Marquis McKenzie, 30, said he’s living proof that anyone can overcome past mistakes and that second chances are real.
The father of three is now a successful business owner and nonprofit founder, who also advocates for returning citizens who once made mistakes like he did.
McKenzie was arrested at 15-years-old and spent two years behind bars for armed robbery. He told News 6 he’s not letting his conviction override his passion. He said he wants his story to be motivation for his own kids, and also for teens and juvenile offenders.
“I think all of my steps are ordained by God, and I think I had to go through this situation to be able to be a message to the current people going through the situation that I did,” McKenzie said.
He’s currently the chapter training and development manager for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) under the leadership of Desmond Meade.
News 6 has featured Meade multiple times on his support for Amendment 4 and his organization’s success in paying off fines and fees for thousands of convicted felons so they could legally vote in Florida.
“I appreciate Desmond’s leadership. Ever since day one, he’s always told me to trust the process,” said McKenzie, who also spent time in Tallahassee in support of voting rights for returning citizens. “Desmond has been a tremendous great leader, never led me wrong and I encourage him to stay inspired because he keeps me inspired as well.”
Mckenzie told News 6 he finds satisfaction in helping returning citizens bounce back and better understand their rights.
“I love the grassroots and I feel so many people in our community have been lied to, mistreated, and we have to gain the community’s trust,” he said. “The only way to do that is to be on the ground. So, I wanted this year to be strictly about being right there on the ground in our communities, and this position allows me to do that.”.
He travels the state regularly, building partnerships through his FRRC role while also connecting with re-entry coordinators. He also speaks regularly with juvenile offenders who are incarcerated.
“With just being at a position to be able to sit at the table once when I was the one causing all the problems, but to have a seat at the table and be able to advocate for others, I value that,” McKenzie said. “I try to educate them about their voting rights, how important voting is.”
McKenzie also motivates young people through his nonprofit called CORE. The goal is to help them find jobs and not go back to jail. It also geared towards teaching entrepreneurship to at-risk youth.
“Think before you do anything. Because sometimes you may not have a second chance to come back to redeem yourself, and the consequences can sometimes cost you your life and freedom,” McKenzie said.
When McKenzie is not advocating for juvenile offenders or helping returning citizens get back on their feet, he’s running his business called Dirt Master, a commercial and residential cleaning company. He said his three kids, who also work with him, are his inspiration to keep going daily.
“I push them a lot, but to show them that sometimes people aren’t going to give you those opportunities until they see you’re ready for it,” McKenzie said. “I want them to be people people, despite your race. I want them to know that you have to treat everyone fairly.”
If you’d like to learn more about McKenzie’s non-profit or his cleaning business, you can visit www.TheDirtMasters.com or call 407-406-9640.
To read more about the FRRC, visit https://floridarrc.com/