Clint Smith believes we all share a story, the human story. It’s in the telling, which Smith performs through poetry, that we emerge as individuals and celebrate what we have in common.
National poetry slam champion. Teacher of the year. Cultural ambassador to Swaziland. TED talker. Although Clint Smith isn’t motivated by titles, he has an impressive collection, including role model to countless young people. And it all started at Davidson.

A high school athlete, Smith chose Davidson for the chance to be more than a soccer player. “I could explore who I was beyond the field, beyond the classroom,” he says. Smith particularly appreciates the way professors engaged him. “In advanced poetry class, we would sit around the table, eat pie and talk about the purpose of art,” he recalls. Encouraged by his professors and classmates, Smith founded FreeWord, Davidson’s award-winning poetry team. “I likely wouldn’t be a professional artist if not for that experience,” he says. Smith also studied in Senegal and, after graduation, used sports and his spoken-word poetry to teach South African youth about HIV/AIDS.

Today, Smith is pursuing a doctorate in Education at Harvard and travels the world performing and teaching poetry from Boston prisons to Davos conferences. “Spoken word provides the opportunity to push us beyond what we know,” Smith says. “It challenges our perceptions and continuously allows us to think outside ourselves.”

How are we cultivating more game changers like Clint Smith?
Learn about the campaign priorities.

More from Clint Smith

How he defines “game changer”

“A game changer is someone who sees an opportunity to effect change throughout their community, whether that be on a small level or global scale, and acts upon that recognition. It is to recognize that the work one does is bigger than oneself. It also means that they are willing to listen to and work with, not impose upon, the communities they seek to serve. They approach their work with humility and an understanding that the most important work is done in solidarity with others, not alone.”

Game changers who inspire him

“James Baldwin — his writing profoundly shaped they way that our country engaged in conversations across lines of difference and his work humanized those who were so often seen as less than such. People could see themselves in his writing, and others saw things they had never seen before. It’s the amazing thing about art— it can push you to think beyond yourself. It’s an exercise in radical empathy.”
“Others I look up to are folks like Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Howard Zinn, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gordon Parks, and Adrienne Rich; those who dedicate their art and scholarship to bring difficult yet important conversations to the forefront of our consciousness. Their work seeks to illuminate the humanity of those who are oppressed.”

Distinctions of a Davidson education

“The educational journey didn’t stop once you left the classroom. Some of the best, most thought-provoking discussions happened at 11 p.m. over quesadillas in the Union with my friends. Students at Davidson make the things they’re studying real and applicable. They see the importance of critical thinking and exploration across disciplines – sociology, economics, art, math – they see how those things apply to the real world. My classmates constantly pushed me.”

Davidson people who made a difference

“Whether it’s the woman at the post office, the janitorial staff, the professors, the administration – everyone played a role in my growth at Davidson. They were there for the most transformative four years of my life. I’m grateful for what Davidson was and is for me, and every day I’m learning more about how my time there has shaped me.”
“I especially appreciate the professors who pushed me. Alan Michael Parker, Brenda Flanagan, Randy Ingram, Hilton Kelly — they served as mentors when I was a student and continue to be my mentors. They shaped my desire to become a poet and a teacher, and the way I engage in my own classroom. Winning the national slam poetry championship, giving TED talks, serving as cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State— none of those things would have happened had it not been for their guidance and mentorship.”

A Davidson turning point

“At Davidson, there wasn’t any spoken word group on campus. With the encouragement of the institution, I chartered FreeWord, Davidson’s spoken word collective. We were supported financially in traveling to the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, where we placed in the top 10 in the nation in our first year of existence. My team now, the DC Beltway Poetry Slam, just won the National Poetry Slam championship. That all started with FreeWord.”

Why the liberal arts matter

“We need politicians who are also poets. We need bankers who are also historians. We live in a better world if our statisticians are also well versed in sociology, so when they’re working on an excel sheet, they’re not just seeing numbers, they’re seeing people. Liberal arts education puts people at the center of every issue. Learning how our digestive or respiratory tracts work, reading James Baldwin or Aristotle, understanding the socio-historical context of the United States, learning how to break down data in math class – it all adds up.”

Hopes for the future of Davidson

“I hope Davidson will continue to encourage conversations across lines of difference – race, class, gender, etc. Those are necessary conversations if we want a world with more understanding. I hope Davidson will continue to allow students to be thoughtful, innovative, and entrepreneurial. I hope Davidson continues to cultivate students who listen. I hope students come out of Davidson willing and ready to hear, and work with, the world around them.”

How are we cultivating more game changers like Clint Smith?
Learn about the campaign priorities.

Recommend a Game Changer

Do you know a member of the Davidson community — alumnus or alumna, faculty or staff member, current student — who has championed positive change — in family, community or world? If so, we invite you to nominate a game changer. Davidson will follow up to tell the story.

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