Living Better than Average: Unfurling the Life & Times of Jonathan McMillan


Posted Fri, Oct 7, 2016

Jonathan and Mayor

McMillan and his son Julian at My Brother’s Keeper 25 awards with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

DENVER–Former MSU Denver student Jonathan McMillan transformed his lifestyle from average to better than average, working as a life coach for his own company, Better Than Average, and as an employee in the city of Denver’s Public Safety Department. But this transformation didn’t happen overnight.

 Live Fast, Die Young

McMillan was born in Denver in the 1970s, just on the cusp of the gang epidemic that spread through America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The epidemic soon caught up with McMillan and his friends.

 “My neighborhood friends who [I] grew up riding bikes with and going to the rec center with, we all just found ourselves naturally being drawn into that life,” McMillan says. “Friends you grew up with–if they have a problem, then you have a problem with whoever has a problem with them.

“Another part of the problem,” continues McMillan, “was in the late 80s and early 90s the narrative, as the gang problem grew, was going out to the community from the community leaders, pastors, teachers [and] parents that us as Black men were an endangered species.”

McMillan explained that Black men were more likely to go to prison than college, die before turning 25 and be absent fathers to their children. This put Black men in what McMillan called a paradigm of hopelessness.

“When you’re hearing this from the people whose opinion you trust and admire, it creates a paradigm of hopelessness, which many of us grew up with,” McMillan says. “[We were] thinking that success just wasn’t something we were destined to have. Out of that hopelessness, came the recklessness. If you’re not planning for a future, then [you] live fast and die young.”

launching an online academy to teach his principles called the Be Better Than Average Academy

McMillan is launching an online academy to teach his principles called the “Be Better Than Average Academy.”

On the Run

McMillan went to prison at 25 for stealing his aunt’s car, which snowballed into something bigger.

“Me and a good friend of mine stole the car and ended up riding with a couple of other gang members that we knew, who had another stolen car. We were going to take my aunt’s car back to her house,” McMillan says. “Her boyfriend caught us and hopped in his car. There was a high-speed chase through Park Hill over by Curtis Park. We end up ditching him.

“One of the guys who was riding with me, who I didn’t know, was carrying a gun,” continues McMillan. “When we ditched my aunt’s boyfriend, the other guy got out of the car. We started running our separate ways and then I heard some gunshots. The guy was shooting at my aunt’s boyfriend. A few days later, we ended up getting arrested.”

McMillan was charged with aggravated motor vehicle theft because of the chase and the gunshots. He did not successfully complete his probation periods and was sent to a halfway house for six months. He was placed in the safety house again a few weeks later.

“I was young and strong-willed and thought I could beat the system,” McMillan says. “The other half of it is you had people who work in the criminal justice system who just don’t care about your success. And [they] are in it only because it’s a recession-proof industry.”

McMillan says he was living a destructive lifestyle–smoking weed, drinking, getting involved in gang activity and living like there was no tomorrow. He even tried being a rapper. When he ran away from the safety house for six months, he went to a radio station in Texas where his sister was doing an internship. He auditioned for Mean Green, the official DJ of Master P’s No Limit Records.

“I auditioned for him and he told me he would sign me,” McMillan says. “But I had to take care of my legal stuff first. That’s what prompted me to turn myself in.”

McMillan got a lawyer and turned himself in. He was sentenced to three years in the department of correction and never got his record deal.

I started getting paid speaking engagements,” McMillan says. “I started to get connections with people who were furthering my career aspirations and goals. I was meeting politicians and people who believed in my dream and vision.”

“I started getting paid speaking engagements. I was meeting politicians and people who believed in my dream and vision.” — Jonathan McMillan

Breaking Down Those Prison Walls

On McMillan’s website,, there’s a quote he has that says, “By believing ‘I can’t,’ I eventually found myself in two prisons; a literal prison and a second, figurative, mental one of my own making.”

He says there is a quote from the book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson that resonated with him in prison. If you make a man think he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.

“That type of thinking with me accepting society’s definition of what it meant to be young Black men–gangbanger, drug dealer, hoodlum, absent father–by accepting that as my identity, I was locking myself in a prison,” McMillan says. “[It] kept me from realizing any potential for success. [It] kept me from taking advantage of so many opportunities that existed, and all I had to do was just say, ‘No, this is not who I am.’”

McMillan recalls the conversation he had with his mom. “[She told me] you could do anything that you want. Don’t say can’t. There’s nothing you can’t do. I might’ve been in fourth or fifth grade at the time she said that.

“I remember the teacher was saying anybody in this room can be president,” continues McMillan. “I knew she wasn’t talking to me. That wasn’t even in the realm of possibility for me. That was the prison.”

McMillan knew he had to change his ways because he was missing out on his daughter Aijah’s life and his grandfather stopped visiting him at the prison in Walsenburg, Colorado.

“My grandfather was one of the best parents I ever had in my life. He would drive up to the prison every other month, if not every month, to visit me,” McMillan says. “There was a time that he drove to visit me. It was a two hour drive one-way. At the time he got there, the prison was on lockdown because it was count time. There’s no movement of inmates anywhere in the facility because they have to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be.

“He got tired of waiting to see me. He needed to get back to Denver,” continues McMillan. “I was devastated. I was mad, angry, sad. I loved my grandpa. I loved my visits with him. Shortly after that, he got real ill and was unable to make the drive up there anymore.”

McMillan was granted parole six months later. He went to call his family and tell them, especially his grandfather, he was coming home. To McMillan’s surprise, his grandfather passed away that morning.

“I truly believe he held on long enough to make sure that I was going to be OK,” McMillan says. “In that, I knew that I needed to be a better person for him. That was the beginning of breaking down those figurative prison walls.” He was released from prison on Dec. 20, 2000.

McMillan said he wants to be an inspiration to anyone who thinks they can’t be happy

McMillan says he wants to be an inspiration to anyone who thinks they can’t be happy.

The Birth of ‘Better Than Average’

McMillan began turning his life around by helping Reverend Leon Kelly at Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives for several years. He did gang intervention work and was the after-school coordinator.

“While I was happy to have an impact and be working with these young people, I felt as if while we’re providing them a safe place to be until they get picked up,” McMillan says. “When they go back to their neighborhoods, they’re going to be confronted with all the obstacles that come with being a kid of color–crime, poverty, relationships that may not be so positive–I felt as if in my capacity I wasn’t giving them enough information to successfully navigate those waters.”

McMillan wanted to start a program that could empower young kids and help them succeed. “I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know exactly what it looked like.”

After the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman, McMillan noticed that the paradigm of hopelessness was rearing its ugly head again. This time, on social media. He had to do something. He started a book called, “Better than Average Goals: Jonathan McMillan’s Guide to Setting the Achieving Goals that Save and Change Lives.” This became the basis for his Better than Average workshops, seminars and speaking engagements.

“I wanted to show people [that] there is a different way. I wanted to show people that they can be successful,” McMillan says. “The narrative that is given to us doesn’t have to be the narrative that we live out.”

 Falsely Accused

McMillian describes how his life was turned upside down when he was falsely accused for unlawful sexual conduct, second degree assault and third degree kidnapping four years ago.

“I was at home and there was a knock on my door,” McMillan says. “I opened the door and the police were outside. They said, ‘Jonathan McMillan?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ The cop grabbed my arm and pulled me out my house and put me in handcuffs. My life just fell apart very quickly–all of a sudden.”

At the time, McMillan had just lost his job in customer service and his wife, Tameka, was six months pregnant.

McMillan spent a few months in jail until there was enough money raised for bond. The entire time, he was wracking his brain thinking “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” He became depressed and on the verge of becoming suicidal. Then things started to change.

“I had a public defender, great guy, who was trying his best to fight this case but he was scared for me,” McMillan says. “The potential consequences of being found guilty was a lifetime in prison. It’s called an indeterminate sentence. Anybody in Colorado who’s ever been convicted of a crime that has an indeterminate sentence attached to it has never gotten out of prison.

“My lawyer kept saying, ‘Maybe we should try to plead this out.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t do this. I’ve done a lot of stuff in my life, but this I didn’t do and I can’t plead to something I didn’t do,’” continues McMillan. “My dad saw my frustration with the public defender and he helped me get a private attorney. He paid $30,000. I realized in that moment that I had a whole lot to be grateful for.”

"I want people to look at my life and be able to say, ‘If he did it, I can do it." -- Jonathan McMillian

“I want people to look at my life and be able to say, ‘If he did it, I can do it.” — Jonathan McMillian

McMillan realized that if things were heading downhill, he had limited freedom in the world. He weighed the options of being depressed and being grateful for everything that he was experiencing.

With this new perspective, McMillan chose to be a public speaker. He joined Toastmasters and was offered many opportunities.

“I learned how to be a better speaker. I started getting paid speaking engagements,” McMillan says. “I started to get connections with people who were furthering my career aspirations and goals. I was meeting politicians and people who believed in my dream and vision.”

McMillan’s trial was Sept. 3, 2015. He took the plea deal and all the charges were dropped. Witnesses lied and information that the police hadn’t investigated the crime to the best of their ability leaked out.

“They ended up dropping all the charges if I pled guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge,” McMillan says. “Against my better judgment I did [plea], simply because the potential consequences for losing that trial were so huge. It was life or death versus paying a $200 fine and being done with it. That wasn’t a hard decision to make.”

McMillan said having gratitude for the good and bad things in life is the first initial step in living a Better than Average Life.

Ain’t No Stopping Him Now

While being a life coach, McMillan also works for the Public Safety Department in the city of Denver.

“I am a Case Manager Gang Intervention Specialist for a grid, which is the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver,” McMillan says. “To the best of my knowledge, and I haven’t been corrected yet by the people who know better, I am the first and only person with a felony to be employed by the Department of Public Safety.

“When I applied for the job, one of the hang-ups was in the city charter, it said specifically employees of the Department of Public Safety cannot have felonies,” continues McMillan. “That’s usually the department that hires police, sheriffs and paramedics. Because of my ability to relate to the young men and women who I’m working with and my ability to navigate the bureaucracy that is the city, they made an exception for me.” Councilman Albus Brooks even vouched for McMillan to get the job.

McMillan received various awards this past year for his work, including one from Mayor Michael Hancock.

“Most recently I got the My Brother’s Keeper 25 out of the mayor’s office,” McMillan says. “Me and my son, Julian, took our picture with the mayor shaking his hand.”

McMillan said he wants to be an inspiration to anyone who thinks they can’t be happy. “I want to be an inspiration to people in the way that Jesus was. He showed [and] taught people how to live a fulfilled life through His life.

“I tell people all the time that I love my life and it’s because I create and live a better than average life daily by being grateful, stepping out of my comfort zone, taking on challenges, [and] by having a concise solid plan of what it is I want to achieve. I have several goals,” continues McMillan. “I want people to look at my life and be able to say, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’”

In less than 90 days, Jonathan McMillian is launching an online academy to teach his principles called the Be Better Than Average Academy and has a book of affirmations coming out in less than 45 days called, “I Am Better than Average.” For more information, visit his website

About Khaleel Hayes

Formerly Known as Khaleel Herbert, I am a writer/photographer and MSU Denver alumni who majored in Journalism and minored in English. I hope whatever I write–poetry, plays, feature writings, film reviews, etc.,– my words touch at least one person. I believe everyone has a story and I want to be the vessel to tell that story whether through journalism or fiction. Visit my site: The Lens Feature Writer

View all posts by Khaleel Hayes

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