David Marquis performed his first activism in Dallas at a school board meeting 40 years ago.
He was a teacher just out of college, and he spoke for 3 minutes about a measure that would’ve taken basic human biology out of textbooks on the grounds it was too racy. The speech was so charismatic, he says, that the school board president quickly called for a vote, and the measure was defeated.
It’s hard to describe Marquis in a few words, but here are some: Activist, education advocate, conservationist, environmental lobbyist, storyteller, actor, performer, writer, director.
To celebrate his 65th birthday this month, he is putting on a show at the Kessler Theater Monday, Feb. 15. Singer Denise Lee and musician Neeki Bey will perform, along with “the most diverse choir in Dallas,” put together especially for this show. Marquis’ pal Eric Nadel, the voice of the Texas Rangers, also will take the stage.
The show is a way to say “thank you” to all of the people who have touched his life, Marquis says.
“I want it to be about love and gratitude,” he says. “It’s also about affecting change.”
Marquis, who toured for 20 years with his one-man show “I am a Teacher,” says he naturally is quiet and reserved. He credits his talent for public speaking to his speech teacher at Lubbock High School, Mamie Porter.
Whether performing a one-man play in a 3,000-seat theater or arguing for water conservation before a panel of bored Texas lawmakers, the goal is the same, Marquis says. People want to be entertained. Reading a dry 10-page speech won’t have the same effect as delivering a punchy 3-minutes that hit the most important points.
Marquis and his wife, Diana, moved to Oak Cliff in 1993 and live near Kiest and Westmoreland. He is the founder of Oak Cliff Nature Preserve, which is thought to be the first use of a conservation easement in Dallas zoning history. It’s more than just the eight-mile hike-and-bike trail. The development also included affordable senior housing, a library and an elementary school.
Amid the often twisted values of Texas lawmakers and our endlessly frustrating public school systems, Marquis remains an optimist. He can always see where progress is happening, and he wakes up knowing there’s work to be done every day.
“If you want to live in a better place you can do it,” he says. “It won’t be easy, but it can be done.”