CHAMPAIGN — Marquise Linnear was always really good with numbers, a blessing and a curse for a kid who grew up in a violent West Side neighborhood where the stats weren't always promising.
On his block many didn't graduate high school, and even fewer made it to college. Still, Marquise was determined to be known as a math major, and not a statistic.
Inside a classroom at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently, a seemingly unending equation being scribbled on the chalkboard would leave most observers with a headache. But for Marquise, the advanced calculus class is exactly where he wants to be.
There's not a lot of common denominators among the students there. Most will tell you they knew they'd be there all along. Not Marquise.
"Everybody doesn't have the background where it's all nice, safe and magical and everything," he said.
As a kid, Marquise remembers hearing gunshots all the time outside his bedroom window, but never thought they'd hit home. His father told him good grades and a college degree would give him a life different than what he knew in his West Lawn neighborhood.
"He really encouraged me to be the best I could be," recalls Marquise.
He was just 12 when his father Anthony was shot and killed at a house party down the street. That moment was a breaking point for the young teen, who further isolated himself as he began high school.
Those years weren't any easier. At the age of 14, Marquise was attacked and stabbed by a group of boys as he was leaving a dance class. The incident left him with a fractured arm, dislocated shoulder and stab wound. But perhaps more importantly, it left him with a determination to get out and create something different in his life.
Bottom Line college counselor Emily Rivest remembers the first time she met with Marquise when he was a junior in high school.
"He said, 'I'm going to a school outside Chicago and I'm going to a school with a good math program,'" she recalls.
Bottom Line believes that every student deserves the opportunity to earn a college degree, no matter what zip code they come from. With their help, Marquise was able to secure a number of scholarships and grant aid to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
"My mother didn't go to college and my father was gone, so it was really just me . So Bottom Line was extremely helpful because it helps low income students like myself get into college," Marquise said.
Since arriving in school, Marquise is acing all of his advanced level classes, and is even a leader on the university's dance team. During our interview, Marquise shared that it was also his father's birthday, and he knows he's looking down with a smile.
"He'd be really surprised and kind of proud about how I was able to do things that he probably thought I was never going to do," Marquise said.
His hope is to be remembered not as the kid who was good at math, but as the kid that proved your origins aren't the only indicator of how things can turn out.
"It shouldn't matter," says Marquise, "how hard it is, or how much it took a piece of you. They should look at barriers as part of life, but don't let it destroy their life."