Breakthrough: Laassah Marshall
Posted by: DVULI | March 24, 2022
by Gerald Bell, (Kansas City 2003)
For the past 10 years at DVULI’s second national conference in West Michigan, Laassah Taylor-Marshall (Grand Rapids 1998) has been a featured member of the DVULI alumni worship team. Her voice and heart of worship are so contagious that everyone in attendance—even hotel employees and guests—are stopped in their tracks to sing, clap, and dance with her.
The fact that Laassah was raised going to church and began singing at age three reveals a few things about her wiring. Of course, she’s committed to her faith in Christ, artistically gifted, and has a natural affinity for the stage. But there are other qualities about this “creative burst of energy” that are not as easily noticed.
Laassah longed to be loved in a healthy way and craved a safe place to be herself which led her to hide behind singing. These insecurities manifested into a fear of speaking publicly, so she learned to do ministry without having to talk. Once she became a young woman, Laassah accepted God’s call to youth ministry and actively served at her church for more than 15 years.
“I was operating at a high level of energy and passion with a lack of relational support,” admits Laassah. “There was no distinction between my personal life and my career—they were completely merged.”
What looked good on the surface was actually a place of fear and isolation for Laassah, who has a local following from sharing the stage with nationally renowned Gospel artists.
When the DVULI staff accepted her into the inaugural Grand Rapids cohort, one of the insecurities Laassah would have to face was her extreme difficulty opening up to others. “If you weren’t family, I wasn’t letting you in,” she reasons. “Learning to trust a group of like-minded leaders who were strangers was a challenge for me. But, for the first time, I found out it was okay for me to be unapologetically and authentically me with people outside of my own family.”
Fully committed to the DVULI training requirements, what kept Laassah trusting the process was her devoted relationship with God and focus on ministry and community. But on the other side of her impressive achievements was the reality that she was headed toward burnout.
“I knew there was something I needed. I just didn’t know what until I became a DVULI participant,” reflects Laassah. “It was at a turning point in my life. My cohort is truly an extended family that shares in prayer, spiritual intimacy, and friendship.”
Her heart to help youth lacked boundaries. Laassah would open the doors of her home for youth in her ministry as well as homeless youth to provide a roof over their head. But it ultimately created chaos. “The DVULI program showed me how to create a healthy balance between my personal life and ministry life,” she explains. “It’s okay for me to say no.”
She also learned to focus on the Savior instead of trying to be a savior for her youth, learning, “I am enough, and God’s validation is more important than all others. Processing life and ministry through living out the core values helps me see things from this new perspective.”
DVULI’s ministry assessment tool and the core value of empowerment led Laassah to a “life shift.” Gaining access to information in the 15-month training led her to devise a transformative strategic ministry plan. “It has always been an easy task for me to empower others, but there was a huge void when it came to self-empowerment,” she explains. “I was able to realign my personal and ministry outlook due to the mentor support I received throughout the program.”
It comes as no surprise that Laassah’s breakthrough plan was focused on opening her own dance studio. “My goal was to not operate as a normal dance studio,” she explains. “We would empower youth with the tools to succeed by building character and self-esteem and being a safe space for them to dream big and reach their personal goals.”
In 2009, Laassah opened Xpressions Of Praise Christian Dance & Performing Arts (XOP). God gave her the vision to “pour life, build self-worth, and demonstrate value to those who were “X’d-out, told they weren’t good enough, or called too fat, too skinny, too tall,” she describes.
In the last 15 years, Laassah has led more than 1,000 youth in song and dance, inspiring their own personal metamorphosis of healing, growth, and hope. She keeps students motivated with the XOP motto: “You don’t have to be great to start, JUST START to be great!”
In addition to living out her heart’s passion, she also gained knowledge about the importance of community and operating with sustainable skills. “To see the results of the person I used to be, transformed mentally, as a DVULI grad feels amazing! I will forever be grateful to DVULI for everything it has brought to my life. Words can’t describe the gratitude I feel for the transformation that has taken place due to my connection with DVULI. I am encouraged to continue to embrace change, creativity, and interdependence as a leader in my community.”
The relationships Laassah formed 23 years ago with her cohort are closer than ever today. She and her fellow alumni meet monthly for breakfast and one-on-one get-togethers. Her faithful DVULI family has helped her gain a new perspective on trust and accountability.