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  • Vive Griffith

Lamont Smith: Five Olympic Games and Counting

Over the summer, Lamont Smith flew to Tokyo for his fifth Olympic Games as a video editor for NBC Sports. A 1997 graduate of the original Clemente Course in New York City and now a board member for the national Clemente organization, Lamont's career has taken him to four continents and 14 countries and even to winning an Emmy Award. But as a man in his early 20s, he didn't see any of this in his future.

"It all started with that Clemente Course in the Lower East Side in a folding chair in 1996. It is honestly amazing," he says. "I felt I could do more, contribute more, and jump to something else. But I wouldn’t have had the confidence if not for the Clemente Course.” Lamont grew up in public housing in New York City and always excelled in school, but found his options were limited: “My curiosity for the larger world outside my neighborhood definitely outran what I was offered in my local public school. I sensed from early on that I was being prepped to be a worker instead of being exposed to the teachings of thinkers like Nietzsche and Plato.” He ended up leaving high school early and earning a GED. He was in a workforce training program when he saw a flyer for the Clemente Course on a bulletin board. Clemente was in its earliest years, recruiting just its second class. For Lamont the chance to explore philosophy, an area he had dabbled in but not studied formally, drew him to the course.

Lamont with NYC Mayor David Dinkins (left) at his 1997 Clemente graduation

“Clemente was the opposite of the experience I had in public school. Everyone was there on purpose and excited to learn,” he says. “These were college professors giving us college-level work, not dumbing it down. They respected our intelligence and advanced it.” After graduating from Clemente, Lamont enrolled in classes at the City University of New York right and took a job in the mailroom at the NBA offices. Soon he caught the “television bug.” He took every small production job he could find and launched his career through an unpaid internship with a hip-hop television producer. After his time with Clemente, he was sure he could handle the work in front of him. Today Lamont is 20 years into a career that he loves and has traveled the world from Korea to France to Brazil to Russia. He has let go of any inferiority complex he might have had as a young man and knows that he belongs in the academic and professional spaces where he finds himself. And he's passing that knowledge down. He and his wife have a daughter in elementary school, and he will make sure she doesn’t suffer from what he calls “the bigotry of low expectations.”

Read Lamont's reflection on joining the Clemente Course Board of Directors.

He has also come "full circle," joining the board of directors of the national Clemente Course and helping steer the organization into its next 25 years. He says the power of the course lies in unlocking and helping people see what they have inside them already.

“From the moment I stepped into that class, they made me feel that I was worthy,” he says. “Knowing and being made to feel that we belong and that our voice and intelligence matter made all the difference.”

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