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Smith sharing his message

February 15, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Editor's Note: This is the third of a five-part series featuring black men and women who are making a difference in their communities.




andrews@herald-mail.com

Finally, an ally.

Andy Smith didn't know Paul Stark, his eldest son, existed until 1998, when Stark introduced himself.

Smith - the current president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, a black advocacy group - saw shades of someone he knew, someone pugnacious.

"I went back in time and met myself," he said.

Over time, Smith said, Stark got to know Smith and developed an interest in the same causes.

In 2000, Stark became unusually ill, but didn't see a doctor right away.

Finally, he received the diagnosis: non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer.

"By the time he found out, he was on his back," Smith said. "Six weeks later, he died. I had just taken the job here.

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"I really didn't mourn. I felt robbed. Here was the one person who would help me."

Smith said the death of Stark, who was 21, isn't why he got involved in a campaign to educate minorities about health and the perils of cancer.

But he'll use Stark's story to further the message.

The back of the November 2003 issue of "Speak Up!", Smith's Brothers United newsletter, features a full-page photo of Stark with the caption, "Cause of death: Cancer. Was cancer treatable? Yes. Was death avoidable? (?)"

Smith, 44, has lost two uncles and a cousin to cancer.

The health education campaign is through the state's Minority Outreach & Technical Assistance office, which is funded by Maryland's share of a national settlement with tobacco companies. Brothers United is in charge of reaching and educating minority groups in Washington County.

Smith said Brothers United's "No Smoking Neighborhoods" program includes T-shirts, pamphlets, booths at community events and an essay contest about cancer and smoking.

About 700 copies of the "Speak Up!" newsletter are printed most months, Smith said. Single issues are delivered to homes. Stacks are left at businesses.

The January issue has an interview Smith did with himself as a black leader, plus news about a Toys for Tots drive and a slam dunk contest, a list of Brothers United's collection of books, magazines and videos and pictures from local black events, a regular feature.

Smith said that when he takes pictures at events, he makes a small scrapbook and gives it to the sponsoring organization.

At one time, he thought he might make photography his career. He registered a business name, but never stuck with it. Too many other things came up.

Smith drove buses for Washington County Commuter for two years.

He was an assembly technician for Mack Trucks off and on for nine years before taking a buyout.

He studied information technology, then spent 10 years as a computer technician for a contractor working with the U.S. Department of Energy in Germantown, Md., and Washington, D.C.

Well before any of that, Smith wanted to be a guidance counselor. He went to Towson (Md.) University, formerly Towson State University, but didn't stay long enough to get his bachelor's degree.

Now, Smith is a teaching assistant for Head Start of Washington County, which serves children from low-income families. He helps teach science, writing, literacy, physical education and other topics at levels that 3- and 4-year-olds can understand.

A recent lesson showed how ice forms in cold weather. At the same time, Smith used his Impulsive Puppy and Slow Down Snail puppets to show how to be considerate. Impulsive Puppy revealed that it hurt when children laughed at him after he fell down on the ice.

Smith's Head Start classes are at the Martin Luther King Community Center on North Avenue, the same place Brothers United has its office, computer lab and culture and resource center.

Brothers United was established in 1996. Smith said he was one of the early members, but stayed away from the group for a period, upset it wouldn't insert "black" into its name.

He became president of the organization in 2001.

Smith hopes that a $100,000 application to the City of Hagerstown for a Community Development Block Grant, if approved in whole or part, would pay for an office manager, a program director and more.

He also would like to find money to pay people who run Brothers United's computer training program.

Brothers United has given away about 30 donated computers. Before people can get a computer, though, they must learn how to use one, Smith said. That's where training classes at the Community Center come in.

Smith - who is married with five children, from 9 to 21 years old - said computers, especially, are an alternative to drugs and violence that have plagued Jonathan Street in the past.

"Offer 'em something instead," he said.

Smith said he was "raised rough" in Chicago.

"I packed a gun," he said. "I used my fists."

Somewhere, he toned himself down to "radical" and "loose cannon," then settled into "activist."

In recent years, Smith has made news by pushing for the release of details about a crime prevention grant for the Boys & Girls Club, alleging that local government doesn't do enough to help black people and accusing the Hagerstown Police Department of being "out of control" when patrolling black neighborhoods.

"I am an advocate," Smith said. "I will stand (up against) issues that aren't right. ... I might get in someone's face and sell an idea."

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