Grand And Gracious
Bowie State University Annual Founders Day Scholarship Gala Pulls No Punches in Seeking Sustainability And Doing So In High Style
By Raoul Dennis // Photography By Franklin Solomon
Last Updated: 4/24/19 4:00 p.m.
Just over a year ago, Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux recorded one of the most profound remarks of her inaugural address using a powerful Greek proverb:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit under,” Breaux said to a hushed audience as she became the first woman in BSU history to lead the storied university.
On April 13, Bowie State University’s annual Founders Day Scholarship Gala: An Evening Of Excellence delivered a superior campaign effort while providing a stellar evening of entertainment experience in an elegant black tie setting at Martins Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Md. Over 700 leaders, donors and guests were brought to clarity by what Breaux meant in citing the proverb a year earlier – and her call to action.
“Eighty percent of all Bowie State University students need some type of financial assistance,” said Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the BSU Foundation Brent Swinton from the stage overlooking the VIP audience.
These are the trees that the Breaux Administration calls to the community to plant today. Within her Racing To Excellence vision, the university leader is confident that future generations borne out of these efforts will provide nearly immeasurable returns.
The university’s key indicators are pointing in the right direction. Now a global academic institution, BSU has 22 undergraduate majors. The university offers 35 master's, doctoral, and advanced certification programs, a growing new Performing Arts Center (2012) and a newer state-of-the-art Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing (2017).
WPGC’s Guy Lambert hosted the evening standing before notables such as former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (who was honored at the gala and who is now teaching at the university), County Council Chair Todd Turner, former BSU President Dr. Sam Myers (who was celebrating his 100th birthday), former PEPCO Regional President Tom Graham, Maryland Delegate Andrea Harrison, States Attorney Aisha Braveboy, former Maryland State Senator Tommie Broadwater Jr. and hundreds of others. From student leaders to heads of state the stately room brimmed with guests donned in exotic finery, stylish takes on traditional gowns and tuxedos and stunning originals that quietly turned heads and dropped jaws.
The university honored Dr. Debra A. Mahone and Mr. C. Glenn Mahone. The Mahones are a Maryland power couple. Dr. Mahone is founder and executive director of the Mahone Education Empowerment Fund and Mr. Mahone is the president & CEO of Vision Consulting, Inc.
The Mahones raised $190,000 for the university.
“Congratulations and thank you to our honorees this evening who have dedicated themselves to improving our community and supporting education and our Bowie state University, the first historically black university in the state of Maryland,” Dr. Breaux said as she addressed the gala audience.
Sibling BSU alumnae Alexis Baker and her sister Janay Carpenter knew what to expect from the gala’s night of high energy. Alexis, a 2015 graduate, was enjoying her third gala and her older sister, Janay, works at the university and has founded the Bowie State University Young Alumni Association, a new group of members who’ve graduated within the past 10 years.
“The idea is to get them connected to the university early,” says Carpenter who graduated from BSU in 2011. She spent much of the evening working the room, assuring that the fledgling 21 member organization will flourish over the years to come. Carpenter was already planting the trees that Breaux envisions.
The Mall Of Prince George’s Marketing Executive Victoria Clark attended as a guest of Washington Gas but the veteran professional has long been a proponent of higher education and the best for Prince George’s.
“I’m here to support education and to help enhance the start for future leaders,” Clark said as she strode across the room in a fashionable Calvin Klein suit. “It’s important to apply all resources to helping our students – not just money.”
Carla Henry Hopkins is new to the area, hailing from Baltimore but relocated to work at the university as director for alumni engagement and institutional advancement. She was anxious to learn more about the county and its HBCU as she attended her first BSU gala.
“I’m here as a staff person and as a community member,” she says. “I want to help raise the profile of Bowie State University and assure that people understand that this isn’t just a regional school but a national and global institution and making sure that we support students at Bowie State.”
Although Henry Hopkins is new to BSU, she has deeper roots in connection with the university as the great niece of past BSU President William Henry.
“I try to sign my letters ‘continuing the legacy of love at Bowie State University,’ because [for me] that legacy is a great uncle who is no longer here with us but who gave some of his time and love to Bowie State University as well.”
During Dr. Henry’s 25 year tenure, the university expanded its offering in education degrees. The trees he planted now stand within the energy of his niece who now has over 20 years’ experience in higher education that she brings to BSU.
“My background is in diversity and inclusion,” she says when asked her view on the question for the need for HBCUs in today’s world. “HBCUs provide something that students are not going to get anywhere else. They won’t get a solidification of identify that you get here. HBCUs still generate the majority of the world’s elite thinkers, doctors, lawyers and business people – they are still generating a big part of that community. Without HBCUs, we would lose a big construct within our society. We gotta have them and they gotta stay strong.”
As the Bowie State University Community Jazz Ensemble maintained the atmosphere, veteran guests of the gala, including Terrance Taylor of Congressman Steny Hoyer’s office noted the importance of supporting the annual function.
“We participate each and every year because Bowie State is a flagship of HBCUs, a premiere institution in the state of Maryland. The opportunities that the scholarship fund provides for young people are for our next innovators and leaders of industry. The investment made here will create a return on investment for our state and country as a whole.”
University leaders take seriously the opportunity to connect BSU through such first class events.
Says Cassandra Robinson, Director of University Relations and Marketing at BSU: “This is an awesome evening. It’s a celebration and fundraiser [for] money for scholarships to keep more students in school.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Artie Lee Travis viewed the gala as an opportunity to directly connect with supporters.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for me to be able to [see] and shake hands with some of the people that helped to contribute to the success of our students,” Travis says. “About 80% of our students needs some type of financial help whether it be $2 or $2,000 and the foundation does an outstanding job of helping them.”
Melanie Clark, a development specialist at BSU at the Office of Institutional Advancement, takes pride in the success of the gala which took eight months to prepare. The 2019 gala is her sixth year working on the event.
“For me, gala night represents a lot of hard work, a lot of consideration for our donors and sponsors . We appreciate your support. This is a fabulous night,” Clark says as she noted the new digital silent art auction (via text).
“You have to see it yourself,” says Clark of one of the African art pieces. “The artist uses silk thread. A picture doesn’t do it justice - it’s fabulous. There is a chest from Nigeria as well but again, you have to see it!”
Clark shared her excitement about a new text-to-give program as well.
And Brent Swinton, though shouldered with the responsibility of assuring the successful flow of the evening, took it all in easy stride when remembering the big picture: planting trees for the future.
“Tonight isn’t only a celebration of all that is Bowie State University, it’s also a challenge to our community. The challenge is for us to stand in the gap for 80% of BSU students who require some form of financial aid. This is a very loving, caring and generous community, and we want to focus our attention on these hard working students who are doing their best to achieve an education. Some will be the first in their families to do so.”
He continued: “I love Bowie State as it has become the crown jewel of Prince George’s County. People will be surprised to learn how much of an economic engine the university is to the county and certainly we are the hometown HBCU. And so, with all of that going for it, the university is poised to go to an even greater level under the leadership of Dr. Breaux.”
Those greater levels are being met at Bowie State. Looking no further than the room for examples, BSU Senior Shanell Powell, who was introduced by Dr. Breaux and gave a compelling speech of her own, will be taking a position with Microsoft after graduation. R&B artist Stephan Marcellus, who reached national fame on The Voice, is a 2012 graduate of Bowie State University.
“I’m from here,” Marcellus said just before he took the stage. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Bowie State. When they call me, I will always come.”