Marques Lowe: Chambana coach brings inspiration, mentorship to area youth


By Cheryl Silver, CU-CitizenAccess / Photo by Darrell Hoemann

Accountability, trust, leadership, respect – these are just a few of the 20 core values Marques Lowe taught boys in his Young Gentlemen’s Club at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, Ill.

A 2013 Illinois State Board of Education report shows Champaign public schools’ four year high school graduation rate at just over 86 percent, approximately three percent higher than the state average.

That same year, the Champaign school district reported a 2.7 percent high school dropout rate, compared to 2.4 percent statewide. That’s why, Lowe said, his message of hope and success is so important for his Young Gentlemen’s Club students to hear.

“My job was to teach them,” said Lowe, who credits his own mentor for pushing him through some challenging times. “These life lesson skills to carry on through high school, through college, and then to everyday life.”

In 2010, while completing a master’s program in educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lowe worked as a teacher’s aide and coach at Franklin, where, according to Illinois Report Card, nearly two out of every three students is considered low-income. A 7th grader asked Lowe why the school had so many programs for girls but so few for young men.

“And that got me thinking about what I could do to give back,” Lowe said. “I always wanted to be an advocate for the youth and, you know, use what I learned as a young child and growing up to give back.”

Young Gentleman’s Club

With the support of Franklin’s principal and the stamp of approval from his University of Illinois professors, Lowe created the Young Gentlemen’s Club. Anyone was welcome to join, but the club targeted at risk boys performing below grade level or coming   from low-income or single-parent homes.

“I grew up in a very rough neighborhood,” Lowe said. “It was to the point where, you know, getting chased home was just really, really tiring and you having to fight for, you know, your life.”

Middle-school parent Kimberly Lomax said she believes Lowe’s background inspired her son, Leon Lomax, a Young Gentlemen’s Club member in 6th and 7th grade.

“Coming from Chicago and working his way up, getting his masters, and also just being in the community, my son feels that he can do that,” she said.

“He’s taught me to stay focused and basically work toward your goals and not just sit there and let your goals come to you,” Leon said. “You have to work toward your goals.”

“All of my boys are on target to graduate high school,” Lowe said.

In 2011, the Illinois State Board of Education recognized Lowe’s work with an excellence award, calling him “an outstanding role model, confidante and asset to the students and staff of Franklin Middle School.”

Champaign city council members Karen Foster and Paul Faraci nominated Lowe for a 2013 Angels Among Us award. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said Lowe’s desire to make an impact on the lives of others extends beyond the classroom.

“It’s just a passion he has – working with young people and not only helping them to achieve their dreams, but actually helping them to realize that they have dreams,” Gerard said.

A Mentor

A former Junior Olympian and co-captain of the University of Illinois track and field team, Lowe also founded the USA Track and Field Vipers Track Club in 2010. He said that he considers himself a mentor to the athletes he coaches as well.

“If they can set goals on the track, I compare that to the classroom,” he said. “Ok, you got a C in this class. Let’s set a goal that during the next term period you can get a B. What are the steps that you’re going to take to get that grade up?”

Gerard said Lowe is a coach and mentor who really sees the big picture.

“It’s not just about getting the fastest time,” Gerard said. “It’s about being the best that you can be and the best that you can be is not just on the track or on the basketball court. It’s in the classroom. It’s in the home. It’s in your community.”

“He just really taught me what hard work is and to settle down and focus on one thing at a time,” said Zakkori Johnson, a former Vipers member. “I’m going to Michigan State now, so I’m just ready to use what he’s taught me.”

Lowe resigned from his job with the Champaign School District in June, but he said his work with kids is far from over. 

“We need more advocates in the community,” Lowe said. “We need more mentors. And I hope to be that for a very long time.”

 

This story is funded in part by a $10,000 grant from WNET that WILL-TV received in partnership with WTVP-TV in Peoria and CU-Citizen Access, a community journalism project of the University of Illinois College of Media. These stories are airing in September between programs this month as WILL-TV gears up for a day of broadcasting about the dropout crisis, American Graduate Day, from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, Sept. 27. You can learn more online at will.illinois.edu/americangraduateday.