Marquita Burke-De Jesus isn’t a politician or a newsperson. She’s not a famous actor, or a musician, or a reality television star.
In fact, she considers herself to be an “ordinary” person, just like any other average American. Marquita’s life changed, however, when she discovered the difference between being ordinary – and being “radically ordinary.”
“I’m just like you,” she said. “I am completely ordinary. I was just transformed by a radical experience.”
Since visiting Cambodia in 2010, Marquita has become an activist and philanthropist. She has written a book, appropriately titled “Radically Ordinary,” and she recently delivered a Ted Talk in her home town of Plano, TX.
Now, through her dance company, the Fusion Performance Company in Plano, Marquita has partnered with Plan International USA in her continued mission to end the cycle of child poverty, eliminate violence, and empower children and communities
It was the organization’s sustainable programming that was most attractive.
“I said ‘I’m going to do the research and I’m going to find an organization that I believe will support kids in under-resourced areas and will do the most work with a dollar,’” she said. “I was most impressed with the creativity I saw with Plan’s programming.”
She made it the mission of her dance company to pay it forward, first by sponsoring a child. Most recently, the Fusion Performance Company raised $3,000 for Plan’s Gifts of Hope program to provide baby chicks to an under-resourced community.
For Marquita and her students, the dance floor is their pulpit.
“I really found self-empowerment and confidence in my ability to help the world through dance,” she said. “In a unique way, dancers have a voice and a platform that other people don’t. We can move people with movement.”
Marquita first realized the power of dance when she was provided with the opportunity to travel to Cambodia as part of a program that empowered recently freed children who had been trafficked. Her mission was to empower them with the art of dance.
The experience, which became the primary narrative of her 2014 book, was both disturbing and transformational. “I was really surprised to see such small girls,” she said. “Some were 6 years old but they were malnourished so they looked like they were 3. I really came to understand vulnerability in our world in a whole new way. I knew then that my life would never be the same.”
Since then, Marquita has been a strong advocate against human trafficking and violence. She has visited legislators in Washington DC, become a frequent blogger, and made a vow to never avoid speaking up out of fear. She dedicated every day in 2012 to doing at least one thing to bring awareness to human trafficking.
Bringing awareness through creative advocacy also led her to Zambia, where she ran a dance workshop.
She soon found herself motivating children and communities in the African country to speak out and act.
“[I told them] you’re not victims and survivors,” she said. “You have the greatest voice in this city and for this community. It is time for you to speak up. It is time for you to speak out.
“These kids need to be helped, but they also need to be empowered.”
Marquita realizes that collaboration needs to trump competition. Whether it be the survivors themselves, members of the community, governments, or nonprofits, everyone needs to work together to defeat poverty, violence, and disempowerment.
“That is probably the biggest shift that needs to happen,” she said. “We are as a culture so passionate about competition.”
Plan’s work to give a voice to children, youth, girls, and women – thereby bringing them into the collaborative fold – has enthused and excited Marquita, who – as a dancer – values creativity.
Plan’s Because I am a Girl Campaign, and efforts to give girls a voice through local media and radio, have been particularly compelling for Marquita.
“For girls in these under-resourced countries, they need to know that their voices matter,” she said. “I thought that was incredibly creative. In terms of practicality of solving the problem, it solved it in so many different ways.”
Marquita knows that building a better world isn’t easy. It will require everyone’s efforts, including the “average” person.
After all, we are all “ordinary.” But, it takes our voices and action to be “radically ordinary.”