Talking with Marilyn Greer in her Cayce Place apartment reveals she’s charming, friendly, and welcoming, but there is also a no-nonsense intensity underlying her passion for her community.
“My heart is all about giving back,” she says. “Everyone knows if they got a problem, they can come to me, whether it’s about housing, personal problems, or if their daughter is in trouble.”
As vice president of the Cayce Place Residents Association for the past three years, she’s not only helping her neighbors address problems. She’s a proactive, positive force for change in her community. She’s worked closely with area schools, organized the annual community Easter egg hunts and coat drives, founded the youth group Positive Attitude, providing mentoring relationships for teens and young women to develop positive self-esteem and life skills, and served on the board of the Envision Cayce neighborhood revitalization project — as well as recently joining the board of the anti-poverty non-profit Martha O’Bryan Center.
Greer was not always the person to whom neighbors brought their problems; in fact she was in desperate need of help and understanding herself. A Nashville native and the youngest of three siblings, she grew up in a church-going, middle-class family.
“I was the baby of the family and was spoiled,” she says. “I was young and didn’t want to listen. I got involved in abusive relationships and turned to drugs. For 25 years I was homeless and destitute. I had seven children but lost custody of them. My family raised them because I lost all of my self-respect. I would go to rehab over the years, but it never took because I didn’t want to change.”
Greer finally found the desire to change a little over 12 years ago, thanks in part to the love of one of her daughters. “She found me living on the street and asked me to live with her,” Greer says. “Because of the love she had for me, I started enjoying life again — sleeping in a bed, having a bath every day, having food on the table. I found a church and asked God to take the desire for the crack cocaine away from me. I have been delivered ever since, but don’t get me wrong, it was still a struggle.”
With her life improving, Greer found a desire to give back. In addition to work at her church, she became a volunteer at the Martha O’Bryan Center, throwing herself into volunteer work with the organization’s parenting and after-school programs, among others.
“They embraced me and I started working in all these different programs because I knew I needed the positive in my life to stay clean,” Greer says. “I had to find me a new ‘feelgood,’ and that’s what they gave me.”
Beyond her volunteer work, she also began searching in her community for ways she could make a difference. “There were no holiday activities for the community,” Greer says. “I decided I wanted to do an Easter egg hunt for the children. I just started asking people to help. We did the first one in 2015 and with each year it got bigger and bigger. My church and Martha O’Bryan Center pitched in the next year and it has turned into a yearly community cook out.”
Greer’s greatest passion is her mentoring group, Positive Attitude, which began to take shape after one of her daughters went to jail and Greer found herself caring for her five grand-children. “I started Positive Attitude because I did not want the young ladies of my community to get caught up in the streets, doing drugs, catching diseases, or just being angry and not having anybody in their life. We have seminars on healthy teen dating, what ‘no’ means, setting goals for life, surrounding yourself with people who want the same things that you do, and learning how to ignore negativity.”
Through all of her community work and activism, Greer’s powerful sense of hope and positivity shines the brightest. “You have to give yourself a chance,” she says. “You cannot just sit back because you feel like things are against you and not try. I’m here because I made a choice and took a chance and tried to change. It wasn’t easy all the time, but I found people who could pour the positive outlook into me. That’s what I try to bring to my community.”