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Q&A: JR Smith shows commitment to HBCUs with new 4-part series

Two-time NBA champion JR Smith premiered 'HBCUs Rising', a new series highlighting the importance of HBCUs.

Following a 16-year NBA career, J.R. Smith has embarked on a second sporting adventure as a collegiate golfer at North Carolina A&T.

JR Smith had an incredible NBA career, playing a total of 16 seasons while securing two NBA championships and being named the 2012-2013 Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year. But one sporting dream remained unfulfilled and after retirement, the NCAA’s new rules regarding name, image and likeness (NIL) enabled the 36-year-old golf aficionado and former pro to enroll at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as a student-athlete. Smith has since taken the initiative upon himself to be a leading voice in support of historically Black colleges & universities (HBCUs) across the country.

Smith joined the N.C. A&T golf team while majoring in Liberal Studies. After completing his freshman year with a 4.0 GPA, he managed to earn the school’s Academic Athlete of the Year award. Smith has fully embraced campus life and can be found in transit between classes with the rest of the students.

Smith recently teamed up with UNINTERRUPTED, (an athlete empowerment brand founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter to “inspire athletes and those in sports culture to be More Than through entertainment, product, and apparel, social impact, and events”) and Toyota Tundra for the premiere of his new series “HBCUs Rising“, a 4-episode short form docu-series where Smith takes viewers around the university to share everything he loves about the culture and community. The series features Smith sharing his world as an HBCU student with highlights from N.C. A&T professors, students and faculty members.

The premiere of “HBCUs Rising” on Wednesday lived up to its name with a red carpet event that featured performances by the Jonesboro High School marching band and an Alpha Phi Alpha step team. Smith introduced the series and made sure to give flowers to those who made the event possible.

During a night filled with black excellence, Smith took time to answer questions from about his passion for supporting HBCUs and commitment to being “more than an athlete.” How does it feel to be the face of the modern HBCU Culture? 

JR Smith: I don’t see myself as the face, I try to make an impact in any way I can. It’s just so happened I got a name. I want to do a better job of educating myself and I want our young black men and women to do the same. In our community, we’re one of the lowest in academics. If we read more and do more on the academic side we will be in a better position.

What do you want HBCU students to gain from watching HBCU Rising?

To work hard. The history of our ancestors laid the groundwork for us. They dealt with segregation, and racism, and still persevered. For them to become who they became in lineage paved the way for people like myself to step up. What they did is monumental and doesn’t get enough credit. For me, the biggest thing is to show the history of the school with people like the Greensboro 4, who played a big role in society.

How receptive have your former teammates and support system been in your new journey?

I’ve been getting a lot of compliments from my peers and brothers, everybody has been reaching out and giving me my props and roses. For me, that’s not one of the reasons why I do it. I’m just trying to change the mindset of our youth.

What are your thoughts on 5-star athletes committing to HBCUs?

Bring ’em. We need more of ’em. We need all of em’. For far too long PWIs (predominantly white institutions) have been getting our athletes and making so much of a profit off of us, it’s ridiculous. For minorities to be able to generate that for ourselves and our schools would be amazing. There are already guys going pro in football so 5-star athletes committing to HBCUs on the basketball side would be huge and incredibly impactful.

You’ve spoken numerous times about group economics, what does group economics mean to you and HBCUs?

To me, it’s everybody coming together. It’s important to understand that HBCUs were already lacking funding in so many different areas, so it’s about us coming together to make it better for the students as well as the professors and the system in general. Within creating our institutions, our main focus and goal are to help the black men and women in our communities. With the group economics initiative, it has been great but there is much more we can do in terms of ourselves and other minorities.

Where do you see HBCUs in the next 40 years? 

Wow, 40 to 50 years … man, I don’t know. Hopefully bigger and better resources for HBCUs. I know at A&T we produce the most black engineers so hopefully, we get as many resources so that we are able to continue to pump out success.

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Xavier White is the NBA Digital Sekou Smith Memorial Intern for 2022. Smith began working at NBA Digital in 2009, serving as a multimedia reporter and analyst for more than 10 years. His signature piece was the weekly Kia MVP Ladder.