(JACKSON, Miss.) — The Sekou Smith Journalism Award has been established at Jackson State University. Smith, a JSU alum and award-winning NBA reporter and analyst, sadly passed away last week from COVID-19. He was 48 years old.
Smith spent over two decades covering the NBA. His affable demeanor and voracity for basketball resonated when delivering game insights to sports fans and among his peers.
He was also the creator and host of the Hang Time blog and podcast for NBA.com, where he analyzed the latest NBA news and interviewed some of the biggest names in basketball. Smith also traveled the globe covering major sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup.
For his family, there was no hesitancy in creating a fund to help others who want to follow in the footsteps of “a Sekou Smith,” explains Ayanna, Smith’s youngest sister.
“To truly keep his legacy alive, why not do what Sekou was about?” she asks. “Which was helping and mentoring young and old to do what he was passionate about, which was writing and reporting. It felt like the natural step.”
The scholarship came to fruition after Smith’s family was inundated with calls and texts from people wanting to lend their support. Like Smith, the youngest boy of his four siblings, Ayanna shares that her brother (Eric) and two sisters (Charmel and Misty) are equally amazing. Among some of the first to reach out, she says, were her siblings’ co-workers and employers.
“It was like they were drawn into the Smith family, and once they started reading more about him, they wanted to know what they could do,” she says. “It got to the point where almost every five seconds people were asking how they could give. So we knew we had to get this done right away.”
While flowers and plants are welcome, Ayanna says, in lieu of flowers, why not help someone go to school. After all, it appears that education helped propel Smith into an industry significantly enhanced by his contributions.
In 1993, Smith enrolled at JSU as a mass communications major. A year later, he became a beat reporter for the Clarion Ledger. It was a position that his professor-turned-mentor, Eric Stringfellow, helped him secure. Stringfellow also had a thriving media career and served as a columnist for the Clarion Ledger before passing away in 2020.
“It’s about the two of them together – their legacy. In life, they were all about helping the next one and the next one, and now they will continue to do the same,” says Ayanna.
She describes her brother as funny, caring and passionate, words that many of Smith’s colleagues and friends consistently echo among the tributes flooding social media.
Longtime friend and fellow JSU alum, Markeith Large, called Smith “an angelic spirit who inspired everyone he touched in the most humble way.”
Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Large and Smith shared mutual friends. However, it wasn’t until the two ended up living in JSU’s Dixon Hall dormitory that they built a lasting bond. Large recalls, at times, staying up all night debating sports with his friend. “He lived and breathed basketball,” he says.
To Ayanna, Smith was the ultimate big brother. “I don’t think there is anyone I ever met like him. And, of course, I have another big brother, but I say ultimate because we (Sekou and I) were always together,” she shares. “This is going to be strange for me to navigate because I’ve never known life without him. He’s always been there, and, literally, I’ve been in his footprint everywhere I’ve gone.”
Three years apart, Ayanna and Sekou spent the majority of their lives attending the same schools from elementary, to high school and college. “When I was a freshman, he was a senior. So he would set the tone for me at whatever new school I was in,” she says.
It was the same story when Ayanna attended JSU. She says people rarely called her by name. “I was always Sekou Smith’s little sister. All around campus, I would hear, ‘Don’t mess with her; that’s Sekou’s sister. That’s Sekou Smith’s sister, that’s little Sekou,’” she says before laughing gently.
Initially, Ayanna admits, the label was a little annoying, but she eventually grew to love it. It’s an identity that she describes as comforting, especially now. She also infers finding solace in seeing her brother’s resounding influence on the people who knew him intimately and from afar.
The Sekou Smith Journalism Award serves to honor Smith’s life of service. Having it at their alma mater perhaps could not be any more fitting. JSU is a family affair.
Ayanna’s sister-in-law is an alum. Her younger cousins, niece, nephew and older sister are also current students. So for Sekou Smith’s little sister – “JSU is home.”
Donate to the Sekou Smith Journalism Award Scholarship.