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Kyle Marcellis credits his mother and his aversion to the “street life” for helping him stay focused, fi nish college and earn a master’s degree from the University of Detroit Mercy this past May. Marcellis, 27, recalls, an incident that dates back to when he was just eight years old. He says his mother, Kathya Jackson, came home from work extremely tired, as usual from a long hard day.

On this day she could barely walk up the stairs to their one-bedroom fl at, and began crying out of frustration. After she walked through the door, she just told him and his two siblings to do better than her. Marcellis decided right then that he would go to college to “do better” as he was told. That persistence and encouragement led Marcellis to become the first in his family to graduate college, and in May he earned a masters’ degree in community development from the University of Detroit Mercy, a private university located a few blocks from where he grew up. His father, Curtis Marcellis, also served as an inspiration, in a very different kind of way though. His father has been incarcerated since he was born.

The lesson Marcellis learned from his father was not to put himself in the kinds of situations that could result in such negative and tragic outcomes. One of the challenges Kyle Marcellis faced was ridicule and isolation from peers as he sought to thrive. “It’s hard to excel when you’re leaving others behind,” said Marcellis, who in 2013 earned his undergraduate degree from Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black college in the small town of Itta Bena in Mississippi’s Delta valley.

Most recently, Marcellis was employed as a social worker at a homeless shelter and treatment facility. He worked part-time as he pursued his master’s degree. The ambitious graduate said he excelled as a student and as a counselor because of was able to identify with the people he was there to serve.

Marcellis offers that his most valuable tools are encouragement and empathy. His own life experiences helped him understand what leads some to end up in situations and facilities which require expert help. Although he developed a sense of pride in being able to serve, he’s uncomfortable with the term role model. Since he began studying community development at Detroit Mercy, he navigates and maneuvers in circles of influence that were once off limits to him. Marcellis admits though that he finds it challenging when those in charge talk about helping “those people.. . I am those people!” he said.

After graduation, Marcellis said that he wants to be “the Dan Gilbert of the ‘hood.” His focus at Detroit Mercy was economic development, and he hopes to merge his expertise in that area with his knowledge of the neighborhood to improve living conditions and opportunities for people who live in the Bagley neighborhood and surrounding communities. He purchased his own home in the community where he grew up. In addition to applying his newly acquired development skills, he’s involved in community organizing as well.

Marcellis has formed a block club in his neighbohood and is interested in plugging into the Bagley radio safety patrol.

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