Michael, with his family, holds the game ball before the Raiders game. Photo by Tony Gonzales
Michael Carraway was an active sixth grader in 2008, involved in numerous activities and living a normal life in Oakland, Calif. One day, his mother, Shaheda Wright, noticed that Michael was suddenly tired all the time and no longer had an appetite. After a visit to the doctor, they found out that Michael's liver was failing and that he would need a transplant. Luckily for their family, a liver became available; Michael received a transplant, and is currently a healthy 9th grader at McClymonds High School in West Oakland.
After receiving the liver and regaining his health, Michael, with the encouragement from his mom, decided that he wanted to pay it forward. The family started Mikey's Meals, deciding to feed the homeless as their way of giving back. Since the start of Mikey's Meals during Christmas of 2008, the family has fed nearly 150 people every month.
During pregame of the Raiders 2011 regular season finale versus the San Diego Chargers, Michael was honored in front of his hometown. "I think it meant a whole lot to him," said Wright. "His eyes, I thought he was about to cry. We're looking around the stadium, there's 40,000 people, 50,000 people, standing up and cheering for Michael and I looked at him and said, 'how do you feel? Michael, are you about to cry?' He said, 'no,' but I could tell that he was very emotional."
When Michael's family was eventually able to connect with the donor family, they found out that one of the things the two boys had in common was their love for the Oakland Raiders. "We come to find out that Michael and his donor had a lot of similarities," explained Wright. "The one thing that him and Johnny had in common is they're both Oakland Raiders fan and they like chocolate peanut butter ice cream. We met them in April of last year. The mother and father came down and they came for Michael's birthday and they came and fed the homeless with us too. And [Johnny's] best friend is J.R. and J.R. is the one that convinced Johnny's parents to donate his organs. J.R. was at the game with us on Sunday. They were there with us and they saw the whole thing that happened Sunday at the game. It was epic."
Michael's story began in 2008 when he was 11 years old. "He was perfectly normal," said Wright. "He didn't have any history of illness besides the common cold or slight case of asthma and he was fine. He was a very active kid. He was playing Pop Warner Football at the time. He participated in Indian dance. He was in Sports 4 Kids at the school, the math program, he was in math club at the time, played drums for the church, played the guitar for the church, and he was learning tenor saxophone. All of a sudden one day, I just noticed that my child was very tired."
Michael's mom assumed that he was tired from being involved in so many activities. But a few days later, Michael stopped eating also. "I took him to Jamba Juice which is his favorite and I bought him a Jamba Juice so now I know something is wrong because I wake up the next morning and it's full and it's sitting on the dresser in his room," said Wright. A day later, after spending the evening at his dad's house, Michael fell asleep on his mom's couch and woke up with eyes that were jaundice. That's when Wright knew something was very wrong.
"At that point, I called the advice nurse and they told me to bring him in, we're going to run some tests on him, we don't know what it is," Wright explained. "So they ran tests on him, we brought him home and a day later, they called and said, 'well we think something is wrong with his liver, we don't know, just bring him in, we're going to admit him.'"
After five days at one hospital, Michael was transferred to UCSF to be monitored by liver specialists. "Michael was transported to UCSF on a Saturday," Wright said. "On that Sunday, a doctor walks up to me and says, 'Michael needs a liver transplant and if he doesn't get one, he's going to die.' So of course, my whole world just kind of like stopped. I don't even remember anything after that guy telling me. They said I passed out. I was totally in denial. I thought, 'okay, they're going to give him something to drink or they're going to give him shots and he'll be fine.' That wasn't the case."
As the family waited for a liver, Michael got progressively worse. Then, the day after Halloween in 2008, they got the news that there was a liver for Michael. "A lady walks in and I'm thinking to myself, who is this lady? Another doctor, more bad news," said Wright. "And she says, 'Are you Shaheda?' I said, 'Yes.' She said, 'You're Michael's mom? Well, my name is Josie and I wanted to let you know that we have a liver for your son.' So of course it was a major celebration. We were in the middle of prayer so immediately we started praying for the other family because I asked her who the donor is. They said, 'well, he's 15 years old and he was killed in an automobile accident.' Immediately we were thankful but we prayed for their family.'
Later that day, Michael had a successful surgery and then returned home two weeks later. Two weeks after that, he returned to school. Michael and his mom did not know who the donor was, but were grateful for Michael's second chance at life. "Christmas was approaching and I said, 'Michael, what do you want to do? Let's do something,'" explained Wright. "He said, 'what do you mean?' I said, 'We don't know who the donor is, we don't know, but we have to pay it forward.' He said, 'Well, mom, what does pay it forward mean?' I said, 'It's when you do something for somebody and you don't expect anything in return.' He said, 'Well, mom, what if I start feeding the homeless in honor of my donor.'" And thus, Mikey's Meals was created.
"So the first day was Christmas Day 2008 - me, Michael, my daughter, my cousin, and her two children, my cousin actually helped me prepare the dinner," said Wright. "We fixed 25 dinners. The feeling I got when I was giving the food out to the people on the streets was the same feeling I got when Josie came and told me they had the liver for Michael. It was just that happy feeling."
Michael and his family were motivated to continue serving food every month. "Michael said, 'Let's do it again next month. They're not going to eat for New Years. You always make a big dinner on New Years. Let's do it again.' So on New Years we went out and did 50," Wright said. "Martin Luther King's birthday we did 75. Valentine's Day we did 100 and we have just been doing it according to donations since then but we feed no less than 150 every time we feed. We do it every month."
In addition to Mikey's Meals, Michael is passionate about his high school. As a freshman this year, Michael is involved in numerous activities and even made the homecoming court. "Michael can't play football anymore so what he does here at the school is that the football coaches made him manager of the football team and he's also the videographer for the football and basketball teams so it keeps him involved in sports because he can't participate physically anymore," said Wright. "He's also the commissioner of activities. He's on the all-city student council for Oakland Public Schools so he's pretty busy. I know he misses playing football, but with his job as far as feeding the homeless and all of the activities he participates in at the school, he's basically pretty busy."
Michael had an opportunity to meet MC Hammer, a McClymonds alum, before Sunday's game and shared with Hammer his passion for the school. "So we were talking to him and [Michael] said, 'Guess what school I go to,' and he's all proud and MC Hammer said, 'What school do you go to young man?' And he's like, 'McClymonds,' so they both had that connection. It was really nice to see Michael, he's just very proud of his school and proud of what he does for the community because the community that we feed in is right where his school is," Wright explained.
The Raiders recognized Michael's love for the Raiders and his passion for his community. "I just really appreciate that you guys did that for Michael because he spends a lot of time giving back to his community," said Wright. "When other children are out having a good time, we're preparing to feed. And I ask him all the time, 'what is your favorite pastime, what is it you like doing the most?' And he always says,' feeding the homeless.'"