Marlon Blake didn’t choose to attend CSU because of the university’s standing as a leading research institution, its respected faculty or its proximity to the mountain paradise that surrounds the Fort Collins area.
He chose CSU because his finger landed on its name when he opened up a college directory to a random page and pointed to a random line. He still remembers the page it appeared on — 261.
“I’ve always been known to do things a little bit different,” Blake said of the unusual process.
In the two years he has been here, the forceful but humble junior health and exercise science major has made his presence known around campus and continues to involve himself in order to help people and better his own situation.
Kerry Wenzler, an assistant director of the Center for Advising and Student Achievement for Orientation and Transition Programs, got to know Blake during the past two years through his position as an Orientation Leader.
“He’s very charismatic and he has a magnetic personality,” Wenzler said, “People know him across campus.”
When Blake takes prospective students’ families on tours around campus, Wenzler said he makes a lasting impression.
“He has a way with the parents and family,” she said, “He has them laughing the whole time. They remember him.”
Blake makes that impression on fellow orientation staff members as well. Wenzler said he is always willing to help staff members that are not yet comfortable with the important position.
“He’s so good about thinking about the big picture,” Wenzler said.
Wenzler recalled that Blake didn’t come to CSU performing his best, despite the fact that he was his senior class president, graduated 32nd in his class of over 300 and earned numerous accolades through his involvement in myriad clubs and activities. But he has worked hard since he arrived, she said.
To be involved in the Orientation program, students must maintain a GPA higher than 2.6 so that they can be considered positive role models to other students, incoming and current. At one point Blake was close to the cut-off, but he was able to improve.
“[The] work that he put in and [the] focus on his academics was really impressive,” Wenzler said.
Wenzler also praised Blake’s efforts in coordinating Black History Month events in February.
“He looks for those opportunities to improve his leadership development,” Wenzler said. “So many people are aware of Marlon and the work he does.”
This awareness showed itself in the media coverage of Black History Month at CSU, and since Blake played such an important role, he was often the star.
“I’m not about this glitz and glamour,” Blake said of the coverage. “[But] it’s nice to be recognized for what you do,” he said.
Blake knows what it’s like to not have many opportunities.
“We never had money at all,” he said of his family while he was growing up. “Dirt poor, dirt poor . that’s what we were.”
Now, he’s “addicted to money” he said, although he tries to do positive things with it. “If I have the opportunity to spend money in a good way I’ll do it,” Blake said. He said that isn’t really a choice for him.
Before coming to CSU, Blake spent 18 years in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he was born three minutes after his twin brother Marcus to their mother Margaret Tart.
Tart, 63, was a big role model for Blake.
On June 3, 1995, when she was 50 and Blake was seven, she broke her ankle on the sidewalk outside their home. She hasn’t been able to stand for more than 30 minutes at a time since.
Because of her injury, Tart was unable to secure any kind of job that required her to be on her feet. She didn’t go to college and was left with very limited options.
She was a single mother and was repeatedly denied disability compensation for six years after her accident until 2001. Blake said he won’t eat string beans or corn to this day because it reminds him of those hard times when all the family could afford were cheap non-perishables.
Though her situation proved difficult, Tart still found ways to show her children that helping others is the most important aspect of life to her.
“Even through it all, she helped people so much,” Blake said.
So influential was his mother’s philosophy that it became his.
“I think for me the biggest part [of life] is helping people,” Blake said. “I love helping people and that’s my drive in life.”
Tart didn’t want to see Blake leave at first.
“I tried to talk him down from going to Colorado — that’s a long way from home,” she said. “It do hurt me — I cried sometimes I miss him so much.”
Blake does his best to alleviate her worries when they talk on the phone. The first thing he asks when he calls her is if she is okay and how she is doing, she said.
“He sounds like he could be here in 15 minutes if something was wrong,” Tart said.
Sometimes he calls every day to check up on his mom. He also calls for help when he’s cooking.
“He is my cook in the family,” Tart said.
His family had doubted that when Blake went away to Colorado for school that he would stay very long. Give him six months they said. But he stayed.
“Whatever he put his mind to he was gonna do,” Tart said, even though she had her doubts, too. “I really didn’t know if he was going to stay or not. I’m glad he did,” she said.
Blake places involvement at the top on his activity list. He has participated in a gender and society think-tank called the Men’s Project and recently attended one implementation of LeaderShape, a national leadership conference, held at CSU’s mountain campus, Pingree Park.
He served as the president of Black Definition, a student organization that coordinates Black History Month activities on campus and Vice President of Black Student Alliance. Blake’s involvements are numerous.
“We could be here all day,” he said of listing his activities.
Blake plans to graduate in the spring of 2010.
Editor-in-Chief Aaron Montoya can be reached at email@example.com.