This week on In Black America, producer and host John L. Hanson, Jr. presents a 2019 conversation with Corey Minor Smith, attorney, singer, transformational speaker, , and author of #Driven. She was previously an At Large member of the Canton, Ohio City Council, the first African American elected to a city-wide position in Canton.
Announcer [00:00:15] From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America.
Corey Minor Smith [00:00:22] Where there’s actually three distinct events that I recall. One at the age of 15, having to have the court decide my life. And that was in regards to where I was going to live. And at that point that morning, I woke up wanting so badly to go into the courtroom and seeing that person in a black robe, seeing the people in the suits and understanding and knowing what their jobs were. Unfortunately, we were never called into the courtroom. My whole life was decided without us even being in there. So I didn’t learn that day. But then in high school, I was assigned to the local municipal court for a summer job program, and then I was able to work directly with the people in the black robes, i.e. the judges, as well as work with those individuals that were in the suits i.e. the attorneys. And I knew then that I wanted to be a lawyer.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:01:11] Corey Minor Smith, attorney, from Canton, Ohio. City Councilman at large member, Transformational speaker, author of #Driven. See Smith today is the one and she has achieved what she has to this point. As a child growing up, she lived an eight different households. She had two unstable parents, one diagnosed with manic depression/schizophrenia, the other a drug dealer. She attended 14 schools, two preschools, eight elementary schools, three middle junior high schools and two high schools, all between three different states. And she was sexually abused at the hands of a stepmother’s father. Had it not been for a speech given by pro football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe at his induction, one can only imagine how Minor Smith’s life would have turned out. I’m John L. Hanson Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week’s program, Growing Up with Mental Illness in the Family with Corey Minor Smith In Black America.
Corey Minor Smith [00:02:16] All that I could describe it as is weird, right? I didn’t know what was going on. I just heard my mom talking about, you know, small cameras being in the hole in the wall. You know, it could be like a hole from a nail. But she believed that someone put a camera or a recording device in it, that there were recording devices in the cars. And when we went to church, you know, the pastors or guest pastors were talking about things that she did in her apartment. And so it was very hard for me to understand or comprehend or even just relate to what she was saying. And that is why I sought out movies like Out of Darkness that came out when I was in college, because I was basically trying to find out how other families dealt with having a loved one with mental illness because I did not know what to do. It was years later with my family and I, you know, kind of joined forces to be advocates and to be there for my mom.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:03:14] Corey Minor Smith’s mother had problems. Neither she nor her mother understood. At 13, her mother was diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia. When she was 15, her mother attacked her with a pair of scissors. To make matters worse, both her parents experienced demons so severe that led them down the path to drugs. Many African-Americans had trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, leading to underestimating the effects and impact of mental illness. Some may think of depression as the blues or something to snap out of. That’s why it’s important to seek professional help when you suspect something is wrong. As a child, Minor Smith didn’t know what to do, and it was not until she became an adult that she really was able to help her mother.
Corey Minor Smith [00:04:03] I was born in Canton, Ohio. I’ve also lived in Houston, Texas, and South Vallejo, California, and currently I am back in Canton, Ohio.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:14] And tell us about the many high schools that that you attended.
Corey Minor Smith [00:04:20] Wow. Is really a the many schools that I attended was a over 1414 that I remember. And as far as high schools, it was a total of two, but that’s among the three states. So it was a total of 14 schools, eight households and three different states of which my life has been lived.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:04:41] We’re going to get into some of the book before we start speaking to your passion of mental health. What lessons thus far or lessons you learned living in two different household and two different locales?
Corey Minor Smith [00:04:58] Well, it’s eight different households, and what I learned that was important is just understanding the rules of wherever you are and being able to adapt to whatever environment that you’re in. And I say that because I not only live with my parents. And grandmothers, but also cousins and people who were not related to me at all. And it was not through the foster care system, but I call it community care, because there were people who took me in that did not have to. They were under no type of court order or direction of job and family services. They did not receive any type of assistance for me. So I do truly thank God for those who took me in when they did not have to do so. So that’s a main lesson, being adaptable, being able to relate to where you are, understand the rules and obligations and your responsibility in whatever aspect of your life, whether it’s the classroom, your work office, the boardroom. You have to understand the dynamics of that particular place and be able to adapt.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:01] Having such young parents, did you understand what was going on?
Corey Minor Smith [00:06:07] No. I do recall in preschool that a lot of my classmates were amazed that my parents were so much younger than their parents. And so that’s where it kind of opened my eyes to it. You know, at such a young age in preschool, I don’t even know why we were talking about our parents ages. But I knew then that I had young parents just because my classmates talked about it.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:29] In the book, you talk about thinking and becoming a lawyer. Tell us that story.
Corey Minor Smith [00:06:37] Well, there’s actually three distinct events that I recall. One, at the age of 15, having to have the court decide my life. And that was in regards to where I was going to live. And at that point that morning, I woke up wanting so badly to go into the courtroom and seeing that person in the black robe, seeing the people in the suits and understanding and knowing what their jobs were. Unfortunately, we were never called into the courtroom. My whole life was decided without us even being in there. So I didn’t learn that day. But then in high school, I was assigned to the local municipal court for a summer job program. And then I was able to work directly with the people in the black robes, i.e. the judges, as well as work with those individuals that were in the suit, i.e., the attorneys. And I knew then that I wanted to be a lawyer. So that’s the second incident or event. The third is an encounter with law enforcement. I remember being pulled over and I felt so degraded in the way that one of the officers talked to me. And I felt like at that very moment, I wanted to know what my rights were. And I wanted to go to law school, learn what rights are, and to come back and tell everybody what their rights are in case they’re ever confronted in the way that I was confronted.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:59] How did you happen to attend Bowling Green for undergrad?
Corey Minor Smith [00:08:02] Bowling Green State University, quite honestly, because it was just far enough away, but just close enough to home to help me to develop my independence in my life. And I really, really enjoyed my time at Bowling Green State University.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:08:17] Tell us about being torn between your two parents. I mean, you stay with your dad and also you stay with your mom. But I think dad was the fun guy.
Corey Minor Smith [00:08:27] Well, I wouldn’t necessarily.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:08:28] Say he was a fun.
Corey Minor Smith [00:08:30] Guy. It was more so because it provided the image of a nuclear family in that he had a wife and she had a child and I could see a family that I wanted. So I knew at nine when I went to live with my dad the first time that I wanted a family like that versus when I was with my mother, you know, she was a single mother working two jobs with hardly home. I was a latchkey kid and home a lot, you know, by myself. So I just preferred the family atmosphere and chose to live in California whenever I could. But ultimately, that’s where a lot of the negative behavior that I engaged in took place.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:12] How did television influence what you thought family life should be like?
Corey Minor Smith [00:09:17] Well, again, looking at that nuclear family, a lot of what we see is on television. And for me, it was Leave It to Beaver and Gidget. And although Gidget was in the single family, single parent household. It just showed me like, I don’t know, morals, standards, rules of society. And I just embraced it and tried to follow it. And, you know, until I met the real world, i.e., in South L.A., California, there was a whole different dynamic that I was involved in on a day to day basis.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:50] How did you get to used to how did you end up in Houston for a while?
Corey Minor Smith [00:09:55] Well, my mother relocated to Houston in search of better job opportunities. She had some friends that had moved down there and they had encouraged her to come along as well. So when she decided to move to Houston, I that was the first time I went to live with my father.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:11] If you’re just joining us, I’m John L. Hanson Jr. and you’re listening to In Black America from KUT Radio. We’re speaking with Corey Minor Smith, author, attorney, singer and transformational speaker. Miss Smith, tell us about writing this book, #Driven.
Corey Minor Smith [00:10:28] #Driven took several years, at least ten I knew at the age of 16, i.e once I went through the court system that I was going to write a book. So it started in me then. And as I continue to grow, develop, learn and experience different things, I just continued to write things down. But unfortunately I didn’t do it to the point of making it a book. And I say that because one of the principles that I discuss in the book is preparation. And I remember the first time I met Les Brown, who ultimately wrote the foreword to the book. He made a statement after reading an article about me in our paper, our local newspaper, and he said that I had a story for the world to hear. And that’s the statement on the back of the book. So one day long after he had made this statement, several years afterwards, I contacted him to see if I could use it on my marketing material. And he said, I’ll do better than that. I’ll write the foreword to your book if you want me to. I was so grateful, but at the same time I didn’t have a book. He wanted me to send the first three chapters and I had nothing written. And so it taught me then that you have to be prepared for what you’re asking people to help you with, right? If I wanted him to help me, he was willing to do way more than I asked, but I wasn’t even prepared to receive it. So I say that ultimately to say once you set a goal, you have to take action to reach that goal. And especially if you’re asking other people to come along and help you with reaching your goals.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:11:58] One of your major passions is mental health. Why is that so endearing to you?
Corey Minor Smith [00:12:03] It’s endearing to me because I am a child that has a parent, my mother, who is living with severe mental illness, and it attributed to a lot of the experiences that I had that I outlined in my book. But I think it’s important, particularly in the Black community, because we don’t like to talk about it. There’s a lot of negative stigma associated with mental illness. There is a resistance to therapy or, you know, psychiatric treatment. But it’s important if they are resources here in the community to help us and those who are into the church. And I believe that the church should be a resource as well. You know, it doesn’t minimize or negate our Christianity because we rely on outside sources outside of the church or prayer. I strongly encourage people to do it in addition to the church and prayer and to help minimize the stigma associated with having mental illness or having a loved one that’s living with mental illness.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:13:06] Have you been able to put your finger on why is so difficult for us as a people, African-Americans, to actually articulate mental illness in our families?
Corey Minor Smith [00:13:19] I think is just something that we are highly aware of but don’t want to talk about. And you can see it just in pop culture. There’s a several movies that have come out over the years, like Out of Darkness that featured or starred Diana Ross. Yes. In the most recent movie that Denzel directed Fences from the Plays by August Wilson, the brother had mental illness. The soloist that starred Jamie Foxx, he portrayed Nathaniel Ayers, who exhibited found a mental illness when he was at the school at Juilliard. The secret she kept that starred Kyla Pratt and it was featured on TV one. But she portrayed a lawyer who then became an elected official who started showing signs of mental illness during her legal career. And then in Soul Food, the HBO Uncle Pete is that family member that a lot of people have. He was the one who stayed in his room. Nobody really communicated with Uncle Pete you so and we all have a person like that in our lives, if not in our own household. And also another one. It really portrayed a serious mental illness with Frankie and Alice with Halle Berry. Right. And these are real situations and we know that they’re there. I advocate for us to talk about it, to understand it. There are resources available and for us to actually use the resources that are available.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:14:42] When you talk about mental illness, you also talk about some celebrities that have openly expressed their problems with mental illness.
Corey Minor Smith [00:14:53] Yes. Yes. I think that helps in our society for some reason. You know, we we really look up to celebrities. We put them on some type of pedestal. And once they announce that there’s some real aspect to their life, something that we relate to, we’re able to better accept that particular issue. And I have found. And in regards to mental illness such as Keyon Dooling, a former NBA player, he recently talked about his duties and being in a mental health institution when he had a mental breakdown based on something that triggered him that he didn’t know he suppressed. Kevin Love, another NBA player, openly talks about his dealings with anxiety. Catherine Zeta Jones, popular actress living with bipolar Prince Harry. He talks about his depression after his mother’s death. There’s just a number of individuals, even Jenifer Lewis, famous Black actress, most recently on Black-Ish. She talks about her living with bipolar and depression for over 20 years. So this is a real thing. There are real resources, and we should not be ashamed in having it as a part of our lives, whether we are dealing with it ourselves or we have a loved one living with mental illness.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:16:11] According to what you’ve written in the book, your mom began experiencing one expression that they are spying on us, listening to us. At that time, being such at a young age, what did you think was going on?
Corey Minor Smith [00:16:28] All that I could describe it as is weird, right? I didn’t know what was going on. I just heard my mom talking about, you know, small cameras being in a hole in the wall. It could be like a hole from a nail. But she believed that someone put a camera or a recording device in it, that there were recording devices in the cars. And when we went to church, you know, the pastors or I guess pastors were talking about things that she did in her apartment. And so it was very hard for me to understand or comprehend or even just relate to what she was saying. And that is why I sought out movies like Out of Darkness that came out when I was in college, because I was basically trying to find out how other families dealt with having a loved one with mental illness because I did not know what to do. It was years later with my family and I, you know, kind of joined forces to be advocates and to be there for my mom that I was able to have a stronger understanding of what she was going through. I also my master’s degree is in education, guidance and counseling. And I went into that master’s program because I wanted to learn more about my mother’s illness through that program. We study with the DSM four. The DSM five is out now, but at that time it was DSM four. And since my master’s degree, I’ve continued to work with organizations like NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and different services and programs that they have available for families who have a mentally ill loved one. So I just try to educate myself. I encourage others who have a family member living with mental illness to educate themselves and to work with their loved ones treatment team, to know who those individuals are, to know who the local agencies are, the law enforcement individuals who have specialized units that assist those who might have a psychotic breakdown and instead of taking them to jail, know to take them to the emergency room for a mental health assessment.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:18:36] You are somewhat lucky in as with your profile in the city, people knew you and with your job being a liaison with the police department and EMS somewhat alerted you when your mom or your mom was acting out.
Corey Minor Smith [00:18:53] Yes. And quite honestly, as throughout the county, the one thing that I did after my last election was write an article about my experiences, because at the time I was campaigning and it was a very significant win ultimately. But no one knew what was going on behind the scenes. Right. And namely with my mother. So literally one morning when I was driving to court, I received a phone call from an employee in another jurisdiction, another part of our county, who knew me and contacted me to let me know. They found my mother in a vacant house with no utilities. That information I didn’t even know how to process. I did not know how to process it at the time. I’m on my way to court. I couldn’t go to help her at that time, but I thank God that there were people who knew to contact me. Then I am able to contact members of her treatment team and my family who can do the things I can’t do, i.e. go to where she is right now because I was on my way to court. So working together with others has been very helpful. Having people know to contact me has been very helpful and I just strongly encourage family members and friends that have a level of mental illness to make those connections in a community, to let people know who you are and that you are there to help your loved one have.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:14] Is system change, Inez, because you’re you’re talking about in the book being pink slipped, but you have you voluntarily commit yourself and your mom wasn’t going for it.
Corey Minor Smith [00:20:26] She absolutely does not go for it. I mean, even to today, you know, there was one time there was one time and I mentioned in the book that she willingly went.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:35] Right.
Corey Minor Smith [00:20:36] To the hospital. But, yeah, the involuntary commitment process, there’s a very high standard to meet in order to involuntary commit someone into a mental institution. So at this point, we have gone through the process, through the probate court, to have a guardian ad litem assigned. And that’s something my family and I have not done before. And after 30 years of trying to do it ourselves, if you will, we are relying on the assistance of the resources that are available in the community. So I’m basically, you know, walking the talk. You know, the things I’m encouraging other people to do, I’m doing as well and seeing the benefit of doing that.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:16] When resources are available. Those that have family members or loved ones with a mild illness.
Corey Minor Smith [00:21:25] Well, I strongly encourage the National Alliance on Mental Illness as a number one resource, and it’s my number one resource because it is a national organization and individuals can get additional information about NAMI by going to nami.org calling 1-800-950 NAMI, N-A-M-I, which is 6264. So that’s 1-800-950-6264.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:57] Besides your mom having a mental illness, she also develop a drug problem. How did that exacerbate your mindset and the problems?
Corey Minor Smith [00:22:08] Oh my goodness. That was seriously a very bad time in our lives. And it is a common situation for individuals that are living with mental illness. Many times, individuals seek to self-medicate, whatever that may be, with drinking, with illicit drugs, whatever it may be. And so with my mother again, I had individuals in the community that were contact me, and I thank God for them. So while it wasn’t, you know, official organizational employees, there were individuals that knew my family, knew me personally, knew my mom personally, and they contacted me to get my mom off the street or to advise me as to where she was. And, you know, if I or my family could come and get her and we would in any situation, we would I’ve put myself in danger. And I’m not encouraging anybody to do that. But I have put myself in danger of being out on the street late at night, getting my mom off the street.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:23:09] Talk to us about the time that you feared for your life when your mother was at your grandmother’s house and your mother tried to harm you, basically.
Corey Minor Smith [00:23:21] Yes. There were a number of nights that I did not sleep for fear of my mom doing something to me because she would be up all throughout the night talking to herself. And I didn’t understand what she was talking about. And she was not talking to me or expecting a response from me. So over time I built up fear and just not knowing what would happen to me if I went to sleep. And once I moved to Canton, my mom actually left me in Houston, Texas, at one point, and she moved back to Canton. And ultimately I ended up back here as well. But she would say different things to me, you know, just casual conversation. I would say with air quotes, But in regards to me not living anymore, she would talk about how she didn’t deserve me. But ultimately it was that I should not live anymore. And one day my worst fear came true in that she, out of nowhere, unexpectedly, just attacked me. And it took my grandmother, my uncle and my cousin, all very large people in size and stature to get her off. She had unbelievable strength and she had a pair of sheers. And I just again, thank God that she was not able to penetrate my skin, you know, with the with the sheers because my family was able to get to her in time. But the pain of the way she had me grasped by my hair and tossing me around was excruciating, to say the least. But ultimately, big picture, I thank God that I was not severely injured. But that incident is what led to me having to go to court and ultimately having the court to decide my life in regards to where I was going to live from there.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:25:19] You talk about in the book the mental stress of of not articulating I love you. Have you got beyond blaming yourself to the point that it really is not your fault?
Corey Minor Smith [00:25:33] Yes. And that took effort on my part. You know, me minimizing the stigma associated with me going to counseling. Right. When I first was attacked, the school system, the court had me go to counseling and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to attach with my feelings. I didn’t want to feel or acknowledge anything that had happened at that point. So I stopped going. I went to like three sessions. But later in life, I understood and learned the value of having that service available and participating and engaging in it. And through that, learning to deal with my feelings, learning to understand my experiences and using them to help others who may go through the same thing. So, yes, I did not articulate the phrase I love you or associate with the feelings of I love you. And it wasn’t until I had my first child, my first son, and definitely by the time I had my second son that I feel like I absolutely knew what love is and felt it with becoming a mother.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:26:37] You have divided the book into faith, motivation, determination, preparation and action.
Corey Minor Smith [00:26:44] Yes.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:26:45] Why those particular designations?
[00:26:48] Well those five principles are things that I essentially live by. And I’ve developed those five principles just from the experiences that I’ve had that I talk about in the book, namely faith being first. Because while my parents have lived these untraditional lifestyles, one thing that they did instilled in me is church and faith. So while my father may not have gone to church, he did require us to go to church. And that is something that is instilled in me even as an adult. Like if I didn’t go to church, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else that Sunday, you know, no going out to play any of that stuff. So even as an adult, if I didn’t go to church, I wouldn’t go anywhere else, whether it was the store or whatever, because I didn’t go to church.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:36] Corey Minor Smith, attorney, former Canton, Ohio, city councilor at large member, transformational speaker and author of #Driven. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, ask Your Future In Black America programs. Email us at In Black America at kut.org. Also let us know what radio station you heard us over. Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The views and opinions expressed on this program, are not necessarily those of the station or of the University of Texas at Austin. You can hear previous programs online at kut.org. Until we have the opportunity again for our production intern Tianna Woodard and Chelsea Jenkins and technical producer David Alvarez, I’m John L. Hanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today. Please join us again next week.
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