Sunday, March 27, 2011

Past Story

I first met Marcee Lee Winthrop in March at an open mic night. She and her daughter, Tammy, were sitting in the shadows of The Orange and Brew, anxiously awaiting Marcee’s turn at the mic.

Feeling out of place at a poetry event and in desperate need of a source for my story, I approached Marcee and Tammy’s table. The anxiety that shared their table was welcoming to me, even as I was every bit as anxious as they were. I asked that dreaded reporting icebreaker:

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

That was months ago. Now I’m no longer the only person banging on Marcee’s door looking to tell her story. And what a story it is.

Marcee’s story of an upward ascent out of poverty is one that reads like a fairy tale.

Impoverished for the last two decades, abandoned by her husband of seven years, and left to be a single mother to her 14-year-old daughter and having to go without many of the things most of us take for granted, she struggled.

“We flat-lined,” she said. “We were already poor, but now we were indigent.”

Until one day, a fairy godmother appeared. Though not the kind you would expect. Marcee’s fairy godmother was Marcee.

“I was on a journey to get out of poverty and it started with a mind change,” she said. Her mindset changed from “I can’t” to “I’ll try” to “I will.”

And for the sake of her daughter, she promised that they would be out of poverty by the end of the year, “and I don’t lie to my daughter.” So in January she decided to give it a go. Her New Year’s resolution, she declared, was to lift herself and Tammy above the poverty level.

And now, with three months left in 2009, Marcee has transformed from a housewife-turned single-mother to something of a local celebrity. With her first book, “Poverty Revolution Part One: Skimming the Surface,” already under her belt and another on the way, Marcee now must try to make time for all the new media engagements.

In the coming weeks, she’s scheduled to share her work with a women’s studies class, sing for World Peace Day and to participate in a panel on homelessness in Gainesville, FL. At a recent appearance for the University of Florida’s Association of Black Communicators, Marcee’s metamorphosis was on display for students to see. Clutching two crumpled, heavily-scribbled-on sheets of paper, Marcee charmed her audience with inspiring life stories about poverty, happiness, her daughter and a nearly-sold-out book.

Several on-line bookstores carry “Poverty Revolution,” she said, but not “I’m sure I’ll get them,” she laughed. “They’ll get the second edition.”

She even came with a personal photographer. David, she says, was a student recommended by the Department of Journalism to take pictures for her upcoming second edition.

Marcee has achieved a remarkable amount of success in a short period of time. Poetry, she hopes, will be her ticket out of a poverty that has haunted her for much of her life and for all of her daughter’s.

Marcee’s tale is empowering. Without much work history or money, but with an abundance of determination and will power, she has managed to carve out a livable niche with her daughter.

Like a flower growing between the cracks in a sidewalk, Marcee’s talent and acclaim have blossomed in a city notorious for treating its impoverished populace like second-rate citizens.

But for Marcee, it is the struggle that she wants to inspire people not the success.

“I want people to know that it is possible to start with absolutely nothing.”

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