out more education,” explained Mayfield. “She was a big influence, and she always told us to get out of our comfort zone.”
So that’s what Fonzie Mayfield did while attending Brookfield Central, and along the way he developed exceptional basketball skills as well. The love for the sport of basketball ran in the family. A brother had played for Purdue University, Fonzie and another brother also had the skills to play the game at the collegiate level as well. That ability on the court led Mayfield to Bethany. Getting to Bethany was the interesting part.
Mayfield knew that he always wanted to go to college. His mom stressed education continuously. The problem, explained Mayfield, was that he really hadn’t put much thought into how that was going to happen.
“It’s funny to me now, but I didn’t know what [going to college] really meant and what steps I needed to take in order to get there. I thought that going to college was the natural next step, and so I didn’t even fill out any applications—I didn’t know that was necessary. If it hadn’t been for basketball, I may not have gone at all. I was very fortunate.”
Mayfield’s family convinced him that he at least ought to take a look at Bethany. So, Alfonso, his mom, and brother made the six-hour trip to Mankato to see what this place was all about.
After spending a day on campus, Mayfield still wasn’t’ sure. It took a little encouragement from his family, mostly from his mother to convince him to “step out of the comfort zone.” Somewhat reluctantly, and with the idea that his brother was going to attend with him and play basketball, he enrolled at Bethany in the fall of 2002.
“My brother was supposed to come with me, but actually, the day before we were supposed to leave, he decided to go to the community college in Brainerd, where he got a scholarship to play basketball. I was devastated. I was in this brand new place, all by myself and I was miserable. I received a very, very warm welcome, but I was terrified to be away from home. I didn’t want to be away from my family. I wasn’t very big on change. For the first couple of weeks, I didn’t want to leave my dorm room.”
If it wasn’t for some teammates who made a point to reach out, Mayfield explained that he might not have come out of his room those first few weeks on campus.
Those experiences with teammates helped Mayfield through the social adjustment, but then there were the classes—Another fear that needed conquering.
Mayfield explained, “College classes were a lot different than high school. They were small, they were tough.”
But unlike his high school of 1500 students, there was a big difference with the college classes he was taking at Bethany. That difference was the factor that helped him become comfortable and succeed in the classroom.
“I learned to talk with my professors. I asked the questions that helped me understand. And the professors at Bethany were so open to that. I developed close relationships with many of my professors, and they all helped me a lot.”
Positive role models in the classroom and on the basketball coaching staff began to affect the way Mayfield looked at life. His outlook, desire, and drive took off in the way that he hoped it would.
Mayfield talks candidly about what life was like in Milwaukee and the contrast to his experience at Bethany.
“Growing up, I was used to an impoverished home and community, and I was used to unhealthy relationships—as I look back, I can call it that now. I was used to single parent families, to abuse, crime, and drugs. And that wasn’t present in Mankato, and I started to look at life a little bit differently. I began to ask all these questions: Maybe the way that I was brought up wasn’t right, maybe the things I saw weren’t right?”
It’s not that he didn’t feel loved at home in Milwaukee, or that things were so awful, but it was what he experienced at Bethany that set his course in a direction that brought him onto a path of success both on the court where he was an All-Region and All-American, in the classroom, and now in his work helping others find their places in life.
“The biggest impact was that I started to see professional men—family men—and how they interacted. I can’t really say that I had a positive role model growing up. There were men that I looked up to—mostly my brother. But other than that they were people that I could never get a hold of: celebrities, movie stars, and artists. I didn’t have that positive influence when I grew up: the men in my life were alcoholics, pimps, and drug dealers—they were abusive. There were no happily married couples in my family, or even in my view. But when I was in Mankato, I began to see that. I began to see men with dreams. I began to see men take care of their kids and be loving husbands. It was beautiful, but as simple as it may seem, it was brand new to me. I really admired it.”
“After my first year at Bethany, I was happy to have gotten out the city and be in college. Now, when I look back at it, it was the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
Mayfield graduated from Bethany in 2007, and while he felt ready to take on the world, he struggled a bit with just what it was that he wanted to do. His degree from Bethany was in business administration, and he was offered and accepted a management job with the Kohl’s department store company. He enjoyed the new challenge, was making a comfortable living, he even dreamed of taking his knowledge and management experience and starting a business of his own. Then reality hit. His source of encouragement and support, his mother, was experiencing some serious health issues.
“My mom had been sick for most of my life: she battled cancer, and even though she beat that, she was always in the hospital. My mom was our support system. If it hadn’t been for her, we wouldn’t have had much. So I quit my management job at Kohl’s, and moved back to Milwaukee to take care of my mom. I began working with a marketing company, working for clients like Sears and other companies. Afterwards, I went back to retail and managed a clothing store. Again, I was thinking: This is good, it will help me run my own business some day.”
“I was working there for a little less than a year, and then my mom passed in 2010, which hit our family very, very hard. My mom was the glue for our family—she brought everyone together, and everyone admired her. During that time, I left the clothing store, because I just wasn’t happy there. A friend of mine told me about a position at the Boys and Girls Club. I’d always wanted to do something for my community, my neighborhood and neighborhoods like mine, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. The position was a significant pay cut, but I needed to do something different. So I went for it, and I began working with high school kids, helping secure internships and jobs for them, and giving them training and workable skills. It was great—I loved it! I fell in love with those kids, and I fell in love working with them, and I said: Okay, well this is something that I can do.”
Mayfield spent a couple of years working with the Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee, but as he recalled the experience fondly, he knew that Milwaukee wasn’t his home any longer. He not only lost his mother, but also a brother, and an aunt.
Mayfield packed a trailer and moved to the Twin Cities without a job, but with the knowledge that he loved working with kids. He wanted to continue making a difference for others. He was aware of an organization called Urban Ventures, and looked into an opening with them. The offer didn’t come right away, but eventually, he did hear from them and was offered a job, albeit the not the one he was hoping for.
“I wasn’t working with kids but with adults who had some sort of barrier to employment, whether it was addiction, lack of skills, or a previous conviction.”
Once again, the experience of helping others proved to be something Mayfield really enjoyed. He was promoted twice: first from job developer to supervisor, and then to director. Mayfield stayed busy with this work, and also became involved with community initiatives including Oasis for Youth, an organization that finds resources for homeless youth. After three years with Urban Ventures, he wanted to get back to working with kids and started a new position as a director with Rêve Academy, helping set up student-run businesses. It was another great fit for Mayfield, he was happy to work with students, while also calling on some of his business training and knowledge. This experience eventually brought Mayfield to a new venture with 180 Degrees in St. Paul. 180 Degrees, like the other organizations that Mayfield has helped exists to “assist clients achieve their full potential.” This includes work with youth advancement programs, family support programs, and residence programs for trafficked girls, and adult men re-entering society from correctional facilities.
Mayfield is also actively building his own start-up non-profit called SAFE Homes. SAFE is an acronym for Saving Adolescents From Endangerment. He’s just launched this venture, and is actively building the program from the ground up. His project is detailed at www.safehomesn.com.
“I decided a while ago that I wanted to be a role model for inner city youth. I wanted to be that guy that I saw when I went to Mankato. That someone who can inspire kids, and that tells them that they can be more than their past. And that’s the truth. It’s tough hearing that when you are kid in the inner city, because you don’t see it, and it doesn’t become real to you. A lot of the issues and the problems you see in the inner cities stem from fatherless homes, and that’s another reason why I want to be that role model for all sorts of kids. I am not trying to be someone else’s dad, but I want to be that positive male influence. It takes commitment, and it takes the willingness, and if we just begin to think in those ways, we can start to break our own cycles.”
And all the while Mayfield was building his passion and career helping others, he found the time earn his MBA. He received his master’s from Cardinal Stritch University in 2014. As was the case with enrolling at Bethany, Mayfield was inspired, encouraged to earn that master’s by his mother.
“I want to do all I can to provide for my own family. Being a father is the most important job on this earth.”