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Applied Studies

College junior DaJuan Gay ­campaigning to bring people ­together and make positive changes 

     DaJuan Gay began his junior year at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore with more on his mind than his challenging curriculum. 
     At the age of 20, when most college kids anticipate the social life of school, Gay focuses his extracurricular activities on his run for Annapolis Alderman in Ward 6. On September 19, he hopes to win a seat on the Annapolis City Council. He is running against Shaneka Henson, also a first-time candidate.
      “I decided my senior year in high school that I’d run,” he says. “But I had known since I was in seventh grade that I wanted to be involved in government.”
 
Big Men in a Boy’s Life
     Gay credits two strong male role models for the direction his life has taken.
     Preston Hartman, his seventh-grade history teacher at Bates Middle School, “really inspired me,” Gay says. “He always talked about government and how important it is for us to get involved to make positive changes.” 
     Hartman had such impact that Gay made him the subject of his college aspiration essay.
     Caleb Wolf of the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis was the other motivating force. “He was integral in instilling a strong sense of community service, leadership and work ethic in me,” Gay says.
     “Up until my involvement with Mr. Hartman and Mr. Wolf, I had no positive male figures in my life. They changed my life forever. They told me the only way to be successful is if you help those around you, give back to your community and educate yourself.”
 
Born to Serve
     Reminiscing about the eldest of her children, Heaven White says DaJuan was destined to help people.
     “Since he was a three year olds, he’s just always been that way. He always volunteered for jobs in the classroom, and his teachers told me they could depend on him. All his life, he’s been about helping.”
     Life has been challenging for White’s family.
     Born in Baltimore, Gay and his family moved to Annapolis more than eight years ago. They bounced around to any housing his mother could afford, spending time in Sarah’s House, a shelter at Fort Meade.
     “Thanks to a bus that shuttled students back and forth to Annapolis, I was able to continue my education here,” Gay said. 
 
Breaking the Cycle
     At Annapolis High School, Gay was a four-year member of the track team. But what meant most to him were his last two years as class president.
     “I always felt comfortable in leadership roles and helping others,” he said. “I never particularly stood out academically, but I knew that college was the only way to break the cycle.”
     He was accepted to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, a public, master’s-level university that was also affordable. “I was excited to be away from home to focus on my studies,” he says. But that dream shattered.
     On November 7 of 2015 — a date Gay says he’ll never forget — “this guy bolts into our room and yells ‘I’m going to hang a (expletive deleted) tonight.’”
     Gay, who shared his dorm room with five roommates, was the only black on the floor and one of two in the 600-student dorm.
     “This was during the time of Freddie Gray, and things were boiling up between whites and blacks,” he relates. “I was afraid for my life.”
     The university, Gay says, took no action other than offering him a room in a different dorm. He finished the semester, then enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College.
     There, his GPA took a hit. “I was living at home and was spending more time trying to make money to help my family out than I was studying,” he says. “It was a very difficult, depressing time.” 
     Well into his sophomore year, he found a new sense of purpose, deciding to continue his education at an Historic Black College. He chose the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He’s majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in political science and public policy — all chosen, he says, “to advance my political and community service aspirations.”
 
Walking the Walk
     Through it all, Gay has been proving his mother right. This summer, he interned with the Security Unit of the District Court of Maryland. During the height of the oppressive heat and humidity, he used social media to raise money to buy air-conditioners for people sweltering in his community, Eastport Terrace. Within a week, more than $10,000 was raised and 50-plus air-conditioners were installed.
     “So many who would not normally think about people in public housing came together in a huge way,” he says. “That’s what being a community is all about.”
     Just last month, Gay organized a Back to School Block Party at the Wiley H. Bates Boys and Girls Club in Annapolis. Students will leave supplied for school. 
Gay has also been campaigning, following the rules he’s learning in college and his natural inclination, knocking on doors, showing up at community events and setting up a webpage. To keep involved, he’ll be commuting three times a week, a round-trip of 200 miles.
     If elected, he’ll be the first full-time student to serve on the Annapolis City Council.