Almost two decades ago, Hugh Coleman and Ed Walker met on the basketball court at Charlestown High School. Coleman was a point guard and Walker was a power forward, but they bonded immediately because of their mutually aggressive playing style, and, later, the realization that they were both struggling to overcome troubled family histories.
Coleman’s mother was a drug addict; Walker’s past is equally messy, but both men went through the Boston public school system and went on to top-ranked colleges — Coleman to Bowdoin and Walker to Bates. They then each decided to return to their urban roots and help other disadvantaged youth.
“Ed is my brother,” says Coleman, 34, now an acclaimed basketball coach, who led the previously lackluster Brighton High Bengals to their first state championship game this spring. Walker, 33, in turn, credits Coleman for being a positive role model as they walked each other through many life lessons. “Neither of us had a real father figure, so we gave each other a lot of different perspectives and support,” Walker says.
After serving in admissions and college counseling roles, Walker four years ago founded Independent Consultants of Education, driven by the goal of closing the achievement gap and providing disadvantaged students with equitable access to college and knowledge. Walker also serves on the boards of the Lincoln METCO Parent Group and the Alray Scholars Program, an all-volunteer nonprofit founded by a Boston Globe reporter that helps Boston public school graduates return to college.
“There were times in my life when I needed a helping hand, especially revolving around school and education. I vowed that one day I would return that helping hand,” says Walker, who visits local high schools as a motivational speaker, inspiring students to “define their own success and dictate their own futures.”
Coleman, meanwhile, who also teaches English and business at Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester, encourages young people “to be sensitive to others and learn how to view and understand, rather than judge.”
Coach Coleman brought the Bengals to within one step of the school’s first-ever state title, but more importantly, he says, “My passion is to help young men understand how basketball can help them in their everyday lives, whether by providing discipline or learning to cope with victory and defeat.”
He and Walker sometimes still play ball together, including last year on a men’s league at a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial tournament, and both say they’re passing on what they learned as disciples of their former legendary Charlestown coach Jack O’Brien.
“As we tell our students, there’s a difference between a teammate and a team player,” says Walker. “When you join the team, you become a teammate by default, but to become a team player is to put the team before the individual. I’ve got Hugh’s back, and he’s got mine.”
Their advice to students who face the same struggles they did many years ago: “Do your very best, and whenever possible, give back to your community.”
— Cindy Atoji Keene