Marquicia Jones: The Alpha Mom of the West End
Marquicia Jones-Woods is known by her friends, neighbors, and Q-Kidz as Ms. Quicy. She’s a third-generation West Ender – it’s where she’s raised her twins and adopted daughter – but truthfully, she’s helped raise many more children than that. Any day of the week, you can head down to the Q-Kidz dance studio on Linn Street and find Ms. Quicy, her twins, and girls ages 4 to 17 practicing their dance routines and hanging out after school. She’s been at it for 37 years – since she was 16. For 25 of those years, she also worked at the C.M.H.A. (Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority), where she served as Lincoln Court resident council president, a resident advisor for HOPE VI, and vice president of the C.M.H.A. advisory board. You can find Q-Kidz performing at events around Cincinnati and all across the country. Ms. Quicy’s passion for the West End, for her city, and especially for her girls, runs strong. She’s fighting for a better life for all of them. We sat down at the Q.K.D. studio to talk about her life and watch the Q-Kidz perform.
You are such an advocate and leader in the West End. Where did that start? Tell me about your roots here.
I’ve been living here a lifetime. I grew up in public housing. My grandmother raised her family in what was called the Lincoln Courts. It’s now City West. My mother got pregnant with me at 16 years old and died when I was 14. I continued to live with my grandmother until I went off to college.
I adopted one of my dancers because there were some issues in the home. For a long time it was just me and her. And then I had the twins. But it’s three generations of my family in this community.
As an adult, I was the president of Lincoln Courts for about 12 years. I knew some changes needed to be made, so I kind of spearheaded tearing down the public housing units that they had. We got a $32 million grant to renovate C.M.H.A. public housing and turn it into the housing that’s behind us and the storefronts that you see here.
Did you know you wanted to stay in the West End and raise your family here? Did you ever consider moving?
I’ve never actually wanted to leave my community. Well… Let me take that back. I don’t know if I wanted to leave, but I would have left if there was no change. I knew as I got older and started to raise my family that what was going on in my community was not good for my children. I was trying to protect them from what I grew up with: the hustle and bustle. The crime. The drugs. The violence part of it.
I wanted my girls to have more choices than I had. Better choices. When I grew up, we didn’t have the opportunity that is given now with the soccer field and the new housing. We were just dished that, and you had to deal with it, you know. We lived in an environment where your front door was inside. It didn’t face the street. We were all clustered together. We had about a thousand households (not counting kids and significant others) on 23 acres of land. That’s a lot of people in 23 acres. So there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of love there, too. But it’s a lot, a lot going on.
So you start Q-Kidz; you’re 16 years old. Why?
I just noticed there wasn’t a lot for them to do. I know there wasn’t a lot for me to do as a kid. We had the rec center, but that was it. They were just hanging around, tearing up, you know. So I was trying to figure out a way to calm them in a community that had a lot of hustle and bustle, but make it exciting, as well. I initially started taking them to church. They could get a meal at church, so they loved going. Then after, we would come home and paint rocks, coloring books. The day is filled. I wanted to give them an outlet. Something positive to do in the midst of the chaos.
How did Q-Kidz become about dance?
We went from painting rocks, picking up trash, doing little skits… It was boys and girls at that time. Boys started playing sports, so I was stuck with all the girls. I didn’t have a dance background. Dance was just something they loved. They loved to dress up. They loved to be made up. And I always did their hair and made them feel special. And it stuck. It’s like now, they’re so spoiled it’s ridiculous. And I love ’em. It’s crazy because I can leave here at 7:30 p.m.; go get something to eat; by 9 o’clock I miss ’em.
When I first started, I was just trying to provide a safe haven for them; have them take interest in where they lived; save them from the craziness; get them through high school. Now, it’s like, I’m trying to provide a better life for them outside of Q-Kidz.
Tell me about your work with Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.
I started off working under a grant as a case manager helping residents get into drug rehabilitation programs. Then I applied to a permanent position over youth programming. I created the teen center, which most people know as the teen lounge you see in the rec center. So I was working with kids, even at C.M.H.A. I was a housing manager, then became resident liaison and worked with the presidents of all the developments. Just had a number of titles. I stayed there for 25 years.
Doing both C.M.H.A. and Q-Kidz, you were in a position where you got to work directly in your community but also got to work on it from a policy side. At what point did you feel like, “Okay, things are changing”?
Being at the Housing Authority gave me the opportunity to make a lot of changes, because now I worked for the very people that we lived under. So I could give ideas or request money for different things – for youth programs and stuff. I was just in a better position. I was able to be at the table and say, “This is what’s needed.” As I got older and had more say, I started to say, “That’s not what we need. That’s not what we want.” So I think it changed when I got the position. I was able to maneuver better. Then I became the president, so they had to listen to me at that point. They had problems. And I can truly say that I was a strong president. I had good support. I had backing.
Tell me about Q-Kidz today.
Q-Kidz today is so different. It’s so professional now. Before, we were a little neighborhood group just kickin‘ it. Now Q-Kidz has a schedule. They perform everywhere. You don’t get a break.
My priorities for Q-Kidz have changed. When I first started, I was just trying to provide a safe haven for them; have them take interest in where they lived; save them from the craziness; get them through high school. Now, it’s like, I’m trying to provide a better life for them outside of Q-Kidz. Not just while they’re here, but when they leave and go off to college. [I want to] push them to do well even once they’re gone; provide a better life – something different. All the way different.
How many kids are in the program?
I have 100 kids on the roster, but about 60 kids on a regular basis. A lot of it has to do with dues. You scream and holler, “You need to pay your dues! You’re five months behind! We can’t keep the lights on! ” After so many months of that, you start to turn them away, which is not good. I don’t like to turn them away. You’re 14. You shouldn’t even be worried about asking God for a financial blessing.
How much are the dues?
Fifty dollars a month. Which is not a whole lot, but you’re dealing with a population whose rent is $50 or who has zero rent. The mindset is that it’s not important, when really, it is. I’ve seen kids that I’ve had to turn away... I see what 30 days can do and I’m shocked. Shocked. So now I don’t do that anymore. If I get the dues, I get the dues. I don’t want to push them back out there.
Your girls have told me you’re known for your sayings. One that made me laugh is, “Nothing’s open after midnight but legs and White Castle.”
There ain’t nothing open but legs and White Castle. Where you tryin‘ to go? [Laughing.] I keep it real with them. I don’t sugar coat anything. If they get in trouble, the parents come here and tell me. I’m on them about choices. I tell them about social media. Whatever you put on there don’t go away. Now, if you want to do absolutely nothing, there you go. I share with them, “These same ones doing nothing is gonna be doing nothing when you graduate from college. When you come back, five years from now, the ones walking up and down Linn will still be walking up and down.
“You want something other than what you got now? You have to be careful.” So I ride them really, really hard because I want the best for them. Check on ’em in school. I will sit at school all day if they’re actin‘ a fool. But I don’t have those issues because they know I’m comin‘ if there’s issues. Ninety percent of my girls are on the honor roll. I have a couple that try me, but one good visit… No more problems.
When they become teenagers, their whole frame of mind changes. They start to think they grown. Sixteen! Sweet 16! Woo. They ain’t grown. But I also know that when they become 18, I can’t pick them up. You make a bad choice, you go to the justice center and they can try you as an adult. Fourteen, 15, they take you to 20/20 [juvenile detention center] and we pick you up. So I try and stay on ’em about relationships and choices. Even in men. I always tell them that they should look for Curtis. Look for the Curtis in the room.
The one no one wants. The nerdy one that’s takin‘ everything in. That’s the honor student. That’s the one gonna have the pension. The one that’s out here slingin‘ and selling and living this fast life, it’s just going to bring you… other issues.
Q-Kidz has had some cool partnerships, including “The Fits,” the 2015 Hollywood blockbuster movie.
And you’re an associate producer with an IMDB page!
Tell me about that experience.
It was my last day of work at C.M.H.A. when I decided to just do Q-Kidz. And I’m sittin‘ there when the phone rings. They ask to speak with Marquicia Jones. She said, “Hi. I’m interested in having your girls participate in a movie that I’m doing.”
She came into town a couple months later. We met and I wanted to make sure I kept her in my community. You know, a lot of times people come in and you want to take ’em to Ruth’s Chris, Prime… no. We go on to Findlay Market.
She initially wanted my kids to dance only. I asked her; I said, “Since you’re having auditions” – she had set up auditions with S.C.P.A. and some other agencies – “can my girls audition for parts of the movie outside of dance?”
She’s like, “I hadn’t thought about that, but of course.”
You know, my kids got all the parts. And it was crazy, because their brothers took the boy parts. She had to cancel her auditions with the agencies. And all because I asked. Sometimes you just have to ask. That movie took me to Italy. Q-Kidz sent me to Italy. Unbelievable. We was on the red carpet with Johnny Depp. Like, this is surreal. It was just amazing. It was meant to be.
It’s change, and people are afraid of that, but we’re gaining more than we losin‘. Who doesn’t want that? If we’re not coming to the table, then you give them the right to do whatever they want. Whether I want it or not, I’m gonna be at the table.
The F.C.C. stadium has put a big spotlight on the West End. I read that Mayor Cranley wanted to appoint you to the F.C. Cincinnati Community Coalition. Did that happen?
I’m on that coalition.
So what’s the experience, for you and Q-Kidz, been like with that spotlight here?
Good and bad. The bad part is they didn’t have a lot of support at first – F.C. didn’t – from some in the community. I knew it was something that we needed to take interest in – not necessarily get, but something we needed to be at the table for. We needed to see how it could benefit this community. I was hearin‘ rumors – even though I’m no longer the president, I’m still the president – they’re like, “Ms. Quicy, they gonna put us out; they tryin‘ to take our housing; that’s what I heard” – you know. Let me find out. We need to sit down and see if this is gonna hurt us or benefit us. I sat down with Jeff [Jeff Berding, general manager and president, F.C. Cincinnati]; let him spill it out. And come to find out that’s not the initial plan.
His goal is to build a soccer stadium, play soccer, but if he can help in the community, he definitely wants to do that. So that’s where we step in and say, “These are the things we need in this community.” I shouldn’t have to take my kids to Over-the-Rhine for ice cream. No! They should have those same things right here where they live. There’s nothing here. So if you gonna come in here, you gonna provide amenities, jobs for my kids and their parents, scholarships. If you gonna come into this community and provide that, I’m gonna support it.
We’re losing some stuff. It’s change, and people are afraid of that, but we’re gaining more than we losin‘. Who doesn’t want that? If we’re not coming to the table, then you give them the right to do whatever they want. Whether I want it or not, I’m gonna be at the table.
Who’s a woman in your life that’s been an influence to you?
Leah Davis Dennis. She was my boss at C.M.H.A. and she pushed me. When I took that grant job it was just as a resident employee on a grant that was two to three years. She pushed me to continue: “Go apply for that. You have the qualifications. You do this well. You’re community driven. You know the ins and outs. You can do this.” Without that push, I could have easily went back to the chill.