Jada Smith has been speaking up when she sees injustice since she was a young child. She was in 8th grade, however, when she took action to right a wrong.
“This all began because of being treated differently because I was a female. When all of the athletic awards were specified for males during my 8th grade graduation, I felt that was a form of discrimination,” said Smith, a member of the Golden Eagles women’s basketball team. "I knew that I was a more accomplished, decorated athlete, and I could not be considered for any recognition because I was female. I, in turn, said no other girl would experience this."
In addition to speaking with school administrators, Smith initiated her own scholarship.
"I originally founded it with just my birthday money," she said. "My birthday is in March so I would take that money and give scholarships in June."
Since then, she started a non-profit organization called Scholars with Athletic/Academic/Artistic Goals, or SWAG.
"I sell SWAG t-shirts and sweatshirts. I use the proceeds to fund all of my outreach," Smith said. "My non-profit has expanded from just providing school tuition scholarships to college book awards, artistic school scholarships, mentorship and free workshops for young women."
Why did a teenage girl think she could make a difference?
"I know I can make a difference is because I live by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. I do not wait for others, I work to be the change I want to see in this world," Smith said. "I believe that disparities are perpetuated and exist mostly due to finances. Even though I do not yet have a lot of money and I cannot yet reach a lot of people, I can have a major impact on the youth whom I come in contact with."
She's inspiring others to do the same.
"One young woman to whom I awarded a uniform scholarship for high school paid it forward. She let me know that she purchased a book bag full of supplies for a freshman when she became a sophomore," Smith said. "To receive feedback that I have impacted someone in a manner that has them give back to others lets me know how important my work is."
She's also received feedback that young women have set their sights on being the next recipient of her scholarship and work toward that goal as early as middle school.
"I want to make things different because young people have too many obstacles that inhibit their access to education, sports and other activities. These activities are important because they reinforce character traits that lead to success, like self-esteem, self-work and strong work ethics," Smith said.
At Clarion, Smith has completed her bachelor's degree and is working toward her master's degree in mental health counseling. She plans to earn a doctoral degree and open a clinical psychology practice.
"I also want to be affiliated with a university so I can teach and publish research while I continue to work in the community, providing motivational speaking and access to resources," she said.
Far into the future, when people think about her, she hopes her legacy is this: Jada Smith impacted the world by helping to remove financial barriers that lead to disparities in accessing opportunities, and she was an advocate for racial, gender and socio-economic equality.