I’ll never forget the moment when the officer of the corrections facility I was in ordered me to report to the Chaplin’s Office. Because only a few moments later, I was informed that my unborn child, who my wife was pregnant with at the time, did not make it through the delivery.
I returned to my cell and prayed. I was – and still am – deeply rooted in my faith. I was overcome with emotion and repeated the powerful line: “From Allah we come, to Allah we return.”
I repeated this line, and when my wife and firstborn son came to visit me days later, I continued to remind myself that I had to stay strong for my family.
Fast forward years later to 2005 – my sentence was overturned, I was released from incarceration, and, by faith, my wife and I were blessed with our son, Prince Tariq Nasir Cotton.
After Tariq was born, I continued my faith journey while obtaining my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), a goal I had wanted to achieve ever since I was released.
This met goal led to great things; I accepted a position with the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, was in a better place financially, and I was on a new path of life – one that was opposite from the path that led to my incarceration. On top of it all, my job supported the education and development of kids across the District, a role I was called to do.
In 2007, Allah answered my prayers once more; my wife and I were blessed with a daughter, Amina.
Watching my children grow has been a humbling experience for many reasons. But one of the best aspects is watching them fall in love with learning – especially through their participation in Out-of-School Time (OST) programs.
Since she was young, my daughter has always been interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. She has learned to code through her participation with the Girls in Technology programs which has only strengthened her mind and supported her school work.
My other two kids – who I call my “Irish Twins” both attended the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy as Scholar-Athletes. While they participated in the program, they always shared about all the activities they did, making friends with other scholars, their love for the program, and how well it served them.
My kids are fortunate to participate in these OST programs, but I know this is not the reality for all DC families. When I advocate – I go hard. I fight for my kids and other DC parents and their kids.
I bring this fight to my advocacy as a PAVE parent leader – especially for this upcoming budget. I want to see our District leaders put in the work to protect and support the interests of kids like mine.
I want to see the District FULLY-fund OST programs so that every child can participate in high-quality programs. That means every elected leader support investing an additional $8 million in recurring, local funding to provide at LEAST $25 million in funding for OST programs.
But funds are not the only solution. If we want all students to access these programs, we need to create a strategic plan that includes all stakeholders in OST programming – especially parents. That includes providing a citywide needs assessment to help define what a high-quality OST program looks like so all our kids can participate in a program that supports their academics and their interests.
With this work and more, our kids can have it all.
OST programs have shaped my kids’ education for the better. But OST programs have also shaped me. Because of OST programming, my kids fell in love with learning. And watching them fall in love with learning made me fall back in love with it too. So much so that I decided to return to school, and this past year, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree from Full Sail University.
I am proud of where I am today, but my life could have been different. The school-to-prison pipeline is real; I was a product of it. But we can end the pipeline by investing in our kids, investing in their educations, and investing in OST programs.
We have a job to do and that is to serve our kids. Let’s get it done.
By Marquis Cotton, Ward 8 PLE Board member