When Joyce Marrie, Ph.D., became a Christian in 1973, she knew she wanted to enhance her career and do more with her life. At first, she wasn’t sure school was the route, but eventually found her way to North Central and majored in Psychology. “I was always helping people, listening to their stories,” Marrie said, and psychology seemed like a good field for that.
As a non-traditional student, it took her some time to make it through school, but she graduated in 1997 and went on to earn a master’s degree in human development from St. Mary’s University and a Ph.D. from Minnesota Graduate School of Theology.
For her master’s degree, Marrie did an in-depth study on the life of Sojourner Truth, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist best-known for her speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Marrie’s journey found her learning a great deal about diversity and social issues, and she integrated drama therapy and the character of Sojourner Truth into her thesis.
Bringing a character from the past to life for new audiences has been a powerful experience. “We used different actors to come in and ask her [Sojourner Truth] questions from today’s youth,” Marrie explained. “My professor encouraged me to push that a little bit more.” Using her experiences acting as Truth, Marrie has expanded the topic and written devotional books with lessons from the abolitionist’s life. Her second book, “We’re All On a Journey,” was recently released and a book-signing event is being held in Edina on Feb. 23.
Marrie has performed as Sojourner Truth for schools and events for the past several years.
Transforming lives through drama
For Joyce Marrie, drama has always been a powerful tool. She started the nonprofit Crossroads Panorama (formerly Actors for Christ) more than 30 years ago as an avenue for youth education in the arts. Crossroads serves as an outreach center to empower kids to be successful. “You have to reach them before you can teach them,” Marrie shared philosophically. By getting students involved in drama, they learn to express themselves and experience a healthy place to work through challenges they face.
Crossroads occupies a former Blockbuster Video store location in Richfield, Minnesota, and most days after school you’ll find students working on a play, relaxing, and interacting with “Dr. Joyce.”
Marrie’s passion and compassion for youth comes from some of her own struggles. School was hard for her and she had to try harder than the other kids. “I had to try hard to read more,” she reflected. “But even having a doctorate doesn’t prove who I am. I see it as God’s blessing that He let me get that far—it was a testimony.”
Learning to believe in herself has empowered her to believe in others. “You have unlimited ability inside of you, waiting dormant,” Marrie said. “You need to stretch yourself and utilize that. I want to have no regrets! It’s important to do all I can do, be all I can be.”
Her work with drama has also opened doors to work with incarcerated youth. Bringing her drama and her message to students in juvenile corrections has been a meaningful experience for Marrie. She knows with them she must be authentic, and they trust her. “Kids know if you’re real,” she said; “you can’t fool them.” When she earns their trust, she tells them a message they need to hear: “You have to be who you are because somebody is waiting for who you are.”
What does Sojourner say today?
Drawing inspiration from the life and character of Sojourner Truth continues to be a powerful motivator for Marrie. “I talk about Sojourner Truth in her life and put it in [the context] of today,” she explained. “The things she went through were unheard of, but she had help! She changed her name to Sojourner because she was called to go up and down the land to preach the Gospel. Sojourner Truth was prophetic in her calling, trusting God with everything. She had the state of mind that God was going to go with her.”
Leaning in to that kind of faith is an encouragement to Marrie. She stepped out in faith to move Crossroads Panorama into the Blockbuster space. “I say, ‘God, this is your building and you do what you want with it!’” Marrie explained. “It’s been over a year and we’re still here.”
Driven by a desire to see kids change also keeps Marrie going. “My heart is move when I see the change in people once they’ve gotten involved. If we can get them to get involved, they go on to do great things.”
Her vision is to continue to expand and serve the community. “We are supposed to share the Gospel with everyone and welcome everyone,” Marrie said. “Jesus did it, Sojourner did it, so we can learn how to do it!”
Last year, Dr. Joyce Marrie was recognized as Richfield’s Outstanding Citizen of 2018. A post on the City of Richfield’s Facebook page stated, “For 2018, the [Richfield Human Rights] commission selected Richfield resident Joyce Marrie, who has spent the past 37 years teaching social and problem-solving communication skills to students using theater and dance. Through her work, she empowers youth to achieve their goals and understand their purpose. She challenges them to tap into the true potential within each one of them.”
Dr. Joyce was stunned by the honor. At a special reception in her honor, she shared “I Found a Diamond,” a poem she wrote that illustrates why she does what she does:
I Found a diamond
By Joyce Marrie
I found a diamond … shining bright.
Do you see it … beyond the rough black night?
I found a diamond … shining bright, beyond the rough black night.
See it? … It can be found!
For when it is buffed, polished out of the rough black night,
the diamond resonates with
potential, tenacity, respect, support and trust.
I see that diamond, shining bright, lighter than a rough black night.
I found a diamond!!!