Single Dad Combines Comer Resources with Supportive Parenting to Empower His Daughters

The Irby Family. Clockwise from left: Marnee, Mariah, Mikala and Marvin.

“My dad always encouraged me to go to school and do things to broaden my horizons.”

—Mikala Irby

Marvin Irby raised his three daughters, Marnee, Mikala and Mariah Irby, and has been an unwavering source of support throughout their lives. He has also been their full guardian since he separated from their mother and the girls came to live with him. Marvin taught his daughters to act ethically and with compassion, and ensured they stayed on track in school.

Marvin’s parenting style fit well with the nurturing approach of Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) and UtmostU and the rigor of Gary Comer College Prep (GCCP). With Marvin’s encouragement, Marnee, Mikala and Mariah did well at GCCP and were involved in youth center programs. Marnee and Mikala spent their time after school as members of Green Teens, which teaches youth about the environment and helps them explore green careers. Mariah participated in Free Spirit Media, which provides training and job opportunities for emerging creators, primarily from underrepresented communities, to produce and distribute original news content and pursue artistic, personal and professional aspirations.

Staff from the Comer Education Campus, which includes GCYC and GCCP, spoke with Marvin regularly, keeping him informed about the girls’ progress. He said, “Going to Comer gave them guidance, structure and people to lean on. If my kids needed advisors or someone to talk to at school, they had that.” All the girls showed a willingness to help out, which landed them jobs at the youth center through high school. Marvin said, “They have that go-getter attitude. They don’t sit around and wait for things to come to them.”

Marvin, who studied at the University of Arkansas for two years, emphasizes the importance of education in opening up opportunities and improving a person’s life. All three of his daughters went on to pursue college degrees with Marnee and Mikala staying connected with the youth center and finding summer jobs through youth center partnerships. Marvin is grateful for the support his family received and the Irby girls are showing just how well combining their Comer experience with hard work pays off.

In the spring of 2018, Marnee completed a B.S. in Education and Social Policy with a concentration in Human Development and Psychological Services from Northwestern University. After graduation, she began working at MetroSquash, a program that promotes academic achievement, healthy lifestyles and access to opportunities for underserved youth in their time out of school. Marnee is an alumnus of MetroSquash and will serve as its academic coordinator for Evanston when the program expands in the fall. Marnee plans to return to school in a few years to earn her Master’s in Social Work, become a clinical social worker and continue helping youth.

Mikala and Mariah are on track to graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Mikala is studying communications with minors in public relations and business management and is interested in earning a Master’s in Human Resources. Mariah is studying political science and plans to earn a law degree so that she can give back to her community by helping minorities and people who can’t afford expensive legal services.

Marvin is proud of his daughters and their accomplishments. He said, “They are all very smart, but the willingness to not give up or feel sorry for yourself, that’s the key.”

“I do whatever I have to do to make it work because I love my kids.” —Marvin Irby

"My dad working hard and being there for us made me want to be a better person.” —Marnee Irby

“I knew I needed to go to school to have a better life. My dad always encouraged me to go to school and do things to broaden my horizons.” —Mikala Irby

“Me and my dad are really close. He taught me that people are looking to me to lead and that with education I will go way farther.” —Mariah Irby