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MarShawn McCarrel: A Poet, Activist, and Friend is Missed

by Mashaun D. Simon /  / Updated 
Image: Marshawn McCarrel
Marshawn McCarrel's profile photo on his Facebook account.via acebook

As many wonder what could have caused a young Ohio activist to allegedly shoot and kill himself on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse on Monday, those who knew him and were inspired by him just want to remember.

MarShawn McCarrel II was a community activist, compassionate leader and a poet, according to reports and those who knew him.

Matthew Pitts was just one of the many to pay tribute to the 23-year-old McCarrel on Facebook.

“The most important thing I remember about him was that he genuinely cared for people,” said Pitts who also goes by the stage name, Mathias. “He wanted something for the world that the world wasn’t ready to receive.”

"He knew how to flip anything into a positive. I think the world needs that kind of person, always.”

“Peace and unity,” Pitts told NBCBLK via email, were the two things McCarrel wanted. The friends met at Writing Wrongs, a poetry slam based in Columbus, Ohio.

Pitts said McCarrel was about saving neighborhoods, children and people. “A lot of times [saving neighborhoods] from themselves,” he said. “He was one of the most passionate people I knew.”

In 2013 McCarrel founded Pursuing Our Dreams, which launched an effort to feed Columbus' homeless. It was an effort close to his heart due to his own experiences of homelessness.

During a local news conference in 2014, McCarrel spoke about the realities of living in fear at the hands of law enforcement.

"People shouldn't have to live in fear, that’s slavery,” he said in the video. “It's slavery, it's traumatic. Whenever I see a badge or police lights, that immediately I live in fear for my life. That's a form of slavery, it's oppressive."

Named a Radio One Hometown Champion for his outstanding community work, McCarrel had traveled to Los Angeles for the NAACP Image Awards with his mother Leatha Wellington, just days before his death. His twin brother, MarQuan McCarrel, also survives him.

Some have speculated that depression is what caused McCarrel to reportedly take a gun and shoot himself in the head on that afternoon. A post on what appears to be McCarrel’s Facebook page Monday read, “My demons won today. I’m sorry.”

Pitts, whose own brother committed suicide years ago, considered McCarrel one the few genuine soldiers of true, unselfish, self-sacrificing love on this earth. He was not aware of any personal problems McCarrel may have been facing, however he would rather focus on his friend’s legacy.

“His legacy to me is just the notion that we are all responsible for making the world better for the rest,” he said. “It was his heart and mission. We can be a better society if we adopted even a portion of what he worked for.”

Dre Propst, co-founder of the Atlanta Chapter of Black Lives Matter movement said he did not know McCarrel personally, but was moved by his death. His older brother also committed suicide at the age of 17 in 1987.

“When any person commits suicide it hurts,” he told NBCBLK, adding that many black men in America are dealing with some form of depression. “It just hurts me to see a young person take their life.”

Propst said one of the components of the Black Lives Matter movement is a focus on self-care and communal support.

“It is a system of support because sometimes this work can be draining and traumatic,” he said. “Sometimes being face-to-face with the injustices; sometimes interacting with the mothers whose sons have been murdered; sometimes when you drive by and see families on the street; it can all be draining, straining and traumatic.”

Marshawn McCarrel
Marshawn McCarrelvia GoFundMe

For Pitts, McCarrel’s death re-enforces the need for self-care in the black community.

“We go through so much as a community and we are often burdened with the assumption that we are too strong or have to appear strong enough to take any and everything. It’s a frame of mind that creates great soldiers who move mountains for the betterment of everyone, but it often makes you lock everything away emotionally until the levee breaks,” he said. “Then we lose people we can't afford to lose. We all have an obligation to take care of each other. And more importantly, not to be afraid to allow ourselves to be cared for.”

“He wanted something for the world that the world wasn’t ready to receive.”

As friends and family mourn, they also vow to keep pushing for the issues McCarrel fought for.

“His death, it affects us all. We will keep his, we will never forget what he did for the community in Ohio,” Propst said. “We keep on fighting for the same things he was fighting for – for the passage of bills, for people dealing with mental illness, black people criminalized in the system, black trans people being criminalized and against the criminalization of people with HIV or homeless.”

For those who knew McCarrel, Pitts said his absence is being felt.

“One of many his many traits that is being missed right now is his positivity,” he said. “He knew how to flip anything into a positive. I think the world needs that kind of person, always.”

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