Benedictine Values in the Inner City

February 2, 2021

A chance meeting and an open-gym game of hoops — that’s all it took for Saladin “Bud” Smith (Class of 2015) to do a 180 on his college plans back in 2010. The St. Louis native was a basketball standout at the city’s Vashon High School who also ranked at the top of his class academically. Once headed for school in Texas, a scholarship offer from then-coach Jim Thorson brought Smith to South Dakota instead and a transformative experience at The Mount.

“If I could describe the value of my education from Mount Marty, I would say life-changing,” Smith says. “My education has opened so many doors for me and has presented countless opportunities for me that ensure success for my future.”

Known as Bud Smith in his college days, the first-generation college student found success on the Lancer court and in the Mount Marty record book. A three-year starting guard, Smith dominated the boards offensively and defensively, leading the team his senior year in points scored, blocked shots and steals. His 1,096 career point total puts him at No. 16 on the Lancer all-time scoring list, and his 296 free throws as a 71% shooter rank No. 5 in school history. Graduating in 2015 with a degree in recreational management, Smith headed back to his hometown determined to make a difference in the lives of other youth.

“The turning point for me was realizing the impact that I could have on others,” he says. “I realized that my education could be a symbol of hope for others who come from humble beginnings like me with no role models, no idols or anyone to look up to — no one to lead the way.”

Now teaching and coaching middle schoolers in inner-city St. Louis, Smith says he finds himself living the values of St. Benedict every day, imparting the tenets of justice, truthfulness, service to others, hospitality, respect and dignity to his students on a day-to-day basis. In his fifth year at a KIPP-St. Louis charter school, he teaches eighth-grade science and serves as head coach in KIPP’s Triumph Academy. Smith spends his summers coaching his old Police Athletic League basketball team, the St. Louis Enforcers, and the Youth & Family Center Redbirds, developing skills in athletes age 11 to 18. He estimates he’s trained more than 50 athletes and counting.

Teaching at a charter public school is fun, Smith says. “The main focus of KIPP (Knowledge Is PowerProgram) is to provide the best education in areas for students who face many challenges — such as poverty, fewer resources, etc. KIPP’s goal is to provide all our students with an opportunity to create a future they desire. Education is a main focus, but we also want to develop our students socially, mentally and emotionally to ensure that they can thrive in the real world. The KIPP approach aligns with Mount Marty’s strategy to support its students, meeting them where they are and ensuring their chance of success.”

Smith’s Mount Marty experience has equipped him to be a role model for students who also may be first generation college material. “The main thing I teach my students and players is awareness,” he says.“It is very important that Black and Brown students understand the world around
them — inequalities, racism, etc. My students and players need to effectively recognize
issues and take action, which will empower them to be successful.”

This drive for success has inspired Smith to pursue “a seat at the table,” he says. Nearly halfway through a master’s degree in education and leadership at Grand Canyon University, he has his eye on a future in school administration. “To really be able to influence and make a difference in my community takes  higher education,” he says. “I need to put myself in a position to really help and guide others through my experiences. I plan to be a leader, maybe a principal or administrator, to be able to have input on curriculum, policies, rules, procedures and other aspects that influence a student’s education. On the sports side, having a master’s degree would allow me to coach college basketball.

“As a college head coach, I could change the lives of some students by providing scholarships to players, which pays for their academic studies,” he continues. “I haven’t decided which road I will take, but I’m in the process of giving myself a choice. The same choice that I am creating for myself is what I want to create for my students.”

Inner-city youth face a variety of obstacles, he says. “As a coach and teacher, I can be an outlet, be available, and just support and help wherever I can. The main thing is providing space for students to express how they feel and a chance to receive a better understanding of the situation.” He acknowledges that the year 2020 has been a painful one of reckoning for America. “Some of my students and players are faced with health, economic and racial challenges every single day of their lives, and so am I,” Smith says. “This is real life. We have lost family members to violence and COVID-19. We have experienced racial barriers that are not even visible and have been dealing with economic hardships every day.”

There is always hope, though, he says. “How do we improve this situation? We start with the youth. Mount Marty has taught me that mankind is beautiful. No one should be judged by their appearance but by their character and actions instead. I teach my students to treat everyone with respect and keep their minds on their ultimate goals. The main thing is staying together and supporting each other. Teaching them and supporting them allows them to deal with these issues head-on. In due time, hopefully they will learn and develop strategies to make real changes. This is the reason I do what I do. Those who are able to do so have the responsibility of making change. My hope is to build young leaders that become adult leaders and change the narrative of the inner city of St. Louis.”