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Caterpillar to a Butterfly – Turning Lessons into Leadership, An Executive Director of Color Institute Metamorphosis Story

By Marcus Weaver, Executive Director of Color Institute -Class of 2023 Alumni; Executive Director – Lower The Barrier Colorado, CEO – The People’s Pickles



Marcus Weaver Headshot


Stage One - Egg - The Metamorphosis Begins: The first stage of a butterfly’s life is a tiny oval, round, or cylindrical egg, depending on the butterfly species.


When I was young, I was often told I was a leader and someone who had a call on his life. I have had a heart for helping the underdogs and needy since I was a child growing up in Virginia Beach and having my own experiences with an abusive stepfather. It was an experience I sought to escape.


During my senior year, I quit school, got my GED, and became a father at 17. My son Jordan came into the world in 1989. And sadly, I almost lost my life in a car accident that nearly killed me. While I survived, it crushed any opportunity to serve in the military. Being a young father with growing responsibilities was tough, and I needed a career.


We moved to Washington, DC., where I began my nonprofit career at the Nature Conservancy in Rosslyn, a large environmental protection organization. It was my first experience with people passionate about work, not money.


While I thrived at work, on the inside, I was struggling. Things were falling apart in my personal life, and I didn’t want to move back to Virginia Beach. So, I didn’t, and instead moved to Denver, where I attended radiology school and received the National Radiology Student of the Year award. I was the first Black male to win. I networked and made many connections, but it did not last.


Six months after getting my degree, I self-sabotaged and began committing crimes. I ended up in a high-speed chase with the police and was arrested. I found myself devastated and homeless. I needed a change. Because of my bad decisions, I spent time in Denver, Arapahoe, and Adams County jails. I was facing 40 years for all my crimes. At my final court hearing, I told the judge I would change. I made a promise to him and myself. I told him I wanted to start my own nonprofit and write a book. The judge listened and reduced my sentence to three years, and with time served, I was out six months later.


I ended up in a transitional housing program for working men and hated it. When I voiced my concerns to the program CEO, she told me if I didn’t like the setup, I should do something about it. She offered me a job working overnights. I started researching solar employment and worked with a group on a $3 million grant to create the Denver Green Initiative. I met my first mentor there, Ms. Eddie Mae Woolfolk. I went to work for her nonprofit, the Community Outreach Service Center (COSC), as her Deputy Director.


Stage Two - Caterpillar: When the egg hatches, a “larva” or “caterpillar” emerges.

In 2021, things were going well personally and professionally. While researching opportunities, I stumbled upon the Executive Directors of Color Institute (EDCI). I asked Ms. Eddie what she thought about it, and she encouraged me to pursue the course.

I started EDCI in the spring of 2022. The first thing I felt after the first meeting was a true sense of belonging. I freely shared my experience, and my cohorts shared theirs, in which knowledge was openly passed on month-to-month.


At EDCI, I learned so much. I was able to apply everything to my new job. COSC started to hit its stride as an organization. We broke ground on a new Charity’s House, revamped COSC, and developed five pillars of our work: employment, housing, peer navigation, wellness, and basic needs. Personally, I bought a house, planned a wedding, and married in July – I cried as I watched my daughter serve as the flower girl. Soon after, I was happy to learn my wife and I were expecting another child.

 

Stage Three - Chrysalis: When the caterpillar reaches full size, they form into a “chrysalis” or “pupa.” Inside, they are undergoing a transformation or “metamorphosis.” The body of a butterfly begins to form.


As I was learning and participating in EDCI, I realized that board development would be an issue at COSC, as it had been for other organizational leaders. The feedback and lessons learned through the group chats and leadership summit were invaluable in allowing me to assess my next steps.


Things continued to go well. The Charity’s House Apartments were completed, and we raised over $25 thousand. My social enterprise, the People’s Pickles, started receiving donations, too. Denver7 featured our work with men and women of color coming out of prison with warehouse and forklift training and our employment placement assistance. After watching the story, a vice president from Safeway/Albertson called me interested in getting our pickles in their stores.


However, as the months rolled on, Ms. Eddie was ready to retire, and Pastor Bob, our board chair, was retiring. I had never thought about leaving COSC, Ms. Eddie, and the clients -- but I was at a crossroads again. 


The more I thought about being the Executive Director at COSC, the more I reflected on what I had told the judge in 2008.

 

Stage Four - Butterfly: The adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis with its soft wings folded about its body. After a rest period, the butterfly pumps blood into its wings and begins to fly.


As a Butterfly, I was able to look at the big picture. I had worked for years to get here, but COSC did not fit me anymore. Ms. Eddie and I agreed it was time for me to move on. She helped me with the application to start my own nonprofit, and I filed for Nonprofit Status in August 2023, when Lower the Barrier Colorado was born.

--

Sitting in my seat, looking around at my fellow graduates during our 2023 EDCI graduation, I smiled. I am forever grateful for my experiences and the professional and personal growth I’ve gained over the past two years. It has been a tremendous journey. 

I have The People’s Pickles, a community-driven social enterprise of the nonprofit, and I look forward to  Lower the Barrier helping many more people.


Stay tuned because I’m just starting to fly.


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