A summer spent running for public office

  • By Debra Driscoll of the Bay Weekly newspaper

    Tuesday, October 10, 2017
    DaJuan Gay

    DaJuan Gay began his studies at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore with more on his mind than his challenging curriculum. 

    At age 20, when most college kids anticipate the social life of school, Gay focused his extracurricular activities on his run for Annapolis Alderman in Ward 6.

    {Editor's note: Gay had hoped to win a seat on the Annapolis City Council, but lost Sept. 19 to Shaneka Henson, also a first-time candidate.} 

    “I decided my senior year in high school that I'd run,” he said. “But I had known since I was in seventh grade that I wanted to be involved in government.”  

    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 said. “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 said.  “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.”  

    Heaven White says DaJuan, her eldest child, 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. 

    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 said. “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 UMES. He's majoring in criminal justice with an interest in public policy - all chosen, he says, “to advance my political and community service aspirations.”  

    Through it all, Gay has been proving his mother right. This summer, he was an intern with 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. 

    Gay also organized a Back-to-School Block Party at the Wiley H. Bates Boys and Girls Club in Annapolis where students left supplied for school. 

    On the campaign trail, he campaign trail, he applied the rules he's learning in college and his natural inclination, knocking on doors, showing up at community events and setting up a webpage.

    For the fall 2017 semester, Gay is working as an intern-researcher in the office of Executive Vice President at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 


    Editor's note: This lightly edited article originally appeared in the Bay Weekly newspaper prior to the Annapolis City Council primary election Sept. 19 and is reprinted here with permission of the publication's editor / publisher.