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NBC Bay Area Celebrates Alive & Free’s 200th Graduate Milestone

by Garvin Thomas

NBC Bay Area Dr. Joseph Marshall is in a constant battle with the streets of San Francisco. Up against drugs, gang activity, teen pregnancy and in the worst cases, death. “It’s a tug-o-war. And you know I’m on this side, you know, our organization’s on one side pulling this way, and then the streets. Very, very powerful opponent.”

After celebrating the graduation of their 200th member this past Sunday, the Alive and Free Omega Boys Club that Marshall founded in the late 1980s is putting up a good fight. Marshall says that it all started in a basement of a middle school with just 30 kids and a hefty promise. A believer in education, holding a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. himself, Marshall told his boys that if they stuck with the club and followed what he calls the Alive and Free “prescription,” they would have the opportunity to continue their studies.

“I said, you pick the college and I’ll find the money,” Marshall recalls saying. Not having much money himself or a plan to raise it, Marshall said that what he did have was faith. Remembering one of his grandmother’s teachings, he says that he knew if he did good things, good things would come to him. That faith was rewarded. News eventually got around and funding from foundations and private organizations began to come through for the club, which Marshall says, is a way to save young lives.

The Alive and Free “prescription,” that Marshall speaks fondly of, is a methodology that has the potential and ability to spread throughout the world. Each of his students are given the tools to steer clear of bad situations and toxic individuals, and he hopes that they too will teach it to others. “The larger work beyond the work with the young people is teaching this prescription to other people.”

Marshall says that starting the club was a way for him to stay in his former students’ lives. A former middle school math teacher, Marshall often said goodbye to his students at the end of the school year and did not hear from them until they had already been subjected to gang violence, teen pregnancy or incarceration. The club allowed Marshall to act as a guide. “Guide them to where I knew they could get to be, and I knew where they deserved to be.”

According to one of his most recent graduates, Rashad Demmings, it works. “It gave me the blueprint,” Rashad says. “This is how you be successful. It works.” But Dr. Marshall doesn’t take all the credit. He says that for the work to be successful, it requires faith on both his part and the part of his students. “When you have kids and they believe in you and you believe in them, you’re gonna find a way to make it happen.”