Let’s call this: from flipping burgers to flipping a fraternity.
Starting Near the Bottom
Mark Marcus hadn’t actually hit rock bottom. Such a statement would be overly dramatic. Flipping burgers for slightly more than $7 an hour, however, qualified as a struggle. What’s more, he didn’t have any real plan for his future.
Marcus was a few years past graduating from Gainesville High School (Gainesville, Fla.) and had quit studying music at Seminole Community College (now Seminole State College) and the University of Central Florida. Like many students, he simply wasn’t ready for the academic commitment, describing his thought process as “I guess I’m going to college because that’s what you’re supposed to do out of high school.”
“My mind was not there, and my focus was not there,” he says. “And more important, I didn’t have the discipline.”
The failed attempt left him lost.
“I hadn’t yet understood or valued the struggle and the adversity that I was beginning to embark on. … It was tough,” he recalls.
“I was just trying to make a way for me.”
Nearly four years at McDonalds did stir a fire. Marcus steadily moved up the ranks and with corporate training was poised for franchise management. Yet, he decided against it. More restaurant management followed along with an idea about starting his own cleaning business. That was quickly fizzled – good idea but no start-up money.
More hardship ensued, financially and personally. Until a mentor changed his life.
Killraie Lewis, a friend/counselor/mentor from church, offered this advice: “I think you need to go back to school.” Marcus had nearly closed the book on college; the mentor reopened it.
Finding Solid Ground
That was 2010, nearly a decade after high school. Marcus was living in DeLand. Lewis happened to be running the GED (General Education Development) program at Daytona State College. Roughly a year later, Marcus obtained an associate degree from Daytona State with plans of heading to UCF for accounting. UCF had a convenient sister campus at Daytona State.
Then there was another turn in the road. With accounting unavailable online at UCF and a commute not realistic, Marcus was again stalled. And again listened to his mentor, who said, “Stetson.”
In 2011, Marcus became a student at Stetson. Months later, he also became a Stetson staffer, working with Housing and Residential Life. Three years later, he was a Stetson graduate. Today, he’s chapter advisor for Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) on campus (Delta Upsilon Chapter) and chair of the fraternity’s alumni board. For good measure, he is Stetson’s second African-American chapter advisor for any Greek organization on campus. (The first was Patrick Coggins, Ph.D., who was the chapter advisor for the Tau Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which started at Stetson in November 1999. Coggins also was the first fully tenured African-American professor at Stetson and served as the Jessie Ball duPont Endowed Chair Professor for Multicultural Education from 1991 to 2011. Coggins is the first Caribbean Guyanese professor and holder of an endowed chair at Stetson. He remains at Stetson today as a professor of education and multicultural education.)
The story gets better. Since 2014, Marcus has been a huge success at the job, instrumental in an impressive revival by the PIKEs on campus.
Before his arrival on the scene, circumstances at the PIKE house were so dire that Marcus, who had built a reputation with Housing as something of an enforcer, was called for emergency duty. The task: Put a halt to the unruliness and unrest.
“I went to go clean up PIKE house,” Marcus says.
The result: “They literally flipped their fraternity around in less than half a semester.” (Hence, the flipping burgers tie-in.)
Never before a “Greek guy,” he wound up receiving an honorary membership in the house – and then running the house.
Lessons learned through earlier struggles had brought him to leadership and mentorship. With the PIKEs – notably very few of whom were African-American – he found himself on the other end of important advice.
“I saw a group of guys that really were talented, but they needed somebody to give them some direction and also give them some support,” he says.
In turn, his lessons took hold, although he deflects credit by noting, “I only gave them the push they needed.”
Finally, at the request of local PIKE leadership and with the blessing of its international organization, Marcus became PIKE chapter advisor in March 2015.
His Own Backyard
Generally speaking, while his job is to make sure “they do what they need to do, and have what they need to do it,” he relishes the role of mentor most of all.
“If I could go back in time, I would probably slap myself,” explains Marcus, who in 2015 earned a master’s degree in executive management and leadership from Liberty University and is working toward a doctorate (online). “I had no idea about the repercussions of my decisions when I was younger. … But it’s literally part of my testimony. It’s what allows me to reach those tough students, the kind that are rigid, rebellious or don’t want to let anybody in.
“Leading, to me, is natural. I take it very seriously. Those who are put in leadership positions have a huge responsibility.”
The Marcus of today wants that responsibility.
“I have not made all the right decisions. I am not perfect. I do not have a clean slate,” he says. “However, I do understand that I have an opportunity to help better someone else’s situation. You learn, as you grow, to manage.
“I found my backyard.”
At home. At peace. With his fraternity.
By Michael Candelaria