If your life were a t-shirt, what would it say? Gulfport resident Marra Piazza Brass knows her answer: “Sit still, be quiet, be kind.” She even knows what color it would be: a tie-dyed swirl of raspberry and navy, the hues slightly faded so you can see the words clearly. As an experienced tie dyer, she thinks of these things.
“Don’t get me wrong, I can be loud!” she quips. “But I do think it’s important not to get totally caught up in the day-to-day. Stopping to reflect a bit more lends itself to kindness.”
Reflection – and a fair measure of creativity – are vital in her line of work. Piazza Brass has worked in student services for her entire professional life, first as a financial aid counselor, then as a high school guidance counselor, and now, as a Human Services Practitioner at the University of South Florida, in accessibility services. She assists students with disabilities in developing accommodations that allow them to fully participate in classes and campus life, while helping to educate university communities about accessibility issues.
Even 30 years after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this work can be an uphill battle.
“If I could wave a magic wand, and do just one thing to make the world better,” says Piazza Brass, “it would be to eliminate ableism – the belief that people with disabilities are somehow lesser.” Whether it’s campus facilities not built for all mobilities or a lack of education around invisible disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, depression, or chronic pain, ableism still pervades many aspects of education.
Still, Piazza Brass finds her own unique ways to make a positive change. A Disability Awareness Month program that she organized in March of 2021 featured workshops and presentations on universal design for education, navigating disability in the workplace, and a screening of the hit Netflix documentary, “Crip Camp”. Giveaways included Disability Awareness Month-themed buttons, bumper stickers, and – you guessed it – tie dyed shirts.
Friends and neighbors see Marra’s penchant for color and creativity in the home she shares with her husband, Tyler Brass, and their two cats, Lucy and Charlie. The family moved to Gulfport’s Marina District in October of 2020, and quickly set about improving their mid-century ranch house with new windows, a fresh coat of sea salt paint with coral trim (with a matching Little Library out front), and new tropical plantings. They designed the home inspired by fond memories of Hawai’ian vacations and a shared love of Jurassic Park. While there are no dinosaurs in the yard – yet, though she envisions at least one small T. rex skeleton, with a spotlight – the couple did host an outdoor screening of the Spielberg classic for Marra’s birthday last December.
“I can only imagine what the neighbors must have thought,” she grins.
Dinos and all, Marra and Tyler love living in Gulfport. Though they originally hail from a small town in upstate New York, Gulfport feels like home.
“It’s a village and a community in a really big space, but it doesn’t feel really big.” Together they enjoy getting to know their new neighborhood by bike, kayak, and personal watercraft.
And the humans aren’t the only ones building a new life in Gulfport. While Charlie, an avowed introvert, prefers the quiet pursuits of cuddling and hiding under bedclothes, charmer Lucy is quickly rising to fame on her (ahem, Tyler’s) TikTok channel, @stpetetyme. One recent video, in which she interrupted her Dad in the middle of a work call, has garnered nearly a million views. Piazza Brass explains: “She’s telling him, meowingly, that she wants to eat dinner.”
When cats butt in, or work gets tough, or a T. rex catches you right in the middle of things, what can you do?
“Just laugh,” says Piazza Brass. “That would be another good t-shirt for my life.”
This one, she thinks, would be purple and teal.
Meet the Brass family in March along Gulfport’s Pink Flamingo Home & Garden Tour.