“Fierce Advocate” for Commmunity Dies at 70By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / December 8, 2016
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On Thursday, December 15 at 12 noon, the family, friends and colleagues of Greensboro attorney Marquis Delano Street will gather in the Dudley Room of the old Hayes-Taylor YMCA on East Market Street – where he was an active supporter for more than 30 years – to celebrate what many say was his selfless life of giving, community service, visionary leadership and loving.
“Because of my husband, probably for the first time in my life, I felt loved…and lovable,” Sallie Melendez, his wife, tearfully remembered. “He told me as long as we were together, I would never open a door…he would always insist on opening the door for me,” she continued, noting that her devoted husband was always the ultimate gentleman.
Marquis D. Street, 70, passed away Sunday, Nov. 27, three months after being diagnosed last August with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer.
He was cremated Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.
“The real story of Marquis Street lies not with the unique relationship that he and I had,” Melendez says, “but with the person that he was with other people.”
During a long, committed and distinguished life, Street was the recipient of numerous honors and awards for his civic work, including a citation from the North Carolina Human Relations Commission signed by Gov. Jim Hunt; the Greensboro NAACP branch Supportive Service and Community Service Awards; and the Lifetime Service Award for Service to Youth from Brothers Organized to Save Others (BOTSO-Greensboro).
But the true monuments to Marquis Street’s undying commitment to community are the many young people he mentored, like nephew Haile Lindsay.
An only child, Lindsay, 37, recalls how “Uncle Mike” would take the young man under his wing, and encourage good grades with monetary incentives, with straight A’s yielding the greatest rewards. “He always pushed me, and every time I’d go and see him, he’d always provide wisdom.”
The “pay for good grades” incentives and encouragement certainly paid off. Lindsay earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.
Today he is a project manager at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, having worked there for nine years.
“When I heard of his passing, it definitely left a void in my heart,” Dr. Lindsay said of his Uncle Mike, remembering this “man of the people.”
“Greensboro has lost a great man.”
Born June 20, 1946, Marquis Street was a native of Greensboro, where he graduated from F. D. Bluford Elementary School, Lincoln Junior High School, and James B. Dudley High School – Class of 1964.
“I’m so very proud to be a member of DHS Class of 1964 because I believe that this class represents the school very well, and Marquis Street stood out like a … beacon,” wrote actor Junious Leak, a former classmate, on Street’s Facebook page.
Street later earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in History as an honor student from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1968. He joined the Army R.O.T.C. while there, earning the rank of Cadet Colonel, Brigade Commander. He also earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“He put himself through [NC] A&T, working multiple jobs, being in the R.O.T.C., trying to scrape together the one hundred and thirty-four dollars per semester it cost for him to go to school,” Sallie Melendez said. “He was very focused.”
Street participated as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Beta Epsilon Chapter (NC A&T) 1965; and Beta Epsilon Boule, Sigma Pi Phi Honorary Fraternity (inactive).
Upon graduation, Street was awarded a full academic scholarship to the University of Iowa College of Law (Iowa City, IA.), earning a Doctorate of Jurisprudence degree in 1971, becoming licensed to practice law in his home state of North Carolina the following year.
Prior to establishing his own law firm in Greensboro in 1975, Street served as Assistant to the Chancellor for Legal Affairs, and as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at his alma mater N.C. A&T State University. He then joined the law firm of Frye, Johnson & Barbee in Greensboro as an associate from 1972-74. He later became Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor for Administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill until 1975.
When he opened his own practice, Street concentrated on representing personal injury and automobile accident victims. He would eventually expand his practice to include wrongful and accidental death, traffic tickets and DWI, criminal misdemeanors, will/settlement of estates, administrative law and general civil practices.
“Marquis was a very able, very capable trial lawyer in personal injury law,” said Rev. Steve Allen, pastor of historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro, but also a former lawyer and colleague of Street for many years. “Everybody who knew Marquis knew he was always very well prepared. That was one of his trademarks. He was a very fierce advocate.”
Attorney Street, who was a proud professional member of the North Carolina State Bar Association, Guilford County Bar Association, North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, the National Bar Association and the United States Supreme Court Bar, practiced law for over 41 years.
“Marquis was a first-class guy,” recalls colleague attorney R. Steve Bowden, of R. Steve Bowden and Associates in Greensboro. “He was knowledgeable, had a strong practice, excellent in the courtroom, carried himself professionally, and always dressed impeccably. That’s one of the things about Marquis that caught my attention as soon as I got here. You knew he was successful the way he presented himself. It was with a level of sophistication and professionalism that you just didn’t see every day.”
When it came to the community he loved, Marquis Street gave of himself and his talents generously. Even people he didn’t know, but had heard of the man, would always greet him with a warm welcome.
“He was hardworking, and a good father-figure,” recalls nephew Taufeeq Nasir. “Basically he would just help anyone who needed help.”
Inspiring young people to work hard to lead productive, meaningful lives, Street devoted much of his time and energy to the Hayes-Taylor YMCA since 1977, where he chaired the Board of Management from 1983 to 1995, established the Street-Nasir Scholarship Trust, was a Sustaining Campaign worker and an Honorary Life Member.
Hayes-Taylor Y was an important place of growth and learning for Street ever since he was seven-years old, coming up as a Black child in the segregated South of the early ‘50s. He intimately knew the value of the Y for young people, and the important nurturing that it offered. So his continued devotion to it was no surprise, as Marquis Street was the second longest board chairman to serve in the facility’s history.
“The thing I remember most was his love for the Hayes-Taylor YMCA, and his love for children of color… fighting for locations and places for them to go,” recalls Edith Chance, one of Street’s “besties” friends from NC A&T, adding that he never forgot “…from whence he came.”
“He always let you know where he stood, of what he thought of you…,” Chance continued, recalling how they both served on the Hayes-Taylor Board of Management together for several years (she served as secretary).
Street was once named YMCA Man of the Year, and received the Hayes-Taylor Citizenship and Service to Youth Award.
The gymnasium at the old Hayes-Taylor YMCA on E. Market Street was named after him.
“Marquis was the epitome of pulling up one’s self by his bootstraps,” said Ernie Pitt, close friend, and publisher of the Winston-Salem Chronicle. “Nobody gave him anything. He was a determined, dedicated individual who loved his community, and loved the people in it. I’m so happy, and so proud to have been one of his good friends. I loved him.”
Rick Mills, a retired corporate executive, remembers “Mike” Street from their days together as housemates while attending N.C. A&T University as undergraduates.
“Mike helped me a lot with history classes,” Mills said of the then history honor student. “He was my buddy.”
The two remained close for years after Street began practicing law, and represented Mills on various important matters. If there was one thing Mills says he knew he could always count on beyond Street’s friendship, was his word – if Marquis Street said he was going to do something, it got done.
“And he did it when he said he was going to do it,” Mills declared. “I came to rely on him. He’s going to be missed.”
“His passing,” Rick Mills continued, “does have a big impact on me.”
The legacy of Marquis Street now looms large in Greensboro’s history, and the standard of excellence he set, not only for himself, but the many young lives that he touched through his personal and community commitments, will always remain the lasting trademark of his contributions.
Of her beloved husband, whom she vows she’ll always be married to, Sallie Melendez poignantly says, “He gave in so many ways to so many people, known, and unknown.”
Atty. Marquis Street is survived by his wife, Sallie; one older brother, two sisters, one son (from a previous marriage), one stepson, and a host of nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.
For those wishing to acknowledge the generous life of Marquis Street in some way, in lieu of flowers and cards, you are encouraged to make contributions to the Hayes-Taylor Memorial YMCA; 2630 East Florida Street; Greensboro, N.C. 27401.
The Celebration of Life Service for Street will be held on Thursday, December 15 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. in the Dudley Room of the OLD Hayes-Taylor YMCA at 1101 East Market Street in Greensboro.