Sheron “Umi” Smith has been immortalized on record with one of the most powerful rap odes ever written, “Umi Says” by her son Mos Def. On the song, Mos reiterates much of his mother’s wisdom with quotes like, “Tomorrow may never come” and “Shine your light on the world.” All things that she taught him as she managed his acting career since childhood. It was Umi, who taught Mos various monologues that he would memorize and use on acting auditions. It was she who got him on his first television appearance and into films. While Mos is a prolific and well-received MC, it is as an actor, where he has been the most critically acclaimed; he reportedly earns over five million dollars per film, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe.
While her current relationship with her eldest son is described as “strained,” Umi Smith is still extremely proud of his success, she mentions that she had forgotten how much Dante had done until she sat down to prepare her own resume. In her own right, Sheron “Umi” Smith has an interesting story to tell. Raised in Marcy Projects, she was a teenaged mother, having Dante at 16; she credits her own mother with the strength and encouragement to continue to pursue not only her dreams, but to create dreams for her child. “I was shy and withdrawn. I had low self-esteem. I am speaking to people from a place of truth,” says the mother.
Her goal now is to educate and encourage other youth. She is disturbed by the “lack of self-development and enrichment” that is pervasive among young Black youth. Umi hopes that she will be able to encourage them to “take a more serious approach to their future.” She has written a book, Shine Your Light: A Life Skills Workbook, which she hopes that youth, particularly teenagers will read and use to enhance their lives. The book is very user-friendly, allowing for one to write in it, and relate it to their lives. Topics in the book include: self-development, how to enhance yourself and grow as a person. Time management and discipline are other themes. The workbook also stresses literacy, encouraging young adults to read more, increasing by 15 minutes per day.
In support of Shine Your Light, which will hit bookstores on April 10th, Umi has been speaking at small community forums around the country. She spent a weekend in Detroit, speaking to young people at the Malcolm X Academy, a public school that stresses an African-centered curriculum. She was treated to African dance and drumming in her honor. Umi uses real life examples to speak to young people, not just regaling them with stories of her son and his success, she tells them positive facts that they may not have known about their favorite celebrities. Using real life examples of intelligence among Black celebrities, Umi is able to illustrate that their success is attainable.
Her love for Hip-Hop music and culture and her knowledge of the entertainment industry are both obvious, she would like to see rappers be more mindful of the images that they are presenting to the public. “In some ways, we are not making these guys accountable for what they say and how it influences people. Some rappers are using rap just as a means to an end. The whole ‘Get Mine’ philosophy is clichéd. I love Hip-Hop, I am Hip-Hop, I introduced my children to Hip-Hop, I just want rappers to understand that they are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.”
Sheron “Umi” Smith still has big dreams, this time more for herself and for millions of other Black children who may not have had a mother like her to constantly remind them to shine their light for the world, shine their light for the world to see.
Shine Your Light: A Life Skills Workbook will be in bookstores on April 10th. More information on Sheron “Umi” Smith is available at www.speakloudly.com