Kemba Smith spoke for our "Open Your Mind Lecture Series" October 19, 2009 at 7:00pm in Moran Hall.
Growing up as the only child in Richmond, Virginia suburb, Kemba Smith led an advantaged and sheltered childhood. After graduating from high school in 1989, Kemba left the security of her family to continue her education at prestigious Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. What happened to Kemba in her new campus environment was a nightmare. Away from the protective watch of her mother and father and in an attempt to “fit in”, Kemba fell in with the wrong crowd and became involved with a drug dealer. He was a major figure in a crack cocaine ring, and drew Kemba right in the middle of his life with physical, mental and emotional abuse disguised as “love”.
Eventually, after enduring this turbulent four-year relationship in 1994, Ms. Smith was sentenced to 24.5 years and served 6.5 years in federal prison. Fortunately, Ms. Smith regained her freedom after President Clinton granted her clemency in December 2000. Her case drew support from across the nation and the world in a crusade to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent 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, along with several publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Glamour, People, JET, Emerge and Essence Magazines.
As a newlywed, mother, advocate, consultant and public speaker, Ms. Smith has received numerous awards and recognitions for her courage and determination to educate the public about the devastating social, economic and political consequences of current drug policies. She has been corporately sponsored to speak at a variety of high schools and college venues by Proctor & Gamble’s Pantene “Totally You Tour”, Bank One Academy, Shell Corporation, Traveler’s Foundation, Verizon, and BET’s “Rap It Up Tour”. Ms. Smith’s traumatic real life experience, forces today’s students to listen in hopes that they will recognize that there are consequences to their life choices.
In May 2002, Ms. Smith graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and was later awarded a two year Soros Justice Postgraduate Fellowship for advocates in 2003. Ms. Smith has completed her first year of law school at Howard University and is continuing to develop her 501 (c) (3) foundation, the Kemba Smith Foundation. Also, Rainforest Films, which produced the critically acclaimed films Stomp the Yard and This Christmas, has acquired the rights to produce Ms. Smith’s life story into a film. Ultimately, it is Kemba Smith’s hope to uplift youth and inspire them to become educated about certain injustices within the criminal justice system while continuing the legacy of women leaders in the struggle for the betterment of our communities. Whether it is through grassroots organizing or lobbying on Capitol Hill to promote action, this, she believes, is her mission.
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