“I spent multiple years in sadness and anger trying to figure out a way to honor him,” Lewis said. “I needed to find a way to do it without leaving us all in sadness.”
That was is Make Your Marq, a not-for-profit organization founded by Lewis in his brother’s memory.
Through his program, Lewis is on a mission to help kids choose the right path in their lives by being there at the right moments.
“Some of it is a celebration of kids who have already chosen the right path, and it’s also a program that reaches out to kids who are standing at a crossroads,” Lewis said. “We want to help them go the right way, and reward and support the ones who are already there.”
Lewis, 37, is the offensive coordinator for Peoria High School’s longtime state power football team, serving under head coach Tim Thornton. Over the summer, Lewis said 29 players from that team volunteered for projects in the community including running grade-school kids through football drills or working with the Peoria Park District.
In addition to working with the high school team, Lewis developed a program built for kids in grade school. Make Your Marq operates out of Elise Ford Allen Academy, where Lewis works as a behavior coach.
“I’m the firefighter before the fire blows up,” he said. “It takes some time, a wide range of grade levels involved. You multi-task and meet them where they are.”
Lewis, who has been on Thornton’s football staff for 10 years, has taken the head coach’s methods to heart.
“I learned from Tim you have to make it cool for other kids to be part of,” he said.
How Make Your Marq works
Lewis looks at several factors for kids in his program, a balance of attendance, grades and behavior. Some are kids who have to work harder to get their grades. Others have had behavior issues.
But one ingredient is crucial: “We find kids who are leaders and help us get through to other kids,” Lewis said. “We have kids who don’t say two words in our hallways but lead by example, quietly, in the background.”
Make Your Marq has meetings focused on building skills. “The ability to press pause,” Lewis said. “That’s a skill and we’re teaching kids that the first response isn’t always the best response.”
They have a TikTok page, where the kids make videos from things like a volleyball practice, or one-on-one discussions like the one with fourth-grader Aaliyah on everything from her favorite food and color, to who she trusts the most and one thing that always turns her day around (“seeing other people happy”) and to describe herself (“I can do anything”).
That TikTok page is MakeYourMarq309, with a new video created about once a week.
“It’s a platform these kids are all using,” Lewis said. “We have a bulletin board at the school for updates. Elise students serve as program officers, including a director of arts (Antwaun Alexander, 7th grader), a director of social media (Nhyaire Shorty, 6th grader), a president (Micayla Nunn-Alexander) and a vice-president (Aunisty Thomas, 5th grade).
“The kids have to come to me and tell me something they see on the board. It’s a way to keep them engaged.”
Lewis launched the program in 2020. It has a leadership council of 32 kids now, drawing mostly from grades 2-8.
“The whole goal is all about how everything you do is impacting your community in a positive or negative way,” Lewis said. “We give the kids the option to volunteer, and it’s really encouraging the number of times they say yes. They help with clean-up projects or help older adults.
“It’s not just about fixing kids who have problems. It’s about making things cool and rewarding for kids who do things right. We’re trying to make this something they want to do.”
The Marques he knew
Asa Lewis’ brother, Marques Sebastian Allen Cotton, died at age 29 in an Iowa hotel shooting in 2017.
“29. Lost his life to gun violence at 29,” Lewis said. “So young when you think about it. I lost him. Everyone has positive choices and negative choices inside them. It comes down to who is around them to guide them.
“He had a big, infectious smile. The brother I knew talked about sports and memories growing up. I’d hear other things not so good about him, and I didn’t know who that was. Some people in his life let him go left when he should have gone right. He had reached a fork. He’ll be there forever.”
The hottest T-shirt in town
Make Your Marq is emblazoned on a T-shirt in a variety of colors, and it’s a hot item at Elise Ford Allen Academy. The 32 kids on the leadership council get one. Everyone else in the program has to earn one over time with improved behavior, grades, or attendance — letting them know the program is watching their progress.
“The most important part of what we do is our T-shirts,” Lewis said. “The kids all want these, it makes them feel like they are part of something.”
You can help Make Your Marq with donations for those T-Shirts, and through volunteering. The program can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”This is all about how we get to kids who don’t know what they need, and they get an important message from us in turn,” Lewis said. “And that T-shirt is a badge of honor to these kids.”
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. He can be reached at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.