Photo by Todd Hido.
This story was originally published in the Autumn 2008 edition of Saint Mary's magazine.
When he was at Moreau High School in Hayward, Christopher Major ’83 accomplished a lot as the football quarterback and a baseball outfielder, along with being the first black class president. But he didn’t think much about where he would go to college.
“I had a goal for college, but not much of a plan,” he says. “I was just in the moment every day. Until the day Saint Mary’s College gave me a plan.”
That day came when the Moreau baseball team played De La Salle, and then-SMC coach Miles McAfee was in the stands.
The next thing Major knew, he was offered a baseball scholarship at Saint Mary’s. Major’s high school grades weren’t great; he remembers having a 2.6 or 2.7 GPA. But he was accepted into Saint Mary’s High Potential Program, which offers access and support services to students from historically low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Major did well at Saint Mary’s, and after graduating he spent years working in the corporate world as an insurance risk manager, loan officer and insurance agent. He now looks back at the 1980s as a time when financial success and material values were more important than helping others and giving back to the community.
In the mid-90s, Major realized that he had “hit the wall” in his career, and he decided that he wanted to work with young people. He received a teacher’s credential and taught special education students. Major dreamed of starting a small nonprofit company for disadvantaged youngsters. In 2005, he started the Hayward Youth Academy, where he is the president.
The academy provides comprehensive educational, recreational and support services for youths ages 9 to 15. The program focuses on academics, athletics, life coaching and health and nutrition support. It also provides assistance to families and guardians through community resource information and parenting workshops.
Major, who also works with the YMCA Eden Area and the Treeview Little League in Hawyard, says anyone can make a difference through volunteering with young people.
“The time you spend with kids tells them that they have value,” Major says. “I deal with a lot of wealthy kids whose parents want to write me a check. I say, ‘Write me a check, but also come down here and help the kids.’ When parents and guardians spend time with children, they start to learn more about their own kids’ fears and aspirations.”
For many years, Major wasn’t very involved with Saint Mary’s, and he had also fallen away from his Christian faith. A combination of things helped him get through his personal crisis.
In 2005, he called Pat Fox ’84, an SMC baseball teammate and his former roommate, who told him “until God touches your heart, you’re always going to be searching.” Fox also urged Major to “live an unselfish life of service.”
The same year, he saw a picture of former SMC president Brother Mel Anderson, a beloved figure for many alumni, in Saint Mary’s magazine. That photo sparked memories of Major’s years at the College.
“I said, ‘That’s when things were really cool,’ ” Major recalls, becoming choked up at how deeply touched he was at the time. “I had read about all the problems at the school, but all of the sudden I saw Brother Mel’s picture and I picked up the phone. I said, ‘Put Brother Mel in the magazine again.’ Everybody loved Mel.”
That was the beginning of the Brother Mel 50-buck Club. Some loyal alumni, including Major, send a $50 check to the College every time Brother Mel appears in Saint Mary’s magazine.
Major says that because Saint Mary’s emphasizes helping others, he has become much more active and engaged at the College. He is a member of the President’s Club and attends events like Dine with Alumni, the Summer Wine Festival, High Potential Program functions and the Reunion Weekend. His current goal is organizing his Class of 1983 to participate more fully with the College both through activities and financial support.
A passion for Major these days is senior basketball player Diamon Simpson, whom Major calls “one of Hayward’s great success stories.” Simpson, the WCC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007–08, is a graduate of Hayward High.
The Hayward Youth Academy will sponsor three Diamon Simpson nights at men’s basketball home games this year. Major is raising money to buy 300 tickets at each of those games for Hayward youngsters to see Simpson and the Gaels play.
“As these young people see Diamon, they will have a personal example of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work, both academically and athletically,” Major says.
As Major reflects on his new mission and the life experiences that have shaped him, he smiles and is enthusiastic.
“I’ve got spirituality, I’ve got support, and now Saint Mary’s is giving me an opportunity to give back some of what it gave to me.”