The smell of burning cedar and pine wood. Fresh, crisp morning dew lightly hovering over the
damp grass. Warm familiar scents drift softly from my memory and imprint forever upon my
heart the reality that was home.
My identical twin brother and I were born in a city of 33,000 but raised in its outskirts on a farm
in a town of 875. The journey of our lives [so far] has taken a scenic route. Much of childhood
was spend at grandma and pawpaw’s house, on their farm. We got eggs from the hen house.
We slaughtered our own meat (never name the animals). Very early in life, we learned that you
worked for not only what you wanted; you worked for what you needed.
The undergirded tones of my life responsible for much of what I have become is attributed to an
emphasis on family, faith and education.
Family - I am one of [now] 24 grandchildren with lots of other cousins, aunts and uncles, and
great-aunts and great-uncles. Every Sunday we had family dinner. My grandma’s moderately-
sized kitchen ever at full capacity. There was love. There was support. We are the descendants
of slaves. Slavery not only inhibited family formation but made stable, secure family life difficult
if not impossible. That reality not so far removed from present day, my family has always
maintained – with doggedness – an almost sacrosanct necessity of being a strong unit.
My mother remains the single most influential and important person in my life. She raised my
brother and me as a single parent. My father without question loved us dearly but dealt with
addiction issues most of our lives and was therefore absent. Looking back, it was best he not be
a part of our lives during those times. We did enjoy time with him and retrospectively, because
it was so scarce and with his recent passing away, those memories have become more precious.
The inherent struggles that accompany single parenthood are daunting. And I saw this up close
every single day. But I was also privileged to bear witness to grit and determination and
My mother has always been rigid in her standards, but flexible in her approach. Life does not
happen in a nice, neat straight line. It curves. It stops. It is the ability to adjust and keep moving
that makes the difference. She worked hard to ensure our needs were met. She equally
emphasized self-reliance, encouraging us to learn and do for ourselves. It was both a help to
her, and an assurance for us that we would live a life free from dependence on anyone or
anything else. She has always been encouraging. When we were in high school, her job
experienced a massive lay-off. We had no savings; no safety net to fall back on. My brother and
I both worked part time jobs to assist with bills. Our jobs, by the way, never infringed on our
studies nor our extracurriculars. We were both a combination of state medalists in wrestling
Thankfully, we were able to secure government housing (a nice way of saying the inner-city
projects). I say thankfully because not everyone is so fortunate in their misfortune. It was
tough. Drug deals on the corner. Having to – some nights – sleep on the floor because there
were shootings. It was disheartening. But she would remind us that this was just a chapter in
the book of our lives. That this was not final. But that God had a lesson we needed to learn, and
this was how we would learn it. “God gives the test first, and the lesson after.” She was right. I
learned that the way out of poverty is education. She was blessed to see both her sons
graduate from 4-year colleges and universities, and to see me become the first person in our
family to achieve a graduate degree. She is also grateful that we helped to build her dream
home. She is and remains my hero.
Faith – I am a Christian. Church was a big part of my growing up – I lived in the “Bible Belt” after
all – and it went beyond sermons and nattily attired congregants. It was significant as a part of
my family’s history. My enslaved ancestors established and relied heavily on their churches.
Religion and the assembly of other believers offered a means of catharsis. Like them, we
retained our faith in God and found refuge in church. Wednesdays were for bible study. Sunday
mornings were for Sunday school and church services. Aside from lessons on ethics and God’s
will, church provided me an environment to public speak. Testimony time, usually after praise
and worship and right before the sermon, offered an opportunity to stand before the
parishioners and give an account of any good thing that happened to you the week prior. Here,
I was coached on how to stand when addressing an audience, how to project my voice, and the
significance of devices to emphasize a point, like gestures and repetition. I remain grateful for
these formative experiences.
But as is the case with anything, there were incongruencies with the evangelical vein of
Christianity in which I grew up. This was perplexing and frustrating. There were deep-rooted
norms of underpinning hypocrisy accompanied by unspoken exceptions. For instance:
● “Homosexuality is wrong (Lev. 18:22) but we will eat all the pork and shrimp we want”,
seeming to discard those dietary prohibitions (Lev. 11:2–3, 10).
● “Drinking alcohol is a sin”, but the first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into
Rather than be turned off by this, I decided I would take the approach of studying scripture for
myself and coming to an understanding of it outside of the confines of dogma. It has given me
space to doubt, which is healthy. It has given me a license to question, which anyone who
desires to grow should. And it paved the way for me to have a healthy disassociation with
wrong-hearted cultural norms that sound good as a talking point or on a bumper sticker but
aren’t fit for practice. It was this tact that more than assisted me in my education and career
Education – Education was of utmost importance in my family. It was the golden check that
could be cashed at any time; a license that could never be revoked. My grandmother was the
driver of this sentiment. I was always encouraged to seek wisdom and understanding. One hour
of studies was required after school every day. If we didn’t have homework, we would copy
from the dictionary or thesaurus. I rather enjoyed expanding my vocabulary.
I went on to double major in Music Education and Political Science at East Carolina University; a
university with 28,000 students. I excelled. Homecoming King, the Head Drum Major of the ECU
Marching Band for an unprecedented 3 years, elected Student Body Treasurer and elected
Student Body President and voting member of the University Board of Trustees – at the time,
only the second black student in the school’s 102-year history to do so. My hyper-activity in
undergrad lent itself to a work ethic and drive that propelled me to my first job out of college;
the United States Senate.
Career – I never forgot “where I came from.” It was a blessing and an affirmation of the true
power of grit that I worked for U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). I served as a Staff Assistant, an
important administrative role that honestly keeps the office running. After a year doing that,
my heart felt a calling to return home to teach.
I began my tenure as Director of Bands for Rocky Mount High School. Continuing not to
abandon the lessons of my upbringing, I helped to transform an anemic program into a thriving
performance organization, achieving High School Teacher of the Year, District High School
Teacher of the Year, and NC Encore Award recipient; all this in my first year. I facilitated life
through music for my students, many of whom experienced identical upbringings as me. What
a blessing to take the hard-knock lessons of my life, to be proof-positive to my students of what
they could become if they were determined to become more than their circumstances. After 3
years of much success, I decided to become the first person in my family to pursue a Masters
I was accepted to The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political
Management. While in school, I was also the principal horn for the GWU Wind Ensemble and
Orchestra and was elected to the Student Body Senate, providing a forceful voice for graduate
students. I worked concurrently full time for U.S. Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC). I
currently am the Director of Scheduling for Congressman Conor Lamb (D-PA).
Now what – The individuals and experiences of my life have steered me to a trajectory of
In this service, I have relied on my own story; proof-positive that if you want more, get up and
do more. If you want better, go out and be better. You are not your current circumstances. And
along the way of life’s journey, you will face obstacles. But with education and experience(s),
you are equipped to take the stumbling blocks that were meant to trip you up and make them
the stepping stones that lift you up.
I appreciate my humble roots; my meager beginnings. I’ve had a scenic route of life and
experiences. And I am motivated by a desire to serve. As far as what’s next for me, I believe
elected political office is one of the sincerest forms of public service. I envision getting involved
politically. Stay tuned. You may see me on a ballot sooner rather than later. After all, I am from
a small town with big hopes.
Written by: Tremayne Smith