During the most precious years of my pre-teenage life, from the age of 10 to about 16, my mother viciously beat me, told me that I’d never amount to anything (like my father) and I believed her… turns out, she was wrong. - Dr. Kai Smith
Dr. Kai Smith
Born and bred during the three most ominous eras of New York City, 70's, 80's and 90's, Kai personally lived the ominous Harlem street life. The street life that many of today's rappers and actors portray in their movies and sing about. The street life that many others have only silently stood by and witnessed or was told the unbelievable stories of ... Kai personally lived. This living directly resulted in him spending 16 consecutive years in juvenile institutions and adult prisons in 3 different States.
Released from prison in 2002, labeled a ‘Career Criminal’ with six (6) felonies and written off by society as absolutely helpless; Kai vowed to not only change his own life, but the lives of others caught in the cycle like he was. Determined to change, Kai not only founded GRAAFICS, he secured his BA and MBA from Metropolitan College of New York, an Executive MPA from Rutgers University, a PHR from the Society for Human Resource Management and he is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Organizational Psychology & Operations Management.
Taking an excerpt from his book, Kai states:
“Wow, I think that I may have been 10 yrs old when my mother started to tell me that I would never amount to anything. She'd say: “Your daddy in jail and he ain't shit and you gonna be just like him…some shit!” A few years later, while being sentenced to a juvenile detention center for a minor quality of life offense, the judge called me “A hopeless, young, future career criminal” and was upset that he couldn’t sentence me to more time. So let’s see, before the age of 16 I was a hopeless, young, future career criminal that wasn’t going to ever be shit like my dad ......... so I believed it!
I went out and got myself 6 felonies. In total, I’ve served 16 years in juvenile detention centers, jails, prisons and correctional facilities in three different states. For the first 16 years of my life my mother told me that I would fail in life; I watched her tell me this in between nods from her own aggressive addition to heroin. Before I was 10 I watched my mother do things for money to get heroin that no child should EVER have to witness. For the first 30 years of my life I never knew my father. Twenty of those thirty years he (himself) was in prison. My only brother was shot in the face 6 times and in the chest 3 times as a part of someone’s initiation into a street gang.
In spite of all of this, 16 yrs of prison. 9 yrs in NY State, 5 yrs In Virginia and 2 yrs in South Carolina; today, I have 2 Bachelor's degrees, 2 Masters degrees, and a national certification in Human Resources (SHRM) and I am a student pursuing a Ph.D. I am the Founder, Executive Director & CEO of: The Gang Diversion, Reentry And Absent Fathers Intervention Centers (GRAAFICS)
I wrote GRAAFICS while I was incarcerated in the Virginia Dept of corrections. I'll never forget it. I was in solitary confinement. Each week the trustee would push the (library) cart full of books the cell block for each of us to select a book for the week. It must have been 200 books on this cart. I had been in solitary confinement for so long that I'd read every book on the cart with the exception of one. I asked the trustee for the one book that I didn't read. He gave it to me and immediately I realized that it was a self-help book. Because I'd read everything else on the cart, I said to myself: "What the hell.". The last chapter of this book dealt with breaking the cycle of incarceration. There was a work sheet in the back of the book. One of the questions on this work sheet was "If YOU could design an effective reentry program, what would it look like?" I thought, "Wow. who better to answer this question than me?" On my next commissary date, I ordered a pad and a pen. This was September of 2000. On September 11th 2001 (and nearly 150 filled note pads later) I was sitting in my cell, writing more notes in yet another pad, STILL answering that same question. It was THAT DAY that I said that if I'd ever gotten out of that place, I'd never return.
I never REALLY believed in GOD. To me, GOD was my grandmother because as a child everything that I'd ever wanted and needed, she got for me. However, my grandmother raised me (and our entire family) to both believe in AND trust in god. In my opinion, GOD and I had a perfect relationship. GOD was NOT going to come into the streets and give me an extra 10 kilos of cocaine to sell and I was NOT going to go into his house (Church) and 'fake-it' like I am all holy; to me (a product of the streets) that was a perfect deal. It was on this day 9/11/01 I sat in a Virginia prison cell watching (on television) the devastation occurring in my city. I got on my knees, look into my hands and said "GOD, I don't know you. I know NOTHING about you. But, if you love me as much as my grandmother says that you do ... you'll let me get out of this place in time for her to see me make something of my life before she dies." On October 22 2002 I was escorted out of that same prison a FREE man. On October 22 2003 The Gang Diversion, Reentry And Absent Fathers Intervention Centers (GRAAFICS) was born. To date, almost 2 decades later, I don't have the exact numbers. But, we've been able to accomplish something like:
In addition, GRAAFICS currently has contracts with State and local governments and/or municipalities in 4 different States. Recently, something that brought tears to my eyes .... On 6/22/91 I was an inmate detained inside of Riker's Island (C-73) facility ... 25 years later on 6/22/16 I was escorted BACK to Riker's Island by the Commissioner of the NYC Dept of Corrections and awarded a contract to erect GRAAFICS on Riker's Island INSIDE of the C-73 facility ... A program that I wrote while inside of prison is NOW contracted to go back into prison to keep young black and Hispanic youth from RETURNING to prison. When I got home I was shaking. I was nervous. I cried. I called my grandma (R.I.P - she was alive then) and then I got on my knees, looked into my hands and said THANK YOU GOD.
While enduring the tremendous responsibilities of full time work and school; during his undergraduate years, Kai founded his first not-for-profit organization (The Urban Development Institute), a consulting firm (UnCommon Solutions), participated in the founding of one of Harlem’s premier after-school programs and as a result was featured by Metropolitan College of New York in their 2005 Fiscal Report.
As a graduate student, Kai was employed by Visions: Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired as their Director of Business Development and Workforce Diversity. There, he not only designed, created, staffed and implemented the very department (within Visions) where he worked; he designed the single largest ‘Internship-to-Employment’ program for blind and visually impaired people in the State of New York where over 50 vendors and 500 participants attended. This collaboration between Metropolitan College of New York and Visions: Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired bore internship-to-employment opportunities for 12 legally blind people, with one person securing full time employment as the administrative assistant to the president of the college. After being recognized, by The New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, with a plaque that hangs in the foyer of MCNY today. Kai secured both a bachelor's degree and an MBA from MCNY and then he enroll into Rutgers University where he secured an Executive Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in Public Policy.
Professionally, graduates of The GRAAFICS Program and/or followers of The GRAAFICS Program’s principles and teachings have gone on to establish careers at: Services For The Undeserved, The DOE Fund, SCO Family Of Services, The Center for Court Innovation, Brownsville Youth Court, Kings County DA’s ComAlert Program, et. al.
Educationally, followers of the inspirational teachings of The GRAAFICS Program have gone on to enroll into and complete: Rutgers University, Metropolitan College of New York, The College of New Rochelle, et. al.
Today, Kai Smith is the President & CEO of: GRAAFICS, he is Owner & CEO of: G-Line Apparel . He owns and hosts BOTH a television talk show 'The Kai Smith Show' and a radio talk show called: Conversations with: Kai. In closing the interview with Kai, I asked if he had any last words? He thought for awhile, smiled (shrugged his shoulders)and said: "I don't know ... so, I guess my mother was wrong after all?”
This guy [Kai Smith] just may be the realest, most powerful, most inspirational speaker today. His message is current, his delivery is on-point, he is extremely charismatic and has just the right amount of humor. Other speakers are good; but, nobody can do what he does with his audience. Nobody!
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