Bobby J. Smith Jr. is dead from a gunshot wound to the back. B.J., as he was known to friends, was a 21-year-old college senior at Tuskegee University. In the month before he died, he became the father of a son. Why aren’t people taking to the streets to protest his killing? Where are the shirts proclaiming “No justice; no peace?”
Bobby’s death hit close to home. My great-uncle graduated from Tuskegee in the 1930s. He learned a brick mason trade. My oldest daughter graduated from Tuskegee in 2006 with a degree in English. Its founder, Booker T. Washington rose from being a child born into to slavery to graduate from Hampton University in Virginia. He established Tuskegee Institute as an industrial college. His autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” is a classic work of literature. It details how one can rise from any situation and achieve greatness; with resolve and a willingness to make sacrifices. The Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly in this small rural Alabama town. They went on to make their mark as fighter pilot escorts during World War II. George Washington Carver, a brilliant scientist and scholar, studied at Tuskegee. Carver found hundreds of uses for agricultural crops like the peanut and sweet potato. He was also an artist whose work is displayed in a campus museum.
Tuskegee is steeped in history and tradition. It is the crown jewel of a city that offers little opportunity for growth and development beyond the campus walls. There are wonderful people who live in the city and work hard to make it a better place. But like most small southern towns, there is little industry and opportunity for those who decide not to get an education. Such conditions are a breeding ground for crime.
Bobby Smith Jr. represented the pride and purpose of Tuskegee University. By all accounts the 2010 South Cobb High School graduate was a wonderful young man. He attended Tuskegee on a tennis scholarship. While hanging out with friends at an off campus block party Sept. 27, gunshots pierced the air and everyone began running. Bobby Smith Jr. was hit in the back and died from his injuries.
Police arrested 22-year-old Kentavious Holland in connection with Smith’s death, according to a report by WSFA-12 News. More arrests may be made, police say. Since the party wasn’t authorized, city officials say they will crack down on such events and require permits and close off streets for future block parties, according to the TV station.
Smith’s death was random and senseless. It’s doubtful that he had ever crossed paths with his accused murderer. Theirs is a story that has become so common, it’s barely a blip on the public’s radar.
Until we as a community express outrage at these killings, they will continue to be marginalized. Until we put for the effort to mentor young people, urge them to stay in school and show them a better way of life, the Bobby Smiths of the world will continue go to their graves over complete and utter nonsense.
Think of it this way: is this what Booker T. Washington had in mind when he spoke about “lifting the veil of ignorance?” Is this what George Washington Carver was thinking when he invested countless hours testing products that would one day be indispensable in most households. And what about the Tuskegee Airmen and the men who died as a result of the Tuskegee Experiment, a medical experiment that treated them as lab rats? These men gave their lives in hopes that life would be better for future generations; and in many cases it is better.
These men would be outraged to learn about the fates Bobby Smith Jr. and Kentavious Holland.
To read about the memorial service for Bobby J. Smith Jr. go to: