Graduation Puts ‘Kemba’s Nightmare’ Further in the Past
Kemba Smith, who spent six years in prison before being freed by President Bill Clinton in December 2000, received her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University last month.
Smith, whose ordeal made her a national symbol for critics of mandatory sentences for first-time drug offenders, has set her sights on becoming a lawyer.
“It just seems right for me to pursue law, to have that title to go along with my advocacy,” says Smith, 30.
Smith was a student at Hampton University when she became caught up in a drug ring run by her boyfriend. She was sentenced to
24 1/2 years in prison in 1994.
She earned some college credits in prison and enrolled at Virginia Union, a private college in Richmond, after her sentence was commuted by Clinton.
Virginia Union has a history of reaching out to young people who have endured difficult circumstances, says Delores Scott, vice president for student affairs.
“We’re proud to have done that for Miss Smith, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors,” she says.
At Virginia Union, Smith joined students nearly a decade younger who knew of her mainly as a cautionary tale.
“I had to read her story as part of my freshman orientation,” says classmate Dwylene Butler, 23, of Stratford, Conn. “We had to read ‘Kemba’s Nightmare’ (an Emerge magazine cover story in April 1996). My instructor wanted to show us how easy it was to get ‘caught up.’ ”
Smith was convicted of drug conspiracy for participating in the crack-dealing activities of Peter Michael Hall, the father of her child. Hall was shot to death in Seattle a month after Smith’s arrest.
Smith plans to postpone law school for a year so she can spend more time with her son, Armani, 7. She will continue to work as a legal assistant at a Richmond law firm. A book and a movie are in the works.
“I have a lot of anxiety about what’s next,” Smith says. “But I’m looking forward to good times.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com