Reaching for Redemption, A Lifelong Process
A Seattle father discovers self-value after being affected by both ends of the gun
By Chardonnay Beaver
The road that leads to redemption looks different for everybody.
For over a decade, David Marshall Sr. has embarked on a mission to make amends with the past he, along with 35% of Black men in metropolitan areas, got caught-up in. At the age of 12, Marshall entered a lifestyle where violence, anger, and self-destruction became a normality.
“For me, the life that I lived, I’ve been trying to recover from for a long time,” Marshall said.
Marshall takes a path of accountability to actively practice self-value in order to reach for redemption.
“Redemption is kind of like, you go roll around in the mud and then you get to go take a shower and all the dirt is gone,” Marshall explained.
Marshall’s childhood nostalgia is for the brief time before he was an adolescent. Moving around a lot as a child, Lakeshore Village was where he forged a community.
“I grew up in a time where you didn’t have to lock your doors, you can let your kids play outside when it was dark,” Marshall said.
The Lakeshore Village Apartments site (currently known as Lake Washington Apartments) is located at Seward Park Avenue South. The property consists of a low-income housing development, which according to the Washington State Department of Ecology was first constructed in 1948.
By the mid-1980s, the sociopolitical landscape in Seattle and the Black community would change forever with the introduction of crack cocaine to the area. Marshall, and other youth at the time, watched their neighborhoods begin to transform for the worse.
“When crack hit Seattle, a lot of things changed around us,” Marshall said.
The impact of crack cocaine in Black communities occured beyond Seattle. According to a Harvard University report, the presence of crack cocaine in Black and Hispanic communities in the late 1980s increased youth homicides 75%, more than doubled the number of Black youth in foster care, and disportionately affected urban areas.
“We had community back then, and I would say that the explosion of drugs in our community
destroyed the community. Because it was then about the dollar and the high,” Marshall said.
In a KBCS interview, Aaron Dixon, one of the founders of Seattle’s Black Panther Party chapter and a youth mentor, recalled these changes as well.
“By 1980s,” Dixon said, “Black kids have flooded the foster care system. Because the family and the community broke down. And as a result of that, you know, these kids are traumatized.”
Seattle is considered a great region to forge a new path. With the influx of Blacks from the South during the Great Migration, Black Seattleites had been able to form a sense of community. Although they survived hardship like the Great Depression, the crack epidemic was an unprecedented, cataclysmic era.
“Due to the financial aid of Seattle, it didn’t have to get to where it was and where it is at now,” Marshall said.
As an adult, Marshall said he recognizes that he was not provided the adequate skills nor positive outlets to mentally process his trauma. Rather than Washington State regularly funding active youth support programs, other measures were put in place.
Research reveals outcomes that could have been controlled at the State-level during the crack epidemic, including new prison commitments as well as foster care, unemployment, and poverty rates. However, states across the U.S. established negative relationships between crack, race, and new prison commitments. For example, Washington was the first U.S. state to pass the no nonsense three-strike law in 1994.
“A system that attacks the problem but doesn’t bring up a solution — things are going to get out of hand; things are going to be uncontrollable,” Marshall said.
When environments that were once nurtured become neglected, children are left to raise themselves.
“It was different, and I have a mom that wasn’t on drugs or nothing like that. She had health issues, mental health issues, and that’s the type of thing that we was battling at my house, but a lot of my friends, you know, their mom was on drugs,” Marshall said.
According to a Los Angeles Times article published in 1987, gang members from urban neighborhoods in Los Angeles — such as Compton and Watts — migrated to cities along the West Coast.
A 1998 Youth Gang and Violence report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) reveals that gang-affiliated adolescents’ most common reason for migrating from one city to another was to improve their quality of life and to be near relatives and friends. One of those cities gang members migrated to in the late 1980s was Seattle.
By 1986, Marshall’s family structure had undergone major transitions. His parents had divorced, his father battled addiction, and his mother’s mental health began to decline. He said it left him, at the age of 12, to grow-up prematurely.
His sister’s boyfriend from Compton — who was gang-affiliated and had migrated to Seattle — would extend a helping hand to Marshall throughout their family’s financial hardship.
At the time, this man and his friends seemed like a brotherhood that cared for him during his time of need, Marshall said. Due to the instability of his environment, and seeking out male guidance, he began to hang around this older group of males.
“For a lot of us, to manage, it was something easy to get wrapped up in,” Marshall said.
Between 1987 and 1988, gun violence and addiction in the Lakeshore Village Apartments surged, Marshall said.
Marshall’s first-hand encounter with gun violence transpired at the age of 12. As he was leaving a neighborhood party, a gang-related shooting took place, and a spray of bullets left Marshall and others running for survival.
“Getting shot at became a part of the program,” Marshall said, “in my mind, I was like they’re trying to kill us and I’m not tryna die.”
This program would be one that began to desensitize Marshall’s response to gun violence. Blacks have always been a target for racialized brutality; however, in cases like gang violence, some have made themselves targets as well, he said.
In comparison to other neighboring gangs, Marshall and his affiliates were outnumbered, opposed by fellow gangs, and susceptible to brutal fights. When he was 13, an older man in his gang handed him a snub-nosed revolver. Although he initially perceived the gun as a device of defense and intimidation, that single experience took a major piece of his innocence, Marshall said.
“That one experience sent my life into a spiral. I was violent,” he said.
“I just never really got to be a kid. I went from a little boy into a whole different world. A world of violence, fast-paced,” Marshall said.
According to data, among children of U.S. born parents, Black and Hispanic children are consistently exposed to a greater number of adverse experiences — approximately seven out of the nine adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) — in comparison to white children.
“In a community where there’s no guidance, you have the tendency to take the easy way out,” Marshall said, “when you’re immature and don’t have the adequate skills to process what’s going on around you.”
One of the major skills Marshall lacked as a youth — and aims to teach his children today — is self-value and accountability, he said.
“I know for my generation, a lot of things going on in the world today, we’re very much so responsible,” Marshall said.
In his early adolescent years, Marshall was sent to youth detention centers. There he felt that
youth advisors were elitist and intellectualized his trauma. Although he excelled academically, the classroom environment was challenging and educators labeled him as “a problem,” he said.
A young man who has no outlet to express how he’s feeling and has kept his emotions bottled-up is a formula for chaos.
“Sometimes, all we really need is somebody to hear us, somebody to cry to, somebody to understand. Growing-up, I felt like nobody understood,” Marshall said.
Self-value, Marshall said, is the real problem behind gun violence among youth.
“Part of the problem we have in the community is that these dudes don’t value theyself, so they don’t value they friends, so they’re doing a whole bunch of crazy stuff,” Marshall said.
There were times Marshall believed he was worthless because his environment, classroom, the legal system, and familial circumstances didn’t say otherwise. Thus, because he didn’t value his own life, he was less likely to value his neighbor’s well being, he said.
“Not valuing myself placed me in a state to where … I wasn’t going to kill myself, but I was chasing death,” Marshall said.
The crack epidemic was unprecedented. Many adults lacked the experience to resonate with Marshall and his peers — especially in Seattle. Whereas today, Marshall and his peers possess the experience to empathize with the challenges this generation is facing due to the opioid epidemic, gun violence, and gang-related disputes.
“I’ve invested my entire life into somethin’ that never paid me back,” Marshall said,”there’s no winners; everybody loses.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-value is “confidence in one’s own merit or importance; self-worth.” Self-value is a universal topic across all generations. Being able to first value ourselves enables us to value and serve those around us.
“I reached a point in my life when I felt like David matters. I couldn’t do the same stuff I used to do,” Marshall said.
Love is a verb. The mission to be love begins by accepting that each individual has a story. Marshall’s involvement with gun violence was rooted in an innate desire to unleash the trauma that he encountered as a child.
“A person who is beloved, they carried themself in a way that places other people in a position where they can’t help but to love that person,” Marshall said.
On June 12, 2021, Marshall’s son, David Marshall Jr., was murdered in downtown Seattle. The shooter remains unidentified.
“I’ve been on both ends of the gun and I know what it feels like,” Marshall said.
He recalls the first time he recognized the value of a life beyond his own, with the birth of his son Marshall Jr.
“Having my son showed me that life had value. That’s when me, as a man, started to transition and change. Prior to that, I didn’t care if I saw tomorrow,” Marshall said.
As a father, Marshall is adamant about working to establish a moral foundation for his children. He said being honest and transparent with his children bridges opportunities for understanding.
In regards to our youth today, it is imperative that we, “take the time to show them that their every breath is worth something,” Marshall said.
As a parent, Marshall identifies the influence of social media conditioning our youth — which can sometimes endorse a culture of violence and hatred. Moreover, the pressure from peers has grown from the transitional context of friends into the thousands with the impact of social media, he said.
One way Marshall reaches this generation is through meaningful interactions. His street credibility grants him respect from younger generations. Inspired by the Malcolm X quote, “a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything,” Marshall empowers younger generations to “do something that’s fruitful,” he said.
Listening to Marshall tell his story as a survivor of gun violence — from both ends of the gun — it occurs to me that ultimately, we’re all recovering from some sort of trauma. With time we recover by reaching for redemption in hopes to become better humans.
Redemption is “purifying yourself also for the benefit of others,” Marshall said, “but in order to set out on that type of course you have to hold yourself accountable and you have to accept what you’ve done.”
We must daily identify our self-value in order to account for the errors we’ve made. In our vulnerabilities we learn to become stronger individually in order to serve a greater collective. Despite all our trauma, the moment we look in the mirror, and accept who’ve become, we can start loving ourselves right where we are.
“Being who I am today, and valuing myself the way that I do,” Marshall said, “I can’t even believe that’s who I used to be.”