"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Clint Smith is a poet and educator with a powerful message. His work is a blend of both art and activism as he seeks to encourage viewers to speak up about ignorance and injustice. In a TED Talk titled, “The Danger of Silence,” Smith explores the issues that can come about from not speaking up about important matters. He begins with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which reads, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” As a teacher, Smith recognizes the importance of creating a culture where students can “feel safe sharing the intimacies of their own silences.” He discusses how his work in the classroom has led him to take action himself.
He recalls when he was younger and would give up things like french fries or soda during Lent. One year, Smith says he chose to sacrifice his voice. In doing this, however, Smith notes that he never realized that he’d actually given that up a long time prior. “I spent so much of my life telling people the things they wanted to hear instead of the things they needed to, told myself I wasn’t meant to be anyone’s conscience because I still had to figure out being my own,” he states. He recalls a time when he’d watch someone get beaten up or degraded for being gay, and would walk past as though it wasn’t happening, or that it wasn’t something to concern him. He recollects a time in which he couldn’t open his locker for a week, stating, “The bolt on the lock reminded me of the one I had put on my lips when the homeless man on the corner looked at me with eyes up merely searching for an affirmation that he was worth seeing.” He adds that he was more concerned with touching the screen on his Apple than feeding one to the homeless man.
Smith uses these memories as empowerment, evaluating them as means of bettering himself and others. With silence, we are essentially facilitating the hate and anger, feeding it and allowing it to go on. "We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don't," says poet and teacher Clint Smith. He mentions that “silence is the residue of fear.” Many of us let our fear control us rather than be vocal about our thoughts or morals. Great leaders such as Dr. King or Malala Yousafzai, for example, have taken hold of their fears and used it as a guide for bettering lives. Doing so doesn’t have to be on such a revolutionary scale, even. Everyday people like Clint Smith have taken their fear and silence and turned it into something to better themselves and the people around them.
Smith has a board in the front of his classroom which each student must sign, stating the four core principles he wishes for them to hold: “read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.” He uses these principles to help his students become better individuals and leaders. At the end of his talk, Smith mentions that he chooses to walk around each day as though there is a microphone under his tongue and a stage beneath his feet. “Because who has to have a soapbox when all you've ever needed is your voice?” he states. Great leaders aren’t born; they are brought about through unique experiences and taking control of one’s fears, through actions rather than silence.