After spending his morning interviewing Kobe Bryant, Stephen A. Smith hopped on a jet to address Binghamton University students.
Smith, a sports journalist and ESPN personality, was the keynote speaker for the Black Student Union’s (BSU) Black History Month festivities.
His talk, which drew more than 450 to Lecture Hall 1 on Saturday evening, focused on the importance of making oneself marketable and attractive for jobs in corporate America.
“See, I’m a proud capitalist, y’all,” he said. “I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat; I don’t give a damn about any of that. I believe in getting paid; it’s the American way. No harm, no foul.”
According to Smith, a major impediment to the advancement of African-Americans is a propensity to misunderstand the source of their problems.
“What black Americans have to understand and appreciate and accept is that other ethnic groups have their issues, too,” he said. “This is not the ‘50s, this is not the ‘60s; white folks don’t owe us. Decency, respect, equal opportunity; that is all you are owed. And you know the number one reason white folks don’t owe us anything? Because a lot of them are suffering, too. And when you’ve got your own problems, why do you have time to worry about anybody else?”
His message, however, was not limited just to black students, and did not focus solely on black history. Smith emphasized the value of behaving properly in public and in private, especially after the rise of social networks and the 24-hour news cycle.
“I got a message for black folks, I got a message for white folks, I got a message for anybody in America aspiring to deal with the corporate world,” he said. “What you have to understand is that while you have the world at your feet, now — more so than ever before — little mistakes can ultimately balloon into big ones. And if you make the wrong one, even at your age, it can wreck your life.”
Smith also discussed the importance of accepting people of different cultures, financial backgrounds and sexual orientations.
“All I know is you’re going to have to deal with all of these challenges because corporate America, and America as a society, is demanding that you do just that,” he said. “And if you are somebody who refuses to do so, and you prefer to do otherwise, and it’s reminiscent of a time that our nation as a whole prides itself on valuing that we’ve moved beyond, you’re going to be stuck in the back of the line.”
He suggested that students should cut people from their lives who are not positive influences.
“You’ve gotta surround yourself with the right people; they have to be an asset,” Smith said. “Because everything in life is identified as either an asset or a liability, whether it physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually, it doesn’t matter. Somebody is either in your life giving you something, or they are taking it away.”
The talk was well-received by the students in attendance. Ian Gray, a senior majoring in marketing, said he didn’t know what to expect going into the event, but was pleased with what he heard.
“I thought he did a pretty good job of mixing his black history message with an overarching theme of self-preservation,” Gray said.
Ese Olumhense, president of the BSU, agreed that she didn’t know what to expect, and said she was worried the student body wouldn’t know who Stephen A. Smith was. However, she was pleased with the turnout and what Smith had to say.
“He’s living the experience by being around these relevant black figures, and is kind of restructuring the black success narrative that exists in the United States today,” she said.
After his speech, students were given the opportunity to ask him questions. One student asked where Smith sees himself in 5 years’ time.
“This room can’t fit the level of ambition that I have inside my soul,” Smith said. “Death will stop me. Nothing else.”