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Forest Park Student Rescues Choking Friend

October 07, 2013

Damon Starks  
Damon Starks

St. Louis Community College-Forest Park student Damon Starks wasn’t planning on going to the cafeteria, but needed to cut through for access elsewhere. He saw that a friend, international student Angelin Appolon of Haiti, was choking on food, and came to her rescue.

Starks performed the Heimlich Maneuver, which he sheepishly admitted he learned from an episode of “Baywatch.”

“I knew how to do it, and that was it. If I see something, I can figure it out,” he said.

Royce Bond, who works in the Financial Aid office, was eating lunch with two other employees and witnessed the student choking. She went to alert a campus police officer, but Starks had already been able to dislodge the food item in the student’s throat.

Bond contacted the African-American Male Initiative (AAMI) to commend the student, as she didn’t know his name, but knew he was part of the program.

“It was an admirable thing to do. He did the right thing. He did a great job,” she said.

Starks, 25, a mentor with AAMI and a general studies transfer major, wants to pursue a degree in political science when he transfers to a university. He is a deacon and a youth leader at Lighthouse Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

He wouldn’t describe himself as a hero.

“That word is tossed around too loosely. The one true hero is Jesus. If I see somebody who needs help, I help them. It’s second nature to me,” he said. “Everybody was sitting around. If you don’t do something, why wait for the worst outcome? I would rather be proactive than reactive.”

Starks grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Oakville High School in 2007, but left community college to work. He has a large family – 15 sisters and 10 brothers – and his mother needed his help. They were briefly homeless.

While he worked, he realized that education would be his ticket to a better life.

“I knew it was a dead-end job and that’s why I chose to go back to school,” he said.

Starks enrolled at Forest Park in 2011, and became part of AAMI.

“So many things I like about the program,” he said. “It’s the people in the program, the resources we provide, the conversations we have. At the end of the day, it boils down to the people.” 

The AAMI has been located at Forest Park and Florissant Valley since 2009. It was started to help with retention, academic achievement levels, and persistence rates of African-American males in college, and to enhance the in-depth understanding and focus among faculty members and staff regarding the array of challenges faced by African-American males.

Samuel Huddleston, an AAMI staffer who works with Starks, sang his praises.

“I have found Mr. Starks to be a very helpful and concerned student. Mr. Starks is never selfish in his actions and has plans of becoming a political science major," he said. "I have seen academic growth and progress in Mr. Starks, and he tries to ensure that the same is present in the mentees that he serves. We have a lot of wonderful students that are participants of AAMI and Mr. Starks is certainly one of them. Whenever he is not in the office, he is missed."