BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The message on the back of the t-shirt worn by Marco Murray spoke volumes of the drive within him. It read: “Whoever said that bigger was not better?”
Being a rather hefty and physically fit man, one could derive various implications from the message; however, after speaking with him for a few minutes, the message is clear of the expectations that he has placed on himself.
He long envisioned going to college, being a white collar, buttoned-down shirt, tie wearing, briefcase carrying successful business owner, but his plans were placed on pause. He now has pushed play.
Murray grew up on the streets of Sulfur Springs in Tampa. One of two children of a single mother, trouble and the streets found a home to him.
In his early years, Murray found the neighborhood interesting and rough. He did normal kid activities that boys like to play such as manhunt, a unique version of hide and seek, rode bicycles and went to the “flip lady’s” house.
He was an avid football fan and played little league as a running back and linebacker for the local YMCA team, the Rams. Murray was an outstanding player and a fan favorite.
Despite his mother being a nurse, money in the household was tight. She often worked double shifts to make ends meet. At times, she had to decide on whether to put food on the table, pay a babysitter for his younger brother or pay more fees for Murray to continue playing sports and other activities.
There were times that the money stretched and all of the above were taken care of. Other times, Murray did without the extracurricular activities and became the babysitter. For a 12-year-old kid, this was challenging.
“My mother worked hard to provide for us and I admire her efforts,” said Murray. “She loved her children and we knew it. We could not have everything that the other kids had, but she tried to make sure that we were not different or felt slighted. I wanted to help her out because I saw what she was trying to do.”
Unfortunately, some of his methods of helping out landed Murray in trouble. His frustrations grew and at times felt helpless. He started smoking, got involved in neighborhood skirmishes, became disenchanted with school and eventually quit going.
Then the unthinkable happened. One day while leaving work, his mother fainted and was taken to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor. Two months later, she died. Murray was 18 years old.
“My world came crashing down when my mom died. I didn’t care about anything or anyone,” said Murray. “I had to take care of my little brother and I didn’t feel equipped. I was angry with the world.”
This led to a seven-year stint with the law and an awakening. Murray went to a program called WestCare where they challenged him to look at his choices and decisions. For the first time in his life, he had to deal with situations using his mind to figure things out and to have acceptance.
Initially, he rejected the program and wanted to leave. However, 5 or 18 meant something to him and served as his motivation. He could either work the program for 18 months or spend five years in prison.
Murray registering for classes at the SPC Midtown campus
He chose to work the program and is making great strides.
“Marco is a great example of an African-American male who has overcome obstacles to achieve his goals,” said Charlene Jenkins, clinical director of services for Westcare-Gulfcoast, Florida, Inc. “He has excellent defined goals and when he develops a goal, he goes after it.”
Now in his 30s, Murray has completed the program and recently graduated from Lakewood Community School with a high school diploma. He has enrolled at St. Petersburg College (SPC) to pursue a degree in business. After completing two years at SPC, he has his eyes set on the University of South Florida. He has a plan to start multiple business ventures in the future.
Murray’s dream of being the successful businessperson is just around the corner. That buttoned- down shirt, however, may need to be extra, extra large.
To reach Dexter McCree, email firstname.lastname@example.org