All-around Seattle hero Michael “Wanz” Wansley was playing basketball at our Broadview shelter recently with a youth he volunteers to mentor. When his shot caromed into the parking lot and accidentally smashed a taillight on one of the cars, Wanz jumped into action.
He immediately went to the office to ask whose car it was, and ordered a replacement part for their car, all with his mentee at his side. Owning up, fixing a problem you’ve caused, doing the right thing – these were all lessons Wanz passed on that day. It’s an anecdote that captures one of Wanz’s most important learnings: the importance of experience.
Since stepping in last minute to perform at Solid Ground’s 2015 Building Community Luncheon, Wanz – an author and grammy award-winning musician – has volunteered with the organization in numerous ways. Perhaps most profound is his devotion to mentoring youth at Broadview, Solid Ground’s shelter and transitional housing program for women and children who are domestic violence survivors. I caught up with him there to talk about what drives him to volunteer with us, and how he lives life to the fullest.
Growing from his own experience is what makes Wanz so eager to mentor youth at Broadview. He also sees the lack of learning from experience as a root cause to many challenges we face as a society today, both in Seattle and around the world. Experience makes the world go around for Wanz – and for him, it is vital to understand how our experiences mold us if we want to get the best out of ourselves and others.
He divides experience into two categories: communicating your own, and accepting others’. It’s also important to acknowledge that everyone lives unique lives and has different perceptions based on their individual experiences. No matter how clear something seems to you, it doesn’t mean that it is the only way of looking at it.
Wanz sums this up perfectly by observing that, “you can put an egg on the table and some people will see an omelet, some people will see a chicken, but at the end of the day, it’s just an egg.”
He feels it’s extremely important to share your experiences, because that is how people learn. This is what drives Wanz as a mentor: He provides kids with opportunities to learn from his experience and make informed choices based on them. Leading by example, the kids he connects with get real life lessons, ranging from how to deal with people and situations, to growing and shaping their futures.
We both concluded that leading by example is one of the most important things people in positions of power can do – yet from parents to politicians, this is often overlooked. Wanz also has a lot to say about listening to the experiences of others. Nobody has a wrong experience, and unless you have also lived that experience, you have to respect where others are coming from and learn from them.
“You can’t tell me how it is to live life as a person of color because you’ve never been a person of color, just like I can’t ever tell any woman how life as a woman really is, because I’ve never actually been a woman.”
Wanz praises Solid Ground and similar organizations for offering chances for people to give back. He adds that more people should take the opportunity too, as it is so easy to make a difference in lives through mentoring and volunteering. “How can someone improve their life and grow as a person if they have nobody to learn or draw experience from? How can someone say that homelessness isn’t a problem if they’ve never been homeless?” Solid Ground provides the opportunity for experience that reaches people on both sides of the spectrum.
Both personally and on behalf of Solid Ground, I would like to thank Wanz for all the work he has done for the organization, and for the individuals we serve. He is truly making a positive impact in his community and in the lives of those he comes in contact with.