Howard senior honored as Allstate Give Back Day Hero

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sometimes Marquis Smith's friends have to remind him to eat or sleep.

The Howard University senior has a full course load and an internship, heads the School of Education's student council and volunteers throughout the District and the country.

Smith, 29, is one of four Allstate Give Back Day Heroes, a program honoring those who have followed in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s footsteps.

"If I could get a degree in just helping people, that would be what my degree would be," said Smith, wearing a T-shirt featuring a quote by Aristotle, "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."

Give Back Day is a program that Allstate uses to encourage people to volunteer. As part of Smith's honor, he will get help on his Give Back Day project, distributing books to area students through a Heart of America event at Howard on Monday. Smith will also attend the King Center's annual Salute to Greatness awards dinner in Atlanta.

Smith's "commitment to volunteerism is really impressive," Kimberley Turner, an Allstate spokeswoman, said. "Through his whole life, he has been committed to making a difference and giving back to communities."

Smith said King has been his role model since he was a child. He even considered attending King's alma mater, Morehouse College, but decided he liked the education programs at Howard better. Smith is majoring in education and human development.

"To receive an honor that honors his legacy and vision, to know I'm being honored in his name . . . it is wonderful," Smith said.

Smith grew up in Racine, Wis., and later moved with his mother to Louisiana. He is the first man in his family to enter the military and will be the first to receive a college degree.

He began volunteering at a nursing home across from his middle school. Then he wanted to help children and the homeless and began getting involved in community service projects.

"I focused my attention on other things and not the wrong things," he said. "Anytime I could get away, that is what I did."

He was a member of several youth organizations that helped shape his future and led him to want to help kids in similar situations, he said.

"I see how the kids nowadays need somebody who is into them," said Smith, who said just a little help with their schoolwork can go a long way. "They are not really focused on school and the importance of getting a good education."

To earn money for school, he spent three years in the Army, serving in Germany and Iraq as a unit supply specialist. When he returned home, he enrolled at Baton Rouge Community College.

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana, Smith began collecting items for the homeless. He later ran a toy drive to help families who were struggling.

Smith transferred to Howard in spring 2008. He regularly helps prepare meals for Sunday Suppers for the homeless. He also is an intern with Heart of America, which promotes literacy through various projects, including refurbishing libraries across the country. Smith mentors youth with America's Promise and works to get Howard students out into the community.

"This is perfect. He is so deserving of this honor," Angela Halamandaris, co-founder and president of Heart of America, said. "He is such a tremendous role model, not only for university students at Howard and across the country but . . . for the children we are serving. He has such a joyful, giving spirit."

When Smith became the School of Education student council president, he immediately got students working in the community and on campus and began promoting the school itself, said Adwoa Dwamena, 20, a junior at Howard.

"He just motivates you to want to do more. He likes to push people to do the best that they can," she said.

Junior Rebecca Millard, 19, called Smith an extrovert. "He worries about getting other people's situations settled before his own," Millard said.

Smith has more plans for his senior year. He wants to get involved with domestic violence issues and honoring young student volunteers and increase book distributions.

He also wants to focus on maintaining his 3.8 grade-point average and the various honor societies and scholastic organizations he participates in.

"I'm going to try to do a lot, but I have to graduate," Smith said.

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