Hope  /hōp/  word. – 1. want something to happen or be the case 2. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen See Also. Barack Obama “Hope” poster, a 2008 image designed by Shepard Fairey

Interview with Isaiah

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Well, my name is Isaiah Smith. Originally, I was born in Topeka, Kansas. I lived there until I moved in 2000. In Topeka I was heavily in the church crowd. I was always in the church with my parents — my dad was a deacon and he was one of the choir directors there and he was always recruiting people to be in the choir. So, music was another big thing that I grew up being heavily involved with. And my mother was involved with art. So, I always had the music and art kind of background. And my father knew a lot of people in Topeka so I was known as Leonard’s son.

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When we moved to Columbia in 2000, since I was the new guy…I was from Kansas moving to Columbia, Missouri, which is “Mizzou country” with a lot of fans for the Missouri University… I was always known as the new guy, but the guy that always wore KU stuff. So it was a nice ice breaker to talk to people if they didn’t know me. They always addressed me as the KU fan or the, the one that was “confused” since I was in Columbia and still wearing all my red and blue for Kansas. From there went to Hickman high school, graduated, went to UCM where I studied broadcast media for film, radio and TV. I was there for four years, really got into editing…editing was my main focus. And then when I needed to go to to have an internship to graduate, I took the radio route and went to Town Square Media in Sedalia (Missouri) and I was the online content provider. I was the one that…If there was a vacation Bible school there, I did a short little news clip on that that…Sedalia had this train station that had the Sedalia Caboose, that at that time, was moving…That was a really big deal there and I covered some work for them, I actually did some freelance work for them as well…but I tested the waters of how to do new stories and put stuff online so they could use it on their YouTube page or if they wanted to reference the YouTube page and put it on their on their website, they could use that.

After I graduated I went to Kansas City and I worked in the restaurant industry for about five years in Independence (Missouri) and in Kansas city, with the background of seafood and barbecue — I also worked in barbecue in Warrensburg (Missouri) . So, at that point I thought I was going to just be in the restaurant industry forever. When I was at my last job in Overland Park (Kansas), working with barbecue, I met someone that was married to someone that worked at Unbound and that was my way of finding out about Unbound. She told me a lot about her work and what it was all about and how I could actually get behind that. I was at a point where I was ready to get out of the restaurant industry and I needed something new that actually touched me and where I was going to work for a purpose, not just for the money — and Unbound was perfect. Anything that they do, I support. Making sure that those that don’t have a voice, have a voice. We share that light in a positive way and not in a negative way to just draw attention for people to donate, we’re actually just trying to better the people in their communities, not just as a money grab. So yeah, I would say that’s me in a nutshell — guy from Kansas, moved to Columbia, went to school in Warrensburg, and then ended up being an adult in Kansas City.

How would you define beauty?

There’s that saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I do believe in that. Not everything is liked by everyone, but beauty is within and I think it shines on the outside the more that you have. I can say it like this…It’s something that you look at…even if it’s not a person or an object…it can be something that’s beautiful as far as art….And it’s something that has a lot of meaning that’s deep. It could have multiple layers. It’s just something that you should appreciate and look at and know that…that object, or person or art or something… should be respected and treated with care.

“Frankly, the strength and the willpower in embracing our culture even though it’s not widely accepted, I think that that’s just beautiful.”

How would you define Black beauty?

Black beauty is everything that is unique to black people. Same for any race. Beauty is embracing what is natural and or what you admire about something. Black beauty is really curly kinky hair and realizing that it’s not “different” but just unique. Dark skin and light skin, but embracing melanin. Style, music, sports, slang (E-40 and Snoop) and history, that’s all black beauty. And frankly, the strength and the willpower in embracing our culture even though it’s not widely accepted, I think that that’s just beautiful. We have a strong following of those that appreciate our culture and I think that’s beautiful. The fact that we can be natural…and like the things that we like…and do the things that we do…and look the way that we look…I think that’s beautiful.

When you think about Black culture, what first comes to mind?

Well, I feel happy. Just the fact that if you see something from the culture… Well, I’ll just use food for example. You see a lot of food out there, but you don’t see soul food. Soul food…whenever you eat it, you feel it. It’s something that you don’t just eat, but there’s the history as far as like, Oh, my mother used to make these collard greens and I love them because she, she makes them a certain way. I’m not the biggest fans biggest fan of chitlins, but that’s just something that, like, you know it comes from the culture. There’s a reason behind that food being eaten by a certain group of people. There’s history behind it. So, whenever you deal with something that’s from the culture or that’s authentic to a certain group of people, I think that should be embraced. But it also makes you feel good because it’s recognized and it’s out in the open. You want more people to be aware of it so that it’s widely accepted and not something where you don’t see that often so whenever you do see it you’re kind of surprised by it. You want it to be the norm because a lot of other things are considered the norm and I just think it should be accepted everywhere. So that feeling I get whenever I see it, it makes me happy just because it’s out in the forefront.

“Soul food…whenever you eat it, you feel it. It’s something that you don’t just eat, but there’s the history.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

I would say when I was a little bit younger I did. It was always trying to face negative stereotypes. Being judged off your appearance or how you sound, a lot of people just automatically think a certain way about you, which is definitely not fair. The pressure…you hear a lot of things like, Oh, well, are you going to be there for your friend long term, or you know, Are you going to be a hard worker? Things like that — not everyone has to deal with that. So it’s just something you have to work harder for. Just facing negative stereotypes and just trying to be recognized as a person first and getting to know the actual person and not just what you think based off your race.

Have you ever experienced of racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

I’ll give you two. So one’s not as blunt and then the second one would be obvious. The first one is something that I don’t think people really realize when they say it…but I was always a person who was in an honors class. I was fortunate enough to have a situation where if I needed help I could get it to study. But whenever I was in an honors class and someone came to visit our class or something, they would be like, Oh, well you’re the only one black person so, you know, you’re here. Or they would just kind of make jokes about like, I hadn’t seen a lot of you here. Or making points that you don’t see a whole lot of people that look like me in classes like that or even looking like a different class. I’m not saying I’m like high class or rich, but I’m definitely not a person that would sag or dress, I guess, stereotypically…so I get a lot of comments on, Oh, you dress nice, or, You speak well, or, you know, You don’t say certain words that are edited out of songs. So stuff like that…kinda like backhanded compliments.

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And then the obvious example would be…there was an example where I was in Warrensburg, which is a small town in Missouri, and I was just going to a party…It was my first week at school freshman year. All my friends are around and we were just going to a local party, a house party. There was a truck that came up, a pickup truck had a flag on it — the flag that’s red and white — and I had a couple of guys yell some names. And I had friends that don’t look like me, look at me to see what I was going to do about it and kind of make a scene. The best way I knew how to handle it was to act like I didn’t hear anything. Cause if you’re put in a situation where they’re trying to get a rise out of you, the last thing you want to do is do what they want. So I acted like nothing was a big deal, ignored them. They drove off eventually. And then later, I assessed and processed that whole situation, and I told my friends, You just have to be above it. There’s just some people that aren’t going to get out over a certain era and they’re raised a different way. You know, not everyone’s perfect and you just gotta keep moving the best you can, but don’t let it affect you. But that was definitely the one that shocked me the most, cause it was my first week and I did not expect that to happen. That made me aware of what I may have to deal with in the future there. But luckily for me, that didn’t happen much more after that.

What do you feel you have accomplished if your life? What are you proud of?

I think one thing that I am very proud of is actually graduating college. If we’re speaking about race, there’s not a lot of people that have the opportunity to go to college. When I was in high school, one thing that I wanted to stress was that, If I ever go — and I know so many family members that couldn’t go or friends that had family members that couldn’t put them in the position to go so they had to take a different route after high school — I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to finish school, no one would be able to take that degree from me. And it would make my grandparents proud and my parents proud. And that’s all I cared about. I wanted to finish something that I knew that a lot of people didn’t have the opportunity to. And hopefully in the future I can set that up for my children and for anyone that wants to go that wouldn’t have had the opportunity to.

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Another thing for me is I’m pretty lucky to have the family history I have. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a Tuskegee Airman. He was in World War II and he was an engineer. And then my grandpa on my mom’s side was in the Negro leagues and played in played baseball in Michigan. So those two things I always carry with me. I have, on both sides, something that’s very near and dear to culture. And historically I want to kind of hold myself up to that point. And finishing school is one of those things, but I always want to make sure that I always try to help the next person so that they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish.

“My grandfather on my dad’s side was a Tuskegee Airman. He was in World War II and he was an engineer. And then my grandpa on my mom’s side was in the Negro leagues and played in played baseball in Michigan. So those two things I always carry with me. I have, on both sides, something that’s very near and dear to culture.”

So you have family members in the Negro League and as a Tuskegee Airman, what history, legacy, or advice did they pass down to you?

On both sides both grandpas have told me…to put us in their shoes. Whenever they were doing…either playing in the Negro league, which just the name lets you know that this league is just for a certain group of people — there’s still the other league,you know, a lot of good players from the Negro league went to the major leagues — Whenever they’re in the Negro leagues, they had the thought process of, We feel like we can’t mess this up because there’s so many eyes on us and there’s so many people cheering for us. You have eyes both looking at you for support and looking for something to go wrong. So you have to keep pushing and follow your ultimate goal, which is either to win a series or win the country over to allow you to play with other players, which in the league means with white players. Same thing with Tuskegee Airman. Tuskegee Airmen are known because it was the group of black people fighting in the war. It’s not just a group, it’s the black group. So they knew that when they went out to war, they couldn’t mess anything up. That kind of pressure on them, of being the first or the main people of a certain group to do something…It added that pressure.

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One thing that they told me, both individually, was that the times aren’t like that now. You don’t need to walk around with pressure, do what you need to do because you want to do it. And that was one thing that was huge for me was because I always felt pressured, because of the way I looked, I needed to succeed in certain ways and to set myself up for success. But my grandpa that was in the Tuskegee Airmen was like, It’s a team effort as far as family goes. You always have family. And that’s something that, in black culture, ironically it’s there and it’s not there. So you always hear about the support wit the mom or the grandma. But there’s also stories of the support with the dad and the grandpa. I was just fortunate, lucky, or blessed to have both sets of grandparents. I had my grandma on my mom’s side telling me, basically, I don’t want you to sag. I don’t want you to speak a certain way, or that will disappoint her. So I knew those things were automatically wrong. That’s why I carry myself differently, cause I represent my family first. And just knowing that my grandparents told me not to have pressure and do what you want, that gives you opportunity cause you’re not stressed on something going wrong. If you make a mistake, you learn from it. That’s part of life– you learn and that sets you up for success later — a small failure can turn into a huge success. Something my dad always told me, Carry those lessons with you. Whether it’s, in my case, my grandpas…the Negro league and Tuskegee Airmen…those are big things. You don’t have to top that, but you know, keep in mind that you come from strong people that never gave up because if they had, it would not have been the same…If the Negro league wasn’t successful and the Tuskegee Airmen didn’t do what they did and helped out in the war. Like, there’s a lot of history that I feel is not told and it just needs to be shared. So, that’s another reason why — to answer your question before — it’s good to have different groups of people speak because not everything is represented in history or online or in textbooks. Most of that stuff is left out. So you need to talk to people to get a full story.

What are your personal dreams?

My ultimate goal is to own my own production company. Everything is set for it. I have like the email address and the portfolio name of it, but obviously funding is a big part of it. But my dream would be to own my own production company either in Kansas City or in my hometown in Kansas. And shine light on topics that I feel like need to be lifted on a national stage. If possible do a documentary and submit it to Sundance for a major film festival and possibly line up with a major director and be an editor. But trying to get art out about important subjects and topics that I want out to the world that normally wouldn’t be put out, I guess, if I don’t do it. One documentary that I saw recently was by a producer and director, Nico (Wiggins), in Kansas city and the documentary is called Land of Opportunity and it’s talking about an area in Kansas City where it was predominantly segregated and the area was intended for black people. The way that the districts were set up was that some districts, because of the population and the demographics, weren’t funded or didn’t want banks to invest in the land…and stuff like that can happen again if you don’t know history. And one thing I want to make sure that’s out there is if people don’t know their history it’s bound to repeat itself. So put that information out so people know and be so they can be aware of it so that it won’t happen again.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

I feel like this is a generic answer, but it’s just opportunities. Honestly, one thing that made me change my thought process recently…I’m enrolled in school now. I’m wanting to learn more things…But software development is something that’s booming, as far as job market, and it’s something that a lot of black folks need to be aware of because it’s a big business and it’s a big market for them to get into so that they can find jobs and help their local communities. One person that I really respected and recently left us with Nipsey Hussle and he actually brought that up in an interview I saw. For people that don’t know, he’s in California…the heart of California, L.A., the areas that you would think are the toughest. He was mentioning that he was making clubs for kids to learn how to use the computer and work on coding and learn design and all this other stuff. You start young in the areas that need it the most. I feel like those areas have a big population in California. There’s a lot of people there. Well, they don’t have opportunities. If you turn that big population and you give them the opportunity that everyone else has, they have a better chance of improving, not only their lives but, the lives in the community. So if opportunity grows, no matter what industry it is…if it’s fashion, culinary, nonprofit, or whatnot…as long as you have the opportunity and you have your voice and it’s not just, Oh, I need to be a musician or I need to be in sports to get out of the situation I’m in, you would see more diversity. And I feel like that’s just the best way. With more opportunity, I think the world would just be a better place.

What are you dreams for society?

It’s hard to say, but my dream is honestly, I just want everything to be fair and that’s it. I feel like that’s really hard to make happen. But the constitution says, not verbatim but, it’s the land of the free and everyone should have opportunity. That’s key to where we live. I just want everyone to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I want everyone to have the opportunity to help their families, feed themselves, and set themselves up so that their kids’ kids can live happy. And you know, not only just in the States, but everywhere. And that’s something that Unbound does too…we’re trying to give those in poverty enriched areas the opportunity to build their communities. And that’s just what I would like to see. I don’t want one country to be super, super powerful –I know, you know, our country’s the greatest — but I don’t want the divide, the gap to be so big.

“The more that kids know in school, they have more opportunities to do other things and they have bigger interests… Knowledge is power. So I mean the more schooling and better schooling in areas, the better for everyone.”

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

I think we should focus on the youth first. Cause when you’re young you absorb so much. So I would put more into education and, not to repeat the same thing, but the more that kids know in school, they have more opportunities to do other things and they have bigger interests. It’s not like you can make things across the board more affordable, like products and things, but knowledge is power. So I mean the more schooling and better schooling in areas, the better for everyone. Not every school district is as strong as another school district and the ones that aren’t in the…I guess you can say…areas where people want to invest, which is similar to what the documentary (The Land of Opportunity) was kind of pointing to, in areas where people look different than the the typical people that are well off. If we can make those school districts stronger as far as giving teachers more money, so that they can support themselves as well…But if the school systems equally are on the same level, if they have the same amount of funds to have the equipment and things that kids need to make it in the world today. I think that will help first start with them so that whenever they get older, they have the necessary tools and understanding of how things work. And then after that, it’s a little bit harder because you’re dealing with older people who are kind of in their ways, which isn’t a good or bad thing, but it’s just kind of harder to move the needle on a certain topic. For example, politics, it’s kind of just one side against the other. If one side has more power than they’re not gonna listen to the other. Just more balance between the government. I think that would be a big stepping stone or a good starting point I should say. If everyone believed in their government and they knew that the government was on their side and for them, to better them and everyone everyone in their area, I think that’s just the best place to start.

What advice would you give to other black people?

I would say, from experience, be friends with everyone and anyone. It’s not just to Black people, but it, it’s a big part of it. It’s great to stay in an area where it’s predominantly Black, there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, I have a lot of friends in general no matter what race. But it’s good to have conversations with people that don’t look like you. It’s the same thing as networking. You need to meet people that don’t necessarily follow the same beliefs or look the same so that you can hear a different perspective and they can hear your perspective. A lot of times I meet people and they’re like, Oh, you’re like the first black person that I’ve met, cause they’re from a small town. So automatically I’m the person that represents black people cause I’m the only one they’ve met. The more black people meet more people in general, that perception of, I don’t see them so I don’t really know how they are, that feeling goes away cause they’re used to, Oh okay. Black people like this…I have a friend that’s like this…I have multiple black friends — not just one, cause that doesn’t really help, you’re not really learning a whole much from one person. But if you meet a whole lot of people, not only are you networking, but you’re also helping spread black interest and just different topics that normally aren’t discussed out in the open. So more people are aware of what’s going on in our community because we hear a lot about what’s in other communities. I feel like our voice isn’t really heard unless it’s like on social media. And then at that point it’s not always good.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experience?

I think it would just be…You need to just be more open. Kind of put yourself in a situation where you meet more Black people. You know, nothing’s going to change if you don’t hear all the sides of the story.

Additional Information

Interview Date: January 10, 2020

Day 23 — Story posted on February 22, 2020

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