Our GOSO Justice Transformer of the Month series continues, recognizing individuals from our community who are working to create a more equitable and vibrant world. We are honored and privileged to call Trevor Smith one of GOSO’s Action Board members. Trevor is a Program Associate at the Surdna Foundation and he believes that there is nothing more important than hands-on work, which is a core tenant of GOSO’s mission. Trevor sits on the Communications Committee of the Action Board, and is excited to continue his advocacy and volunteer work.
How did you get involved with GOSO?
I got involved with GOSO through friends and fellow action board members Marcus Byrd and Matthew Satchell. The first GOSO event I went to was a happy hour fundraiser in Greenwich Village. Shortly after, I started volunteering for GOSO — going to HQ in Harlem to help with resume building and career workshops.
How do you work to be inclusive and work towards a more equitable society for all?
My passion for social justice stems from the values that my parents instilled in me from a young age. They have always pushed me to be a better person and see the best in people while supporting every single thing that I do. I wouldn’t be who I am without them!
Is mentoring young people who share experiences with you important?
To me, it’s never been enough to simply donate my dollars to organizations that are doing great work to build a more just society. I think it’s equally, if not more, important to donate your time and mental resources. I love being a part of the Action Board because I get to lend a hand in advancing GOSO’s mission and spread awareness of the great work that they do.
How do you feel society can move past the stigmas of incarceration?
From the moment you are placed in handcuffs and throughout the entire criminal legal process, you are treated with a lack of dignity and respect, particularly if you are a Black or brown person. Then, even after you are released from prison, you face discrimination in the housing and labor market, making it exponentially harder to move past whatever led you to be incarcerated. To break the stigma, local governments must do a better job of incentivizing hiring those who were formerly incarcerated.
What does justice transformation mean to you?
To me, justice transformation means radically reimagining the way that we live our lives through a racial justice lens. It means acknowledging that white supremacy and racism have impacted every single law and policy in this country in favor of white people. Thus, to redress this harm, and usher forth a just society, a reparative lens that centers race is essential.
How can we level the playing field, so that people with justice-involvement can see a future for themselves in any career?
To level the playing field, we need to invest in Black and brown communities that have been historically over-policed and specifically focus our efforts on young Black and brown boys who are overrepresented in our country’s jails and prisons. We need better housing systems, more integrated schools, and better career opportunities for these families. Our country needs to take a deep look at the racial wealth gap, how it came to be, and how to correct it.
Do you have a personal motto that guides you in your daily life? What keeps you focused and motivated during challenging times?
My personal motto is from an Emily Dickinson poem that goes “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” It is highly speculated that Dickinson suffered from depression and was also potentially bipolar, so this opening line may have been more morbid then how I interpret it. But, to me, it means that it is truly a gift to be alive, and the fact that we only get one life, no do-overs, means that we must make the most of every single possible second.
For someone who has yet to engage in dismantling systemic racism and advocating for social justice – what advice do you have to give them?
For someone who wants to become more engaged but might not know where to start, I suggest looking into local community foundations in your area and to who they give grants. If you are interested in a particular subject (criminal justice, economic justice, environmental justice, etc.), find an organization that speaks to you, make a donation, and reach out to whoever runs their volunteer activities to find out what more you can do. Also follow authors, scholars, and think-tanks who write about social justice on social media and attend the various free events to continue to push yourself to learn as much as you can.