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Clint Smith Shares His ‘Shiny Things’ at New Narratives

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By Nicole Block

Clint Smith is fairly new to the public sphere, but the rising  Black activist has distinguished himself as one of the loudest voices for social justice and racial equality. The  young teacher, National Poetry Slam Champion, TED speaker and Harvard doctoral candidate, is the latest presenter in Student Affairs’ New Narratives series held last Tuesday.

New Narratives speakers draw upon their personal experience and individual world understanding in order to elicit healthy dialogue about race, culture and current affairs. Past speakers include prominent-celebrity activists like Laverne Cox, Melissa Harris-Perry and Common.

Poverty, discrimination, and overcoming hardship inform Smith’s verbal and written art, which Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham described as, “The difference between being a voice and an echo,” when introducing him.

Performing several of his spoken word pieces, Smith shared his experience as a Black boy raised in the South, as the son of a continually hospitalized father, as a teacher to kids with even worse burdens and as someone who has achieved much greater success and recognition — what he calls “shiny things” — in the past few years than he could have imagined.

His abilities onstage justify his success; as a slam poet, he is expressive in his facial and body movements. Every furrowed brow, every wide-eyed stare into nothingness and every sudden shift in tone or inflection was bait that roped the humble audience further in.

He encourages   empowerment and equality with a critical eye for the hypocrisies of America, past and present. He quoted Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia,” that claimed Black people to be incapable of love and intellect. His poem criticized the language of liberty that we associate with the founding fathers while the chains of slavery and oppression are often whitewashed and euphemized in history books.

“My entire life, I’ve been taught how perfect this country is, but nobody ever taught me about the pages torn out of my textbook — how the black and brown bodies had been bludgeoned for three centuries could find no place in the curriculum. Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter,” he declared.

Working often with underprivileged and undervalued students in Urban Centers, Smith encourages allowing discussions about race in the classroom, making students feel valued as humans, and showing them the patterns of history, but also the ways that it can change with the power of their voices.

“I will live everyday as if there is a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition, because who has to have a soapbox, when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?.”