CSM’s ‘Taste of Soul’ Reflects African American Cuisine

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Student Activities Committee, Black Student Union Serve up More Than Food

Planned as an educational and social event, the Taste of Soul, Feb. 17 at the College of Southern Maryland’s Campus Center in La Plata, offered African American culture and cuisine for all students to enjoy while celebrating Black History Month.

“The Taste of Soul began six years ago,” said CSM Student Life Coordinator Jennifer Lesesne. “It was a joint collaboration between the college’s Diversity Office and the Black Student Union,” she said, adding that the event is now co-sponsored by the Black Student Union and the La Plata Student Activities Committee.

Lunch is provided by faculty and staff and through donated dishes from local restaurants. “Walton’s Seafood Carry-out has been the most active in donations with two dishes per year for the past four years,” Lesesne said. Walton’s is an African American, family-owned business in Bryans Road which opened as a market in 1939 and as a carry-out in 1995.

“When we were approached to participate in the Taste of Soul, we readily accepted,” said Vera Walton Merritt, a co-owner of Walton’s Seafood. “We are very community-oriented and enjoy providing our down-home cooking to this event,” she added.

This year Famous Dave’s and Applebee’s of Waldorf also donated dishes.

James Spence, CSM coordinator of transfer evaluation and articulation and advisor to the Black Student Union, welcomed the students, offered a prayer as he explained was customary before a meal in African American households, and reminded students that the event was intended to be a ‘taste,’ not a large meal. The students dug into the trays of barbecue pork, chicken and ribs, fried chicken and fish, collard greens, lentils and desserts, enjoying old favorites and sampling new dishes.

The Black Student Union is composed of students interested in promoting the unity and awareness of African Americans on campus. The group participates in food drives and coat drives throughout the year and is open to all students of the college.

CSM received the 2008 Equity Award for the Northeast region by the Association of Community College Trustees for its leadership in fostering an inclusive environment on campus and in the community for people of color. The award cites CSM for its work “in creating an environment where students and employees of color have a strong sense of inclusion and feel valued. These efforts have resulted in large increases in the college’s minority enrollment, their perseverance to graduation/transfer, and their advancement to high-paying careers.”

CSM’s minority enrollment in the past five years has increased by 19 percent bringing the minority student population to 28 percent of total enrollment. Minority graduation rates have increased by 40 percent since 2004. Initiatives such as new student clubs, enhanced mentoring activities and a summer pilot program to ease students’ transition from high school to college have helped to increase minority student retention to graduation, according to the award.

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