To commemorate Black History Month, FIU Law’s Black Law Student Lawyers Association (BLSA) wanted to do something historic that would have a lasting impact not only on the organization, but on the College of Law. So its board of directors in a unanimous decision, voted to rename itself the H.T. Smith Black Law Students Association in honor of Professor H.T. Smith and his lifelong contributions to seek fairness and justice.
For BLSA President Guybert “Jimmy” Paul, renaming the organization was simple. “Professor Smith has paved the way for men like me, if he hadn’t been as brave as he was all those years ago, the world I live in today would be very different,” he said.
There is no doubt that the world H.T. Smith was born into looks very different than the world today. Some of those changes were made possible by Smith’s passion for helping to level the playing field for African American lawyers and for defeating all forms of discrimination. Born in Miami’s Overtown community, Smith grew up under the restrictions of the Jim Crow laws. Despite the segregation he experienced as a young boy, he went on to do great things. Smith graduated from Florida A & M University and then went on to serve in the Vietnam War. While overseas, he decided he wanted to attend law school. He put his passionate, principled advocacy to the test when convinced the University of Miami to admit him despite not taking the LSAT. He advocated that it would be unfair to punish a man for not taking a test that was not being administered in Vietnam.
After earning his Juris Doctorate from UM Smith became a trailblazer for the African-American legal community. He was the first African American assistant public defender, Miami-Dade County’s first African-American assistant county attorney and the founding president of the Black Lawyers Association.
His awards and recognitions from more than 40 years of work could fill the walls of the College of Law. His most recent accolade – the Cal Kovens Distinguished Community Service Award – occurred during FIU’s commencement exercises in December 2013, and his experiences with local, state, national and international leaders places him in an elite class. Irrespective of all of his many acknowledgments, the renaming of the BLSA is very special to him.
“I have been blessed to receive many awards, but this singular honor comes from students, and as a teacher what is better than getting recognition from those who know you? It’s very heartwarming,” Smith said.
Smith has been practicing law for nearly four decades focusing on criminal defense, civil rights and personal injury cases. Ten years ago, FIU Law 2003 invited him to direct its Trial Advocacy Program which brought together his passion for legal storytelling and his natural abilities to teach and mentor into his perfect role: Professor.
“When I first started here and I would walk the halls, I would hear students call out, ‘Professor, Professor.’ I would turn around not knowing who they were calling out to, and then I realized it was me, and I liked the sound of it!” It has been the students who have made juggling a law practice and his role with the Trial Advocacy program enjoyable and rewarding. “Teaching keeps me on the cutting edge of my profession, every day I learn from teaching and I just love the students,” he shared. Smith goes on to say that the support from the dean, the faculty and the staff help make the program such a success.
As the BLSA moves into its new name, there’s no doubt that it will carry with it H.T. Smith’s fighting and compassionate spirit.
The renaming of the BLSA organization to the H.T. Smith Black Law Students Association will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at the FIU College of Law (RDB 11200).