Marshall went to work teaching math in the city’s high schools and middle schools, always expecting the most from his students. “The only way to pass my class was to pass my tests, ” he says. “I’d give them homework and call their homes. I figured if they could survive me, they’d be fine.”
The students nicknamed him Mean Mr. Marshall. Still, they felt his absolute commitment and clamored to get into his class.
But something happened after they left his middle-school classrooms for high school. “I’d find those kids on drugs, selling drugs, getting pregnant,” he says. “Worst of all, I found myself going to their funerals.”
Those experiences changed him.
“I realized that being a good teacher wasn’t enough,” Marshall says. “My students were getting A’s in math but F’s in life.”
He decided to do something about it. In 1987, Marshall co-founded the Omega Boys Club, to give youth an alternative to the streets and give their lives direction. Many were gang members, and the number-one goal was to keep them out of prison.
About 30 young people attended the first meeting, but half of them dropped out when they learned how much work was required. The 15 who showed up at the second meeting were enthusiastic, however, and at the third meeting they brought their friends. Since then, the club has never had to recruit kids. They just show up.
Marshall’s message was a simple one: If you stick with the program, you pick the college and I’ll find a way to get you there.
“The irony was I had no money. I had three kids of my own and needed to get them through school,” Marshall says. “But I had faith that if you do good things, good things will happen.”
It never should have worked, Marshall admits, but somehow it did. KGO-TV aired a five-part series on the club, followed by an on-air pitch from the station’s general manager, the late Russ Coughlan, to support the program. The money came in and is still coming.
Today, students who stay with the program and are accepted to college can apply for an Alive & Free scholarship worth up to $10,000 per year. They’re awarded based on several factors, including family need.
This year, the organization is celebrating its 200th college graduate. “And 50 of those 200 have graduate degrees,” Marshall says.