I love what I do.
It’s my passion.
I have committed my life’s work to disrupting systems of violence. From helping organizations shift from toxic and harmful work cultures to supporting communities with developing restorative approaches to violence without relying on punitive criminal legal systems. My professional journey as an educator, researcher, and nonprofit leader has been rooted in my belief “that hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people.” I have spent the last two decades proving this axiom to thousands of people and dozens of organizations.
Richard Smith Speaks
Richard Smith SpeaksJourney
A Good Friend
A Good FriendJourney
Richard Smith’s story is one of trauma and triumph. His father was murdered a month before his birth. His mother struggled with unaddressed trauma and poverty as a single parent. His childhood often chaotic, unstable and frightening. He survived abuse, experienced housing instability, and suffered emotional neglect. Failed by schools that labeled his trauma responses as maladaptive, he failed two consecutive grades, and was tracked into special education before dropping out of school in the 9th grade. He found solace being in community with other wounded young people and found a false sense of hope in the underground drug economy. At the age of sixteen, Richard was incarcerated in an adult jail. After several other arrests, Richard was deemed incorrigible by the criminal legal system and sentenced to spend all of his twenties in prison.
In prison Richard encountered men who helped him understand his pain and recognize his true potential. These wounded healers on the inside taught Richard about the history of slavery, the spiritual wisdom of his African ancestry, and the persistent impact of White supremacy on the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. They inspired in Richard a true sense of hope, confidence, and agency. They gave him wings!
Now a nationally recognized expert on trauma and healing for survivors of interpersonal and systemic violence. Richard has over two decades of experience developing and leading community-based programs to support the healing process of historically oppressed groups. He is an assistant professor at Long Island University Brooklyn’s Social Work Department. He has also lectured at numerous colleges and universities on issues such as systemic racism, mass incarceration, and trauma and healing. Richard has provided trainings and technical assistance for agencies throughout the country. Richard is currently the National Director of United for Healing Equity, the policy and organizing arm of Common Justice.
Richard earned BA in sociology from Boston University and holds a master’s degree from the University at Albany in Africana Studies. He is currently a doctoral candidate at SUNY Albany’s School of Social Welfare. His research focus is male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Richard is a Robert Wood Johnson Forward Promise Leadership Fellow. He is the proud father of two sons, Kaden and Kaleb.
Certifications & Awards
Robert Wood Johnson’s Forward Promise Leadership Fellowship January 2019
Society for Social Work in Research Fellow January 2018
Citizens Against Recidivism Inc. Citizens Bridge Builder Award September 2017
JustLeadershipUSA Leading With Conviction 2017 Fellow January 2017
New Leaders Council of the Capital District 2015 Fellow January 2015
SUNY Albany Women’s Gender and Sexualities Studies’ Mentor of the Year May 2014
Harvard Graduate School of Education New and Aspiring Leaders Certificate April 2014
Capital District YMCA Black and Latino Achievers Award June 2013
Johnson Communications 2011 Outstanding Community Service Award Jan. 2011
Offender Workforce Development Specialist July 2010
The Boston Trauma Center: Post Traumatic Stress Management November 2007
The Center for Law and Social Policy Reconnecting, Realizing and Reimagining Justice
Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, Developing Innovative Strategies for Addressing the Needs of Underserved Survivors of Trauma
National Center for Victims of Crime Conference: Equipping Allied
Organizations to Help Young Men of Color Heal
Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice Centering Survivors: A Critical
Equity Summit: Trauma-informed Approaches and Culturally Rooted Restorative Approaches to Ending Violence
University of Denver Colorado: Culturally Responsive Strategies for Healing Communities of Color
The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Healing is For Everyone:
Supporting Men of Color and People Living with Disabilities Who Have Been Sexually Abused
In person, your story leaves an impression in a person’s mind. Here, your story leaves an impression in a person’s heart. Similar to your vision, it’s inspirational, compassionate, and action-oriented. Richard, I am privileged to call you my colleague…and honored to call you my friend.
Richard Smith is an inspiration. He has been an active supporter of New York State’s Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP), designed to serve thousands of youth at risk of dropping out of school. In June of 2012, SUNY Albany’s LPP was honored to have Richard as our graduation speaker. His presentation resonated deeply with our students, families, and staff members, and his ability to engage the audience appeared almost effortless. Richard is truly committed to supporting the lives of our young people and I highly recommend him as a guest speaker for both student and staff development. Thank you for your service to our community Richard, you continue to bring hope to so many lives.
Rich Smith is a professional speaker who uses plan speech to relate to his audience. His engagements are not lectures but interactive sessions that resonates truth, perseverance and the real reality of life’s trials, tribulations, and celebrations. Everyone from youth to adults, the lay person and the professional will leave Rich’s engagements in awe prepared to positively support others, encouraging a better society.
I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Smith at La Salle School of boys in Albany NY from 2010 to 2011. Mr. Smith is a man of class, character and Integrity. Mr. Smith was an inspiration to the students and the staff. His assignment was to speak about his testimony. Not only did he speak about his testimony, he also mentored at-risk youth. His positive upbeat personality encouraged many of these youth to get off the self-destructive paths. Mr. Smith is an honorable man who did not allow his choices in his teen and young adulthood dictate his destiny. God Bless you Mr. Smith.
Richard Smith is a brilliant intellectual well on his way to being a scholar to be reckoned with. In an age where the “war on poverty” has been replaced a “war on the poor” and the entire public educational process has become a grim extension of the military and prison industrial complex even as our most basic civil rights and efforts at social and racial justice have come under withering attack, his is a voice that needs to be heard. A visionary and transformative if there ever was one, I believe it will.
I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Richard through collaboration on the WMHT American Graduate Project and the co-facilitation of a community conversation with student support professionals.
Richard’s inspirational life story was featured during the WMHT American Graduate Town Hall (http://video.wmht.org/video/2168503197) and served a model for overcoming adversity and a powerful example of what individuals can achieve when they are supported to stay on the path to success (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Of1D5MYKU8). His commitment to the success and self-empowerment of at-risk youth is inspiring, and it has been a privilege to work with Richard to bring forth his story and mission. Richard has been, and continues to be, an invaluable partner, and we are thankful for his generosity, collaboration, and dedication to the youth in our community.
I can’t help but think when the Nigerian Poet Ben Okiri wrote: “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering,” he must have been thinking about my younger cousin Richard Smith. I have known him since he was a child. And of all the other exciting young minds of his generation that crossed my path during Richard’s youth, his was the most promising; if not at times, the most painful to see as he tried to navigate the very rough and unforgiving terrain of black male adolescence and alienation. Yet, Richard’s potential was always evident, it was just a matter of him recognizing his it – in time. Yet, like a rose that blooms through broken concrete on a city street, Richard managed to emerge froma personal darkness that would have easily broken a lesser man. Where there was once anger and misdirection, now stands a love for all man and womankind and a clarity of purpose that drives him to share the most intimade details of his journey and the challenges he overcame to be the man he is today, in order to save the youth of tomorrow.
We invited Richard Smith to speak two years in a row to our Law School, Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA. His presentation and his passion far surpassed everything we could have possibly hoped for. Richard not only has a powerful and compelling life story, he is a deeply insightful person and a superb teacher. He has a keen understanding of not only the problems with our criminal justice system, but sustainable and inspiring solutions, in which he has been intimately involved for years. I watched him field all manner of questions handle audience members from a wide array of backgrounds with compassion, wisdom and grace. For weeks after Richard’s visit, we received emails and people came up to me saying that his words has profoundly impacted them, and his story and analysis gave them a new way at looking at our social systems and our collective responsibility to fix them. Richard’s authenticity, his genuineness, and his brilliance move people tremendously. I can’t recommend him enough.
One of the things that struck me the most was his ability to connect with my high school students. They connected with his accounts of his formative years and the obstacles that he had to overcome. They saw and understood that, if approached and handled correctly, they can use their struggles to become resilient and positive agents of change in their communities. Richard’s experiences have helped him build a vision that continues to drive his work and inspires others to do the same.
It was an honor and privilege to have Richard share his story and knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Graduate students, high school students, teachers, and community members all gathered to hear and learn about Richard’s struggles and triumphs in order to learn how to better serve our youth. He was able to shed light on topics that were not explicitly discussed at the University but were critical to those of us working in urban education. His understanding of the complexities that many youth and their families face today allowed him to analyze and bring a high level of clarity for the audience.
It is the rare individual who has the ability to captivate without illusion or sleight of hand. All Richard Smith needs to do is speak. And as soon as he starts to speak to my criminal justice students at Siena College, they are completely riveted. Richard connects immediately with my students, reeling them in with candid details of his extremely painful and challenging childhood and his remarkable rise to manhood, against all odds. He seeks no pity, he makes no excuses for any youthful indiscretions; he merely shares as a way to connect, to instruct, to pave the way for others facing their own difficult journeys. Every time I hear Richard tell his story, I am inspired anew. For in the telling, he promises us that we all have the capacity for resilience in the face of challenges in life. The human spirit, he reveals, is indomitable and Richard Smith, the embodiment of hope.
Richard’s message of survival and hope truly motivated our students. Richard served as the keynote speaker for the Middlesex County College 2014 Festival of Arts and Sciences. His compelling personal story enthralled our students and, hopefully, encouraged many in attendance to move beyond their own obstacles–with the help of education and their “families”–so that they can have a better tomorrow.
Richard Smith is my pedagogical “ace in the hole”. When he speaks to my students about why people do crime and what it takes to choose another path — especially since he shares his own story — he is more convincing than any text. Richard is genuine, open, cogent, and funny – students “get it” when Richard speaks, and the rest is easy.