New Board Member Lamont Smith Reflects on How Clemente Helped "Light My Path"
In May, the Clemente Board of Directors welcomed two new members. One of them, Lamont Smith, is a 1997 Clemente graduate who has gone on to become an Emmy Award-winning video editor with NBC Sports. His career has taken him far afield--to five Tours de France and three Olympic Games (with Tokyo on the horizon)--but he's chosen to circle back to share his time and talents with the Clemente Course, a place he called "home" nearly 25 years ago. We couldn't be more delighted.
In sharing his news with his community, Lamont wrote about his journey. He's allowed us to share with with you:
Let me tell you a story.
It’s a story about a guy in his early 20s from the projects of Harlem and the Bronx who really didn’t know what to do with his life. He always did well academically but he dropped out of high school because neither he, nor any of his teachers, really cared if he actually showed up. He began working dead-end fast food jobs but he still loved to learn. He would read James Baldwin and Gandhi and John Stuart Mill in the break room because the ideas excited him.
A good friend then challenged him to start applying himself and he took her up on it. He went back and got his diploma, took some job training courses and even scored a cool job in the mailroom at the NBA.
Then, someone told him about this program called The Clemente Course In The Humanities down on the Lower East Side. It was a free, college-level course where they studied and discussed philosophy, literature, art history, U.S. history and critical thinking. They read Plato and Descartes, wrote papers and essays and the students were pushed academically but nurtured intellectually by some amazing Humanities professors.
This guy LOVED it. He was home. For the very first time in his life, he felt that his intellect was respected and his love for learning wasn’t seen as an impractical waste of time.
He excelled in the Course, became that year’s Valedictorian and even got to meet one of his personal heroes, Mayor David Dinkins, at the commencement ceremony. With his intellectual passion validated and his confidence higher than it had ever been, this young man enrolled at City College of New York and soon left that mailroom cart behind.
A new life awaited him. A new life that he’d create without a road map or guardrails but those factors made it all the more exciting and all the more worthwhile. For the first time in his life, he realized that he was the master of his own fate and that Course opened his eyes to the fact that there was nothing stopping him from activating himself fully. He realized that he wasn’t a product of his environment but a product of his expectations.
Twenty-four years passed and that same young man has traveled around the world working in the television industry. From the bustling boutiques of the Champs Élysées in Paris to the peaks of the Swiss Alps to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the towering skyscrapers of Seoul, he’s enjoyed and been grateful for it all. He’s now a loving husband and father, a homeowner, an Emmy Award winner and sometimes he still wakes up and doesn’t quite believe it’s all real. That maybe it was all just a dream and he’ll wake up in that break room at the McDonald’s on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. But it is real.
In fact, because the nature of the universe is circular, an amazing thing happened to him this weekend.
That same young man who found his way into the Clemente Course almost a quarter century ago with his baggy sweatpants and a dog-eared copy of Richard Wright’s Native Son in hand was just elected to the Board of Directors of the Clemente Course in the Humanities.
Now, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, Clemente is a nationwide nonprofit organization offering free, college-level instruction from coast-to-coast to people facing economic hardship and to returning veterans. They’ve been going strong and making a difference this whole time and even won the National Humanities Medal in 2014.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, that young man is me. I am thrilled and excited to serve on the Board of an organization that helped to light my path and has served as that same beacon for thousands of others. I look forward to helping the Clemente Course expand its reach, go global and possibly inspire millions of individuals to activate the gifts and the potential they have inside.
I invite you to take a look at the redesigned website for the Course and if you know anyone who may be interested in attending a Course near them or if you’re interested in supporting us in our work, please visit: https://www.clementecourse.org
The Clemente Course in the Humanities is a non-profit organization and depends on the support of regular folks to keep these Courses going.
Keep striving, keep dreaming and keep believing in yourself and betting on yourself.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day.