Mike Long, Sailing Against the Wind
Published on August 21st, 2016
by Carrie Seidman, Herald Tribune
Michael Long wasn’t a bad kid, just too smart for his own good. His tumultuous early years were split between the opposing worlds of his divorced parents, in Sarasota, FL. Spurred by a lack of money, he became a kleptomaniac, starting small with clothing, phones and wallets and escalating to credit cards, guns and cars. Accumulating charges got him kicked out of high school as a sophomore and placed in a juvenile justice program. But the woman who admitted him, recognized one thing: “Honey, you don’t belong here.”
“I always thought I was smarter than my peers,” says Long, now 24 and dressed in a pressed shirt and lace-up shoes in advance of a business meeting. “Not book-wise, but more methodical, thoughtful, not as reactive. When I was put in the program I remember thinking, ‘Is this who people really think I am?’”
“It was a clean slate, a slate I didn’t want,” he says. “But the change gave me an opportunity to develop a new identity. I got obsessed with self-improvement. Everything I did was about how do I distance myself from my record and become a success?”
Miserable, but determined, he cut off past friends, didn’t socialize and focused on classes and grades. When his first choice, New College of Florida, rejected him, he petitioned for reconsideration and got in. There he found kids with “completely different lives, who were 1,000 times smarter than me.”
While still at New College, Long started a mentorship program matching his peers with at risk kids at Booker High School, using two-person sailboats to forge the connection.
“Everything you do concerning education comes back to relationship and that relationship will determine every person’s outcomes,” he says. “So the boat ended up being, unintentionally, a really innovative tool.”
Well before graduating in 2014 with a degree in public policy, Long had established Sail Future, a501c3 to use sailing as a spark for transformational change. But his target market was not the relatively benign high school population.
“I got an idea to break kids out of jail and make the boat an alternative to incarceration,” he says. “We lock kids up for really stupid reasons. I wanted to build something more and make a statement. Why are we putting kids in prisons and not on boats?”
Though a combination of luck and initiative, he inherited a 65’ yacht, “Defy the Odds,” that could sleep 10 to 12. Two problems: It was in terrible shape. And it was in Turkey. Long and a friend flew to Ankara, put $80,000 on credit card to fix it up and ran charter trips for donors to pay off the debt. Then he convinced officials in several states to hand over nine juvenile offenders with a lurid assortment of felony charges.
While the goal he’d fixated on, having the team participate in a 3,000-mile, 20-day “Sail for Justice” across the Atlantic, didn’t come to pass, turning lives around by giving participants a “sense of purpose” did. – Full Story.