A miscommunication between friends has led 18-year-old Rodjae Smith to become a passionate speaker inspiring those around her to always improve in the face of adversity.
The senior was once soft-spoken in middle school, but was forced into presenting two seventh-grade projects when her friends were unorganized and embarrassing her group with poor collaboration skills. Realizing it was better to boldly present a project than have it seem like the group was unprepared, Smith shed her quiet personality and used impromptu communication skills to have a successful presentation.
“I think, most likely, there was a competitive side to me that liked the attention of speaking,” Smith said. Today, the high school senior from West Haven, Connecticut, has been inspired by speaking her mind to use journalism to challenge readers’ ideas by introducing them to new perspectives.
For three years, Smith has been an active participant of her school’s journalism club and class, where she encourages everyone to be sympathetic and understanding to others. She feels she can use journalism to tell inspiring stories of perseverance and strength to inspire underprivileged communities to find ways to improve their lives. To Smith, journalism is an avenue to tell stories of how families, passions, jobs, and friends can make lives so much better even in the most difficult times.
“[I want] those who have gotten better… to tell their stories and say, ‘I came out better. So can you,’ ” Smith said. “I know a lot of people like that.”
Her parents are especially influential to Smith’s view that people can change throughout their lives. She uses their path from “the hood” and “the ghetto” to a religious lifestyle involving church as a way to motivate others around her.
“[They] always brought people together and I just grew up seeing that and… experiencing that stuff, so it [is] very enlightening to who I am now.”
Family, in addition to providing Smith with a personal philosophy, was also able to give Smith her first exposure to the world of journalism. The family of activist deacons, ministers, and lawyers naturally attracts the press through their work. She was therefore inspired by the journalists who told stories about her family.
“I… realized that this is something I can be good at and I am good at,” said Smith.
Despite this, the student admits that reporting on serious topics like gun violence intimidates her.
“It just feels close to home,” she said, “so that’s when I feel like [journalism] can be scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Political reporting is also a scary minefield to Smith, full of contradictions and balancing biases and opinion in a way that highlights both. She’s fond of hearing opinions on politics, but realizes that good reporting also has to be unbiased.
“It’s so hard to be ethically right when you have your own standing,” Smith said.
The daughter of a deacon and minister, Smith works a lot with her church by donating food and clothes, teaching children, and participating in women’s groups at church.
“In any way they need me, I just will be there,” Smith said.
Church has given Smith another opportunity to inspire those around her to always keep improving the world around them. She has often made speeches in church to inspire people with her ideals and hopes for betterment among her friends and family.
In the future, Smith hopes to take her lessons for humanity to the internet, aspiring to create a website and podcast that informs people of events in her community, acts as platforms for her voice and opinions, and encourages readers to maintain a holistic and positive life.
“I just have to get the courage… to do it,” Smith said. “It would be nice… to have a certain platform or institution where other people who have their stories can speak to people who have similar stories.”
Smith is determined to change the world for the better, no matter how hard she has to work and no matter how many precedents she has to set.
“I just want to impact the people around me. I can make the career myself if that has to be.”
Caleb Ogilvie is a student at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology, Richmond, Virginial.