ORLANDO, Fla. – From behind bars to a community helper and successful business owner, an Orlando man is turning his life around and helping others do the same.
Marquis McKenzie, 31, started a cleaning business from the ground up and this week, his hard work paid off after he landed a big contract with the city of Orlando.
Now he’s cleaning Lake Eola park, the same way he admits he’s cleaned up his own life.
“I took the initiative to change my life and (I’m) showing others that they can do the same thing,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said he couldn’t be more excited for his business, Dirt Master, to be chosen by the city of Orlando. His team will clean Lake Eola Park during and after the annual July 4 Fireworks at the Fountain event, which brings out more than 100,000 people.
“I was excited,” McKenzie said of his reaction after he received the news.
He said he’s refusing to let his past dictate his purpose.
When he was 15-years-old, McKenzie was arrested and spent two years behind bars for armed robbery. It’s a decision he said tagged him for life, but he wants his story to be a motivation for his own kids and for teens who make mistakes like he did.
“I definitely want to let them know (that) your past doesn’t define your future. You may make a mistake but it doesn’t mean for the rest of your life you have to continue to live in that mistake,” McKenzie said.
The city of Orlando talked with News 6 about the contract McKenzie’s business was awarded.
“We’re just excited to support local businesses and just really looking forward to working with the Dirt Master and his team,” said Pavla Paul, communications & events coordinator for the city of Orlando.
It’s a partnership that works both ways.
“I think it gives an opportunity for the city of Orlando to change their narrative, (to show) that they do believe in second chances and returning citizens and a company can come in and take on opportunities within the city,” McKenzie said.
When McKenzie isn’t cleaning, he’s spending his time motivating juvenile offenders through his nonprofit called CORE. The goal is to help them find jobs and not go back to jail.
He’s also traveled to Tallahassee, pushing for the passing of Amendment 4, which restores voting rights for felons, through his work with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. McKenzie spends his spare time working to push for more rights for returning citizens, on a mission to get results and inspire others, one job at a time.
“Things can happen and you can partner with the city to take on opportunities, despite your past,” McKenzie said.
If you’d like to learn more about McKenzie’s nonprofit or his cleaning business, you can visit his website or call 407-406-9640.