SC State Hosts Kemba Smith

Monday, October 04, 2010

Advocate, consultant and public speaker, Kemba Smith will share her impactful story with the SC State family and community on Monday, Oct. 4, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Auditorium. This is one of many events in recognition of Domestic Violence Month.


Kemba SmithIn 1994, at the age of 24, Smith found herself sitting in a prison cell carrying out a 24.5 year prison sentence, one year in prison for each of the 24 years she had lived on this Earth.  During this horrific time, Smith wished she would soon wake up from a nightmare, but the reality was, although she was a first-time, non-violent offender, she was still found guilty of conspiracy to distribute crack, cocaine, money laundering, and making false statements to the FBI, all while awaiting the birth of her son. 


“It can take one poor choice that can change your life forever,” tells Smith.  “When I was going through my college experience, I saw young girls making poor choices and guys were as well. Because I went through my situation and God has blessed me and opened doors, I’ve felt compelled to share my story. The feedback I get afterwards lets me know that my story is very relevant and people are gaining something from it.”


Growing up as an only child in Richmond, Va., Smith was afforded many opportunities her parents didn’t have.  She excelled in school and was often times referred to as the model child in her neighborhood.  Smith’s life took an abrupt turn upon graduating high school and enrolling at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. While in college, Smith admits to being a victim of low self esteem along with the need to fit in.  She began getting involved with the wrong crowd and ultimately began dating Peter Hall, a major figure in a $4 million crack cocaine ring. Hall not only abused Smith physically, mentally and emotionally, but manipulated her into making poor life choices, which would ultimately result in losing her freedom. Why did she do it? “All for love,” she says, or at least she thought.


“It’s important for me to relay to young ladies the importance of having self-love and to recognize that they are individuals and they don’t need anyone’s acceptance or approval to define who they are. They should look within themselves for happiness and security,” stresses Smith.


While incarcerated, Smith had gained freedom from her turbulent four year relationship, but she was still a victim to the many unwise decisions and thoughts that frequently plagued her mind.  In the meantime, her parents and local community advocated for her, speaking out on the injustice seeking to overtake her life. In December 2000, 6.5 years after she was sentenced, President Bill Clinton granted her clemency.


Upon her release, Smith’s case drew support from across the nation and the world to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time, non-violent drug offenders.  Her story has been featured on “CNN,” “Nightline,” “Court TV,” “The Early Morning Show,” “Donahue,” “Judge Hatchett,” and a host of other television programs.  In addition, Smith was featured in several publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Glamour, People, JET, Emerge and Essence magazines. In 2007, Rainforest Films acquired the rights to produce Smith’s life story into a movie.  Rainforest Films, based out of Atlanta, Ga., has produced critically acclaimed films such as “Stomp the Yard,” “This Christmas,” “Obsessed” and “Takers.” Smith is also preparing to release a book about her life story in spring 2011.


After her release, Smith obtained her undergraduate degree in social work at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va. and completed her first year of law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She was also a recipient of a two year Soros Justice Postgraduate Fellowship for advocates. Currently, Smith is continuing to develop her 501 (c) (3) foundation, the Kemba Smith Foundation. 


Today, Smith uses her personal testimony to encourage students to recognize that there are consequences to the life choices that they make. She is also a strong advocate of educating others about the devastating consequences of current drug policies.


“Sometimes we lock ourselves up in a mental prison that limits us from achieving our ultimate potential. I’m hoping that I will be able to inspire students to realize their commitment to themselves while at South Carolina State and abroad. I also want to motivate students to do the best they can and give some young ladies inspiration in knowing that it’s all about loving themselves first.”


Kemba Smith’s visit to SC State University is collaboratively sponsored by Brooks Health Center, the Miller F. Whittaker Library, Student Success and Retention, University Village and SC State’s Department of Human Services.


For more information, visit www.scsu.edu.  You may also contact Adrienne Webber, dean of the Miller F. Whittaker Library, at (803) 536-7045, or via email at awebber1@scsu.edu; or Ashley Elliott, assistant director of public relations, at (803) 533-3802, or via email at aelliott@scsu.edu.