H.T. Smith is no stranger to discrimination. His long career of service has had him chair the Coalition for a Free South Africa — leading the charge to convince local governments and universities not to do business with companies that did business with apartheid South Africa — head a tourism boycott against Miami after local officials snubbed Nelson Mandela during his historic visit; champion the amendment that explicitly gives women and people born outside the U.S. equal legal protection; and co-chair the Miami-Dade Say No to Discrimination referendum, fighting for equal rights for all people regardless of their sexual orientation. These highlights of an illustrious career reflect Smith’s own experiences growing up in the shadow of Jim Crow laws and overcoming obstacles to forge a path for others to live more freely and believe they too could achieve something great.
“It’s always an honor for your colleagues or your fellow members of the community to say to you ‘Thank you for your service,’” Smith says regarding the recognition he will receive at the upcoming Gay8 Festival in Little Havana. “We had to reverse the culture and mindset of many, many Americans, especially in the African-American community, and the fact that my friends and neighbors in the community feel that I was a positive contributor to this very important cause is an honor that I hold very special.”
The first African-American assistant public defender and assistant county attorney in Miami-Dade county, he and Harold Long also started the first African-American law firm to practice in downtown Miami. While Smith remains ever vigilant and focused on how much work remains to be done, he believes there are various channels to get people energized.
“First of all, I think you’ve gotta get people’s attention, and a festival is something that will definitely get people’s attention,” he says. Long ago labeled an agitator, he nonetheless feels that a message must be compelling to maintain that attention.
“Then it’s a matter of passionately, persuasively and powerfully communicating a message of how the development of our community and the safety of our community can benefit not just an area but the entire community and everybody,” says Smith.
“I really like people that dream big dreams and take on major challenges. These are the visionaries,” he says. “This is the beginning of a much needed, important and exciting vision, and I’m happy that individuals who have the ability, commitment and persistence are taking it on. And to the extent that I can contribute my service, I’ll be happy to do that.”
The Vietnam war veteran, civil rights champion, pioneer, scholar, professor, agitator and enemy of discrimination will be among the first recipients of the Pa’Lante Award — which celebrates those who push the community forward — at the first annual Gay8 Festival this Sunday, January 17, in Little Havana.