Resilience is greater than perfection
"Failure was not an option."
Those facts (and many more) speak to how accomplished he is.
But what’s more telling of his success is how he’s lived a life in which connections form the core of his story. It’s about giving and being given, receiving support and supporting others.
As a child growing up in Guyana, Marshall suffered from asthma. And despite the country's broken healthcare system, he was fortunate to have a doctor — Clarence Charles (aka Uncle Clarence). When asthma attacks prompted Marshall’s mother to call in the early hours of the morning, Uncle Clarence was there.
He moved with his mother to New Jersey, which meant many sacrifices on her part (and his). When Marshall’s mother wasn’t able to get the job that she was promised, she took a job as a seamstress working two shifts a day. It was what she was willing to do to provide the opportunity for him to go to college. “It was very apparent that I was the poor kid in class,” Marshall said.
These circumstances informed his studies and work ethic. He felt he had the obligation to put his best foot forward. “Failure,” he said, “was not an option.” In Guyana, he didn’t always understand things in school the first time. But there was an inculcated drive to study harder, to do problems over and over again after school until he grasped the lesson and knew the material well.
"I’ve had so many kind people that have understood my plight and went beyond to help me out."
“When I came to the U.S., I’d already received approval for my green card,” Marshall said, “but I didn’t have it in hand. And although I had gotten into Duke, Morehouse and other institutions, Emory was the only one that said, ‘Come study now, and we’ll work out the green card situation later.’”
Enter the events of 9/11, which effectively froze the process of receiving his green card. Without it, the $44,000 Emory scholarship would have to be paid back. He was in a really rough spot, but just as Emory had supported him before, he again got a helping hand. Several, in fact. “Jackie Wallace, Michael Bieler, Eric List and more...so many people from the financial aid office and around campus helped me as I struggled to work at my situation.”
Marshall was given until May 2002 to repay his scholarship. So at the advice of Emory staff, Marshall wrote to New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine, pleading for help. The letter merited a phone call, and within three weeks Marshall received his green card.
It was a tough, stressful experience, but what he got out of it was the understanding that people were there to help every step of the way. “I’ve had so many kind people that have understood my plight and went beyond to help me out,” Marshall said. “They’re every bit as responsible for my success as me.”
"My story hasn’t been perfect all along the way, but it is a story of resilience."
After finishing Emory College and before starting medical school, Marshall worked as a math teacher and soccer and swimming coach at a Title 1 School in Georgia’s DeKalb County, an experience which fundamentally changed him. “The kids were out of control,” he said. “Discipline was an issue to say the least.” After several months — and nearly being struck by a stray bullet that came through the classroom window — things started to turn around. Marshall began to engage the students. He started to look forward to the classroom, and the same held true for the kids.
Just when he started making connections with the students, Marshall had to leave for medical school. But a question struck and stuck with him: “How can I get these kids to leave this environment and go to college?” It’s that question that formed the basis for the Pipeline Program, which Marshall co-founded with fellow alumnus Sam Funt.
The Pipeline Program is a three-year multi-tiered, interdisciplinary mentorship and health science education program, connecting Emory and inner-city high school students Now in its 10th year, the Pipeline Program continues to support Atlanta youth. One recent graduate, Alicia Clore received a large scholarship to Spelman and credited both her mom and the Pipeline Program.
While program participants get academic support, they also gain something that will stay with them the rest of their lives: self-confidence. “I was fortunate that my mother instilled that in me at a very young age,” Marshall said. Every year on his birthday, his mother would tell him all the things he'd accomplished over the past year that she was proud of, as well as what he could accomplish the next year. That tradition continues today. “When you have that kind of support at home, you feel like you’re bulletproof and 10 feet tall.”
Belief in yourself — self-confidence in other words — is one of the things that Marshall sought to impart in others by establishing the Pipeline Program. “You give them a little time and believe in them, and it’s amazing the difference that makes. It reframes their entire worldview.”
Marshall received Emory’s Humanitarian of the Year Award for co-founding the Pipeline Program.
"When you have (support) at home, you feel like you’re bulletproof and 10 feet tall
Over the years, Marshall’s been the subject of many articles. With the success, he’s enjoyed both at and after Emory, it’s no wonder. Yet, none has told the whole story.
“A lot of times, these pieces paint a rosy picture,” he said, “one where there’s this perfect guy doing the right thing at the right time. But that’s not the case with me.” How so? He came from a one-parent home. He was in his school’s free-lunch program. He had to take the MCATs twice. He had to study harder and longer than many peers. And he once got a C in organic chemistry.
To reach his level of success, “Perfection was not needed,” Marshall said. “My story hasn’t been perfect all along the way, but it is a story of resilience.” He believes that there’s a reason why we’re here. “Once you discover what that is, you gotta fight for it.”