How poetry saved Marjai Neal

A junior at the University of Missouri uses her words to heal while helping others.

Marjai Neal Headshot

Sept. 23, 2021

Junior journalism major Marjai Neal faced many obstacles at a young age. Instead of losing hope, she turned roadblocks into a pathway out of her situation.

At 10 years old, Neal and her family were evicted from their apartment and left homeless, going from shelter to shelter. The lack of stability caused an immense amount of stress for Neal and she knew she needed to find a way to channel her emotions.

That came in the form of her high school’s poetry team.

“Poetry really was my therapy — it has supernatural powers to me,” Neal said. “When I was going through my darkest times, all I had was a piece of paper and a pen. It was comforting.”

Words have given Neal power. They have given her strength. They have helped her heal. They have shown her resilience.

During her senior year of high school, Neal was chosen to receive the KC Scholars’ Scholarship, making her one of two Kansas City-area students awarded the $50,000 scholarship to attend the University of Missouri.

“That was the recharge I needed for my battery,” Neal said. “It got me reinspired. You need support in anything, but financially, that was the only thing that was really, really holding me up. That day changed my life.”

As a college freshman in a completely new environment, Neal was a bit nervous when she first arrived at MU in 2019. Student Service Coordinator Ana-Maria Fernandez and the Center for Academic Success & Excellence (CASE) helped her adjust. The cohort meetings Neal attended every Monday allowed her meet new people and become familiar with campus.

“CASE helped me realize Mizzou is home — I belong here,” she said. “I have resources and support and I have people in my corner here.”

For anyone who feels hopeless or feels they can’t overcome whatever obstacle is in their way, Neal has some words of wisdom to share:

“I want them to know they’re not alone, that even when you are feeling down and lonely, that there’s somebody out there who’s willing to listen, to talk, to love on you and that oftentimes, those things are temporary,” Neal said. “There’s always a silver lining, so anything is possible, and really, if you believe it, and you work towards it, your dreams can be accomplished.”

Neal plans to release a poetry book called Ghetto Gospels (For Girls Who’ve Gone Ghost) detailing her coming of age and how she triumphed over challenging situations in her life.

Read more from CASE

Subscribe to

Show Me Mizzou

Stay up-to-date on all things Mizzou when you subscribe to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter. Issues will arrive in your inbox every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Subscribe