TEDxMileHigh Imagine speaker Marcus Doe immigrated to the United States when he was 14 years old during the Liberian civil war. He is a pastor at Providence Bible Church and an author. Marcus published his autobiography, Catching Ricebirds, in 2016.

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As a Kid, What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

As a boy growing up in Liberia, West Africa, my heroes were activists and political leaders. I dreamed of leadership, of speaking in front of people and inspiring them to action. 

I dreamed of being a great public speaker, like Martin Luther King, or an activist for justice like Nelson Mandela.

My father exposed me to the outside world by showing me the speeches of Dr. King and I learned of Nelson Mandela at school. I also wanted to be a leader because of the movies we watched. I remember watching the story of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics and Cry Freedom, the story of South African Apartheid activist Steve Biko, played by a young Denzel Washington.

What Was the Biggest Turning Point in Your Life?

The biggest turning point in my life was a day in 1992. I was living as a refugee in Ghana, having escaped the civil war in Liberia. My worst nightmare came true that day. My wishes, daydreams, and prayers had not been fulfilled. I received a letter from my brother that we were now orphans. My father had been brutally murdered by rebels in the war almost two years earlier.

The news meant that I had no one to share my successes with, no one would listen to my stories, I had no advocates or encouragers. I was all alone in the world. I became one of those kids who lost it all in the war. From that point on, I lost interest in playing, going to church, even reading books. I wanted revenge. Why would someone kill my father? I became very angry. 

It was the biggest turning point in my life because it destroyed my faith in humanity. 

My trust in humans had eroded some doing the war, but when I found out that my father was a victim, it reinforced my hatred for war.

What Are Three Facts About You That Are Completely Unrelated to the Subject of Your Talk?

  • I love watching English Premier League soccer
  • For years I taught myself to write with both hands
  • I am excellent with dates and days of the week

Who Are Three People, Living or Dead, That Inspire You the Most? 

  • Denzel Washington because his story is inspiring to me
  • Kenneth Cobbin. He spent 30 years in prison and now owns his own company
  • Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Prize Laureate

What’s Your Favorite TED or TEDx Talk?

Simon Sinek’s talk, Start with Why, is by far my favorite TED Talk.

What’s a Piece of Advice That You Live By or That You Give Other People Constantly?

If everywhere you go smells like cheese, it’s not the places you’re going. 

What’s the Biggest Challenge You Face in Your Day-To-Day Work?

On a day-to-day basis, I have difficult conversations with many people. Working for a nonprofit that helps people get out of poverty, I am constantly hearing stories that break my heart. We have buried young people who died from gun violence. I have seen countless people relapse into drugs, lose their housing, go back into abusive relationships, etc. I have offered advice to people who face a real fear of failure. 

The opposite fear also exists and it is even more daunting: the fear of success. 

As people get closer and closer to economic self-sufficiency and begin to face the possibility of losing the safety net of government benefits, I have seen people suffer anxiety and digress.

The conversations around hardship become spiritual and difficult very quickly. I have watched people lose jobs, marriages, kids, freedom, sometimes all in the same month. I dive into these conversations head-on, knowing that I can make a difference with someone. Someone who sits across the table from me can and will be successful. I rest in the fact that it is not all up to me to make sure every person makes great life decisions. Yet, I take these conversations and relationships on because some people need someone to tell them they are valuable, and that there is hope for them.

Name One Thing We Aren’t Spending Enough Time Thinking About as a Society. What Would Be a Good First Step?

The effects of social media on the human brain and mental health. I notice the difference when I take time off from Facebook and Twitter. My anxiety level goes down and my mental focus at work and with my family increases.

If You Could Achieve One Goal in the Next Year What Would It Be?

My one goal for the next year is to finish writing my series of autobiographical children’s books. My first book was published in 2016. My publisher has given me the go-ahead to produce a children’s series based on my book. I have not been able to come up with what I think is a great way to write and illustrate the story. There are significant challenges I see ahead in writing my story for an audience of children. My story is sad and violent, but also very inspiring.

If I can achieve this goal in the next year it would be huge to keep the momentum going on my overall project of seeing literacy increase in my home country. 

What Action Can the TedxMileHigh Community Take to Support Your Big Idea? 

Support efforts and nonprofits that work to get books to countries without public library systems.