GARY ANTHONY (TONY) SMITH
Tony Smith believed all people really are created equal. He reflected deeply on how he regarded all the people he encountered. For instance, he identified with laborers because he believed in hard, honest work. He also believed that everything we need already exists and felt no compulsion to buy things new. Therefore, he wore only work clothes or secondhand clothes. How someone looked on the outside was of very little importance to Tony. He cared more about the human being inside.
He was interested in oppressed populations, so he spent three months in Northern Ireland during the conflict and later visited Cuba. He was interested in migrant workers, so he worked in the Iowa cornfields. He interviewed people in nursing homes and on front porches in Iowa to study hand-me-down folk songs. He was interest in working men and women, so he maple-syrupted in Vermont for a season and stayed on after to get to know his colleagues better. He was interested in poor kids in Indianola Mississippi, so he substitute taught in the public schools there.
Eventually Tony found his place in the world, among ordinary people in downtown Baltimore. He came to know the homeless people in his neighborhood and even admonished the young ones to 'go back home."
Because he cared about the children and teens in Baltimore who couldn't learn in the narrow ways that our schools expect, he became a teacher of severely learning-disabled kids - at The Baltimore Lab School and later the Jemicy School. He valued all of the his students: the one who dirtied his pants every time he was asked to write something; the autistic basketball players who couldn't understand why to pass the ball to someone else; the boy who discovered he was an athlete but could never bring himself to wear shorts in cross country meets.
A stutterer who communicated modestly, hesitantly, and softly, Tony drafted and presented an advocacy paper to his school. He brought about philosophical and methodological changes that embraced multi-sensory teaching strategies and reached a broader range of students. In the spring of 2008, Tony requested that the most challenging students be placed in his class the next year.
During a phone conversation, Tony told the following story. He was walking on Broadway Avenue in Baltimore when a drunken man passed out in the middle of the busy street. Tony went to him, and with the help of another passerby, dragged the man to the sidewalk. The man awoke, looked up and said, "Thank you man, you saved my life."
Only a few weeks later, Tony was killed in a traffic accident. This time it was he who lay in the street. He was twenty nine years old. His life was not one of quantity but one of quality because he lived his belief that all people are important and created equal.
Grinnell College, Grinnell Iowa