Alive & Free Founder Alumnus Joseph Marshall Receives USF’s Highest Honor

Monica McCown

Staff Writer


Joe Marshall became the first alumnus in USF history to receive the California Prize for Service and the Common Good. USF hosted its annual award dinner to commemorate the prize-winner and to highlight Marshall’s life work with his organization Alive & Free. His organization creates tools to help high school students who are at risk for exposure to violence. Since Marshall began the program in 1987, more than two hundred Alive & Free alumni have graduated from college.

The California Prize for Service and the Common Good is awarded to an organization or individual who makes a significant contribution toward the common good. USF alumni Susan and Philip Marineau created the prize in 2007 to give their alma mater an annual marquee event which would focus on USF’s touchstone message, “Change the world from here.”


Trustee Eritema Susan Marineau was present to comment. “We wanted to fashion an event that really speaks to what the University is all about, honoring somebody whose life’s work has been about serving the common good,” she said. The prize is presented each year at the annual California Prize award gala. The recipient receives a silver medal and a $10,000 purse, or a small sum of money given as a prize to be used for whatever the awardee .


On April 27, USF President Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. awarded the ninth California Prize for Service and the Common Good to alumnus Joseph Marshall. Marshall, a San Francisco native, graduated from USF in 1968 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in political science and sociology. After graduation, he taught at Woodrow Wilson High School in San Francisco, which was located at the present-day site of Phillip & Sala Burton High School in the Portola district of San Francisco. Marshall later pursued a master’s degree in education from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the Wright Institute.


Marshall quit his job as a teacher in 1994 to dedicate his time to activism. “I ended up literally going to the funerals of the students I taught so I always say it’s tough to give a kid an A in math at 18 and go to his funeral a 19,” said Marshall. To help his students, he built a support system for youth in his community who were exposed to violence. “I decided that being a good teacher wasn’t enough and there was more I wanted to be doing to keep them alive, unharmed by violence, and free from incarceration,” he said. Marshall began a support group for his students in 1987, initially called the Omega Boys’ Club. His organization expanded and became known as Alive & Free in 1996.


Alive & Free hosts weekly meetings to provide emotional support for youth and help them achieve their educational goals. They offer college preparation classes as well as family meetings which are intended to be a source of “nurturing, reinforcement, motivation and renewal.” Mahogany Spears, an Alive & Free alumna, introduced Fitzgerald to present the award. Spears gave a brief speech about her time at Alive & Free. “This program was more than a program for me, it became my family,” she said.


Marshall’s passion for activism began long before his teaching career. As an undergraduate student at USF, he was the founding president of the Black Student Union. “It all started at USF; my sense of community started here,” Marshall shared.


The award dinner kicked off with a cocktail party in Gleeson Library, where members of the USF community gathered to chat before the award ceremony. Alumnus and former board of trustees member Tom Malloy said, “[Marshall] has done a wonderful job giving back, both to the community and the university, and we’re proud to have him as an alumni.” Alumnus and board of directors member Chuck Smith came to support Marshall, whom he considers a close friend. “He’s always helping the less fortunate and making sure that young people have a chance to be better than we always knew they could be,” said Smith.


When dinner was ready, the celebration made its way toward Welch Field next to St. Ignatius for the formal event. Attendees dined on Bon Appetit catering from a menu created by a professional chef. Deacon Larry Chatmon gave the invocation. “We are aware of the struggle for those in our community to have a nourishing meal,” said Chatmon as he prayed over dinner.


After acknowledging previous California Prize winners, Fitzgerald presented the prize to Marshall. “A lot of times you’re not necessarily honored or recognized at home, but here in San Francisco at USF, this is where it really started that whole thought process. I really appreciate that,” Marshall said during his acceptance speech.


Proceeds and donations from the event benefitted the African American Scholars Project at USF to continue the advocacy that Marshall began during his time at USF. The project awards merit and need-based scholarships to African American students.


Photo by Hursh Karkhanis/Foghorn


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