By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Al Nuness is more than just a hall monitor at Hopkins High School.

He has had a successful career as a teacher, and an executive at Pillsbury and Jostens.

Which led him back to the classroom, where he teaches a course once a week to a group of African American sophomores and juniors called “Invictus Leadership.”

“When you look at our young people today, they need to understand what leadership is all about, and they need to understand that sense of what’s right and what’s wrong,” Nuness said.

Nuness came to Minnesota to play basketball for the Gophers in the 60s. It was a time of change in the country, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He meant a lot, and one of the many things I learned was restraint. You know, that you can get people’s attention other than simply fighting and rioting,” he said.

Al Nuness (credit: CBS)

So this course is not about the three R’s — it’s about life.

“He constantly has us reference to, like, the ‘man in the mirror,’ or the ‘man in the glass.’ You can’t lie to yourself,” said student Toge Hill.

And there is a sports theme, because in sports you find unity despite race.

“There’s something about athletics that really helps to break down barriers. Because in athletics, you’re basically judged on your ability to compete or do the job, and nothing else,” Nuness said.

Zeke Nnaji, one of the top-recruited basketball players in the Upper Midwest, is one of Nuness’s students. He understands.

“Everything goes away in sports. You just want to win,” Nnaji said. “You’re not caring about what the other person is. Like, when you’re playing with a team, you’re together and you want your team to do well. It doesn’t matter about where they come from or who they are. It’s just like, you want to win.”

What Nuness wants to see is more than sports. It is about conduct, every day, in the hallways.

“We work on what’s a respectable dress in school. We don’t walk around with or pants hanging down below our behind,” Nuness said. “I’ve had very few calls where I’ve had to go to a classroom and it’s been one of my guys in here that’s causing a problem.”

The message is simple, and repeated in many metaphors.

“You want respect, you got to get respect. We talk about those kinds of things. Actions in the classroom, how they carry themselves in the hallways,” he said.

That is what this course wants to do: Teach about life, and about giving yourself a chance by doing the right thing — every day.

“You want to treat people how you want to be treated. You know, you go right back to what they say in the Bible. You know, ‘Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.’ It’s just that simple,” Nuness said.

Mike Max