Irech Colon/Staff Writer
The Black Law Student Lawyers Association’s board of directors made a unanimous decision to rename itself the H.T. Smith Black Laws Students Association (BLSA) in honor of the College of Law professor.
“A lot of the minority black students probably would not be here if he did not literally pave the way,” said BLSA President Jimmy Paul.
Smith has practiced law for nearly four decades, focusing on criminal defense, civil rights and personal injury cases. In 2003, Smith joined the University and its Trial Advocacy Program.
Smith also stands as the first African American public defender in Miami-Dade County and its first African American county attorney.
“I did not intend to stay this long at FIU, since I am a trial lawyer, but I fell in love with the students,” Smith said.
In line with the BLSA’s initiative to create equal opportunity for students, it pinpointed an advocate for justice and civil rights.
Smith was born in Overtown, a suburb of Miami, and grew up under the Jim Crow laws. He graduated from Florida A&M University and went on to serve in the Vietnam War. Upon returning to the United States, he attended the University of Miami, despite not taking the LSAT.
“Growing up in segregation, I had to overcome the institutional process of brainwashing me to think I was not good enough,” Smith said.
He argued that it wasn’t fair to be punished for not taking a test that was not offered in Vietnam.
[pullquote]“Growing up in segregation, I had to overcome the institutional process of brainwashing me to think I was not good enough,” Smith said.[/pullquote]
BLSA said its decision to have Smith take part in their name is a representation for all minorities to realize their talent and build courage to say “I can do it.”
“Impossible to me means it just hasn’t been done yet,” Smith said.
“We know the facts of the law: men lie, women lie but the numbers don’t,” Paul said. “There’s not enough minorities in law.”
BLSA pointed to pioneers throughout history that have made a difference in law equality but were not recognized until after their time. It researched other Florida schools and found this to be true.
“Our BLSA, still being fresh and being anchored to our school without having a name, we had an opportunity to honor somebody that we felt deserved recognition,” said Jean Polo, sophomore national bar law student association liaison.
“He is the first of everything. Why honor somebody when they’re gone?” Paul said.
Considering it is Black History Month, BLSA thought it was a great time to implement this name change in honor of Smith.
Volen Tsolov, BLSA’s executive historian, stated the goal of the editorial board was to do things that will put their school and chapter on the map, just as Smith has.
“He’s helped build the school up and build the trial team up to a national level,” Tsolov said.
“This has been one of the most touching honors that I have ever received because it’s coming from students who I love and people who know me,” said Smith.
Smith’s dedication ceremony will be held on Feb. 26 from 7:00 to 9:30 PM in the RDB Building Large Courtroom.
“I hope that young people understand that a strong work ethic is always trying to be excellent, not just good enough,” Smith said. “Working to be your best will take you anywhere your dreams can think of.”