Kemba Smith will present a lecture on race and the legal system on Feb. 8.

USFSM to host Kemba Smith for talk on racial injustice

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: January 24, 2018

USFSM to host Kemba Smith for talk on racial injustice

Kemba Smith

SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 24, 2017) – Kemba Smith, a nationally known speaker on racial injustice and the prison system, will present a lecture at USF Sarasota-Manatee on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 5:30 p.m.

The event, “Kemba Smith: Overcoming Adversity,” is free and open to the public. Smith’s powerful story spotlights the frequent inequities faced by people of color within the justice system.

While pregnant in 1994, Smith was arrested in Richmond, Va., in connection with her boyfriend’s crack cocaine business. Despite having limited knowledge of the business and being a first-time offender and violently abused by her boyfriend, Smith was sentenced to 24 years in prison because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that failed to take into account her plight.

After 6½ years in prison, she was pardoned by President Clinton and released. Smith went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work and attend law school at the Howard University School of Law.

She frequently lectures about sentencing laws’ disproportionate effect on African-American communities and women, in particular, including those pregnant and raising children. Women of color are often subjected to harsh penalties, even though they played limited, if any, roles in their partner’s criminal enterprises. Many remain in those relationships out of loyalty or fear.

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Dr. Phillip Wagner

Smith’s story has been chronicled by major media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her lecture is sponsored by USFSM’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Multicultural Affairs Committee.

“Bringing someone of her caliber is, in and of itself, exciting, but the work she does with sentencing and race is so significant,” said Dr. Phillip Wagner, chair of diversity and inclusion initiatives and a faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences.

“Her work fits so well within national conversations on policing and race and it fits within our academic profile as well, given that our some of our largest programs at USFSM are thematically similar, such as those involving criminology and psychology,” he said. “Kemba has been such a positive force for change and we’re excited to bring her work here. I believe this will be an event that challenges all of us to go out and create change in our local community and beyond.”

The lecture will be held at USFSM’s Selby Auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. To attend, register by Feb. 7 at

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