CSM Men of Excellence students Tavon Randolph and Damon Gaither entered the MLK Day of Service essay contest for the MLK Prayer Breakfast at St. Mary’s College. Randolph was awarded $100 for the winning essay, and both received certificates of participation.

Two College of Southern Maryland (CSM) Men of Excellence students were recognized for their award-winning essays on the Harlem Renaissance during the 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Prayer Breakfast. The program, sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority Inc., Nu Zeta Omega Chapter in conjunction with Ivy and Pearls of Southern Maryland Communities Charities and the NAACP, took place at the St. Mary’s College of Maryland on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21.

CSM students Damon Gaither, of White Plains, and Tavon Randolph, of Waldorf, each wrote and submitted a 500-word essay on the “Harlem Renaissance: Its Contributions and its Challenge for Us Today.” Randolph won the essay contest and Gaither was the runner-up.

“In my high school career at North Point High School and during my first semester at CSM, I learned about the Harlem Renaissance and Poet Langston Hughes,” explained Randolph.

Hughes’ life and work were important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and he is “particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties,” according to poets.org.

“So I basically wrote about how Langston Hughes used his words and poetry to express himself during the Renaissance when everyone else was angry,” Randolph continued. “I compared it to my experiences in ninth and 10 grade. I am a military brat and when my parents moved to New Jersey, I was in a new school with new friends and I was struggling with anxiety and trying to maintain my “A” attitude. I could identify with Langston Hughes – using poetry as a way to express himself. I, too, express myself through writing.”

Proudly calling Tavon a “major leaguer,” Penny Randolph described her son as humble, but always trying to make a difference. “He tells people all the time: ‘Yes – you do make a difference. One thing you can do is change a life.’”

“It [the award] was overwhelming but not unexpected because of who Tavon is,” Randolph said of her son’s work and recognition. “He has always been a leader. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve and he always wants everyone else to be included and to excel.”

“Both students wrote excellent essays, received certificates of participation and were also provided the opportunity to meet the event’s Keynote Speaker Maureen Bunyan, the international journalist and former co-anchor of the weeknight newscasts for ABC7/WJLA-TV and CBS9/WUSA-TV,” shared Diversity Institute and Men of Excellence Coordinator Timothy Fenner, who is with CSM’s Institutional Equity and Diversity Office.

“I am especially proud of D.J. and Tavon for participating in the AKA 2019 MLK Day of Service Essay Contest,” Fenner added. “They stepped up at the end of the fall semester, one week before winter break began to write these essays and submit them. It was not an easy task. Tavon’s and D.J.’s essays encompassed historical figures from that era and how those figures influenced thought in others and in themselves.”

“I applaud them both,” Fenner said. “These young men stepped up and represented themselves and CSM very well.”

The Men of Excellence Program was established at the CSM in September 2013, as a college-wide initiative to improve the recruitment, success, retention, graduation and transfer rates of African American males who enter as first-time, full- or part-time students at the college. The program is designed to empower students to meet their academic and professional goals and provide an array of services meant to increase student engagement, as well as encourage community-building among all participants. The program assists students in mapping their academic, personal, and professional goals and developing leadership skills increasing their capacity for educational success.

For information about CSM Men of Excellence, visit https://www.csmd.edu/student-life/men-of-excellence/ or contact Fenner, at tfenner@csmd.edu or 301-539-4743.