In 2003, on the manicured grounds of the University of Richmond, Mike Gray, then a 19-year-old sophomore, felt a sense of obligation.
“I was born and raised in the city and realized there was a deep divide,” he says, especially between the wealthier West End and the more economically challenged East End. Gray decided to take a step to bridge the divide, starting with UR’s Office of the Chaplaincy.
That was the start of the Whitcomb Court Mentoring Project at the University of Richmond in partnership with St. James’ Church, a tutoring and mentoring program for children in the public housing community. That eventually merged with other efforts into the Micah Initiative. The Micah Initiative — named for the Old Testament prophet who preached social justice — grew to hundreds of student participants and was attracting volunteers of all stripes and faiths. By 2015, Micah volunteers representing 125 houses of worship had mentored 12,000 children in 23 city schools.
Gray recalls a pair of twin kindergartners who spoke a creole dialect, which was difficult for anyone, including their teacher, to decipher. “They just needed someone to sit down with them,” he says. “It was amazing how quickly we were able to build a connection.”
In 2009, Gray and his friend and business partner, Andrew Ryan, started a communications and project-management company, Commonwealth Partnerships. Today, they also manage Dogwood Real Estate Fund, which allows them to invest in projects that inspire them. The company says revenue has nearly tripled in the past three years.
Owning a business keeps Gray busy, but he prioritizes his volunteer work, especially for the Massey Alliance, which he serves as president. He’s challenged the group, which raises funds for Massey Cancer Center, to aim for its highest goal ever this year, $150,000. He’s proud of the center’s research and its global reach, but his favorite project is the Adopt a Family program, which provides a nice Christmas Day for a patient’s family each year.
“The Richmond area has evolved a great deal,” Gray says, looking back at his life here. “I think we’re on a great trajectory.”
Editor's note: This story has been clarified from the print version, which could have been read that Gray founded the Micah Initiative. Rather, he started the Whitcomb Court Mentoring Project at UR with St. James’ Church, which eventually merged into the Micah Initiative.