He was never violent, but the mischief that started in third grade escalated to suspensions in high school and a respect issue that led to dismissal from Chowan College.
On May 16, Baker will become a first-generation college graduate when he walks across the stage at the Old Dominion University Ted Constant Convocation Center. As the student speaker selected for the Tidewater Community College class of 2014, he will share his journey from the projects in Portsmouth to Norfolk State University as a Links scholar.
He will transfer there this fall after earning his Associate of Science in Social Sciences from TCC. He would like to mentor youth and ideally start a nonprofit that prepares middle schoolers for college.
“There’s nothing I can do to change the problems I created and the stress I put on my family and community,” he says. “The only way I can fix it without changing the past is to make a brighter future for somebody else.”
As hard as Baker’s parents tried to remove him from the rough element surrounding him, he couldn’t stay away. When he was 12, a good friend was killed coming home from a party. Instead of that making an impression, Baker continued a path of self-destruction that included an unsuccessful semester at Chowan and a stint in the military that was also short-lived.
“After that, I came home and went head first into the streets,” says Baker, who was unfazed by being hit in the shin by a stray bullet in 2007. “I’d always promise to do better, but there I was, out on the streets again, even on crutches.”
Meeting his current girlfriend, Chinita Booth, changed his direction. Booth had earned her bachelor’s at Norfolk State, and she didn’t just encourage Baker to start his education at TCC, she arranged it. She filled out the admissions application and turned in his paperwork for financial aid. He even recalls her dropping him off to take his placement tests.
“I did well; no remedial classes,” he recalls.
The academics didn’t prove difficult for Baker, who carried a 3.7 GPA in high school. But becoming immersed in TCC campus life nurtured him in a way life on the streets never did.
Baker worked with Upward Bound, a program that assisted low-income students with college preparation until it was discontinued. “I got off at 3 and I’d look up and it would be 5, and I would still be there,” he says. “I loved working with the kids.”
Marcus Baker’s commencement speech
When the Portsmouth Campus launched the student ambassador program, Baker was among the first selected. In becoming an advocate for Student African American Brotherhood, he discovered the Student Government Association, where he served first as a senator and then president for the 2013-14 school year.
“At that point, my impact became real to me,” he says. “I went on Twitter and Instagram and deleted old pictures of myself. I realized I was representing the school, and people there had put their trust in me. I knew the impact I could have as a leader, and I didn’t want to lead people in the wrong direction.”
The important people in his life – his parents, Booth, his three children and stepson, his extended family and church family – will be listening to his words and celebrating with him.
“Education is the key,” he says. “If you want to come to TCC and change, there’s people here to help you. They always say, ‘From here, you can go anywhere.’ They should say, ‘Anybody can go anywhere from here.’ TCC is a place where they let me be me despite my mistakes. This school helped me grow as a man.”