At Sunshine we continue to navigate the effects of trauma on the brain.  Trauma from poverty, violence, and instability during childhood has lasting effects on the development of the brain and especially on mental health.  At age 21, Marquis McCoy, a veteran of Sunshine’s youth programs, has become passionate about bringing awareness to this important topic.

“I know if I was shot and killed, it would be another blurb on the news about a young black man being shot on the south side.  People would say I was a good kid, smart, and wasn’t affiliated with gangs. But everyone else would assume I was. And nothing would happen to the person who shot me.”  For McCoy, growing up in Woodlawn and seeing this same narrative happen to his friends has admittedly been traumatic. He sees the effects of living with the pressures to become a man and provide for yourself as soon as you graduate from high school, while often jobs are very difficult to come by and support systems are thin.   

For most in our culture, the crossover from childhood to adulthood happens during the college years (ages 18-22).  It’s a formative time in which learning, growing, maturing, responsibility, work ethic, and direction are developed.  For McCoy and many young men and women in the Woodlawn community, adulthood happens the day they graduate high school.  “Culturally, it’s often expected that once you are finished with high school you need to start supporting yourself financially.  If you are first generation in your family to go to college, you are still expected to support yourself or even help with the bills at home,” Marquis shares.  

As Marquis has navigated the struggle of balancing work, bills, and college over the past few years, he’s also experienced the loss of a close friend to gun violence.  This loss has led him to his passion for mental health awareness amongst young people his age. “When you are focused on simply providing day to day for yourself and keeping yourself safe, it’s a challenge to plan for your future.  I have dreams and goals and yet have needed help navigating the adult world.” McCoy has attended college while also working full time. He has participated in many programs through Sunshine, such as WorkLife and CollegeLife and credits many Sunshine staff for personally mentoring him.  College has not been a straight and narrow path for McCoy and he’s often had difficult choices to make. During this past year, however, he began to dream long-term of becoming a business-owner.

At age 21, he achieved a unique honor; he is the first Sunshine youth to graduate from the Sunshine Enterprises Community Business Academy and he was the youngest graduate of his cohort in the Spring 2018.  For Sunshine staff who have spent years walking beside McCoy and mentoring him, this accomplishment was very exciting. Arnold Sojourner, Managing Director of Programs for Sunshine shares, “Marquis is a thought-leader.  He loves to discuss new ideas and challenge people’s thinking.” McCoy employed these critical thinking skills during his time in the business cohort classes. He developed the infrastructure to launch a clothing line that focuses on mental health awareness.  Elevat8d offers tee-shirts and sweatshirts that focus on awareness for issues such as depression, anger, anxiety, and ego.

McCoy’s motivation comes both from his own life, as well as honoring the loss of his friend, Terry.  “My hope is this clothing line brings about deeper conversation and support for young adults my age to talk about the effects that trauma has had on us.  We need to support one another.” MentoringLife director Pete Blodgett has know Marquis for many years. He shares, “Over the last few years, I’ve watched Marquis grow from a teenager who was all dreams and very little work into a man who is working hard at chasing down those dreams. Although he has faced many hardships in life, he is turning those hardships into the passion that drives his vision. Now, through the Sunshine staff and the entrepreneurship classes, he has the tools and support to achieve that vision.”