GRCC honors life, legacy of journalist Sekou Smith with 2021 Distinguished Alumnus Award

Grand Rapids Community College alumnus Sekou Smith’s life was cut short by COVID-19, but family members say they want graduates to be inspired by his passion for helping others succeed.

GRCC commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday will include a tribute to the sports journalist and community leader. Smith, who attended Grand Rapids Junior and Grand Rapids Community colleges between 1990 and 1992, is being honored as this year’s Distinguished Alumnus.

Sekou Smith
Sekou Smith

After leaving GRCC, he attended Jackson State University in Mississippi, where he became interested in journalism. His sports writing career started at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson; he then covered the Indianapolis Pacers for the Indianapolis Star and then the Atlanta Hawks for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Smith connected with the NBA’s media teams in 2009. In recent years, he served as an analyst for NBA TV and a writer for He penned the “MVP Weekly” column and hosted the popular “Hang Time” podcast.

His death in January at the age of 48 brought tributes from NBA stars, his writing colleagues and the many young professionals he had mentored over the years through such organizations as the National Association of Black Journalists, Athletes for Computer Science, and Mercantile Bank leadership camps.

His father, Walter Smith, said GRCC has been “a foundation” for his family, noting that his wife and children attended the college. He is touched by the Distinguished Alumnus honor, as well as the other tributes from the sporting world.

“We knew who he was as a son and a brother, but I did not really know the reach he had around the world,” Walter Smith said. “It took me a little time to be able to read them, but there have been some really nice tributes. The ones I treasure the most are primarily the ones from Grand Rapids. It’s where we have our roots. And wherever Sekou went in the world, he never forgot where we came from.”

Sekou Smith will be recognized during this year’s commencement, with a tribute that includes a video from the Atlanta Hawks basketball team. The Hawks created a Sekou Smith Award to annually honor the player on the team’s roster who best represents themselves and the franchise with professionalism and integrity in their interactions with the media.

Smith’s sister Misti Stanton, also a GRCC alum, said he always had a passion for helping others — especially people from Grand Rapids.

As he became well known for his work in the media, he looked for ways to use his influence to help people grow and thrive, from high school students to fellow journalists starting out, Stanton said, adding that he strongly believed in the impact positive role models have on young people

Stanton is a vice president and diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Mercantile Bank. She said Smith was planning to speak to Grand Rapids high school students at a Mercantile Bank leadership camp in 2015 when he was suddenly assigned to interview basketball star LeBron James in Boston.

Stanton said her brother insisted he be able to keep his commitment and addressed the students and took questions via video.

“Don’t have your guard up all the time,” he told the students. “Put yourself out there and ask for help if you need it. Make sure you find mentors and role models and be proactive in asking them for any help you might need.”

Smith said she hopes students are inspired by her brother’s life.

GRCC plans four indoor, in-person ceremonies, spreading them out over two days to adhere to pandemic safety protocols. The School of Arts and Sciences ceremonies are planned for 4 and 7 p.m. April 30, with the School of Workforce Development ceremonies at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. May 1.

Van & Marinus Travel Award for 2021

The coronavirus has transformed life as we know it, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun!

The GRCC Foundation is happy to once again offer the Van & Marinus Travel award for 2021 – with a twist.  Employees may submit essays telling us how they intend to travel or relax, and still have fun during the pandemic this summer!

Please view the attached file for rules and deadlines.swets-travel-award-guidelines_2021-1Download

Share congratulations with our graduates!

To assist you in viewing the various commencement ceremonies this week, here are the links:

Watch the School of Arts and Sciences ceremonies live on Friday, April 30!

Tune in for the 4 p.m. ceremony

Tune in for the 7 p.m. ceremony

Watch the School of Workforce Development ceremonies live on Saturday, May 1!

Tune in for the 11 a.m. ceremony

Tune in for the 2 p.m. ceremony

While viewing the ceremonies, please send congratulations to our students.

Recycling U session

Do you ever wonder what happens to your recycling after you drop it in your bin? Do you want to learn about sustainable recycling practices at home and in the office? Are you wondering what you can actually recycle? If you answered yes to any of those questions or are just interested in recycling, consider registering for Recycling U! 

In Recycling U (University) learn about Kent County’s recycling processes, bust common recycling myths, and discover sustainable practices that you can use. Recycling U is a seminar facilitated by a knowledgeable representative from Kent County’s Public Works in collaboration with a member of the 2019 Leadership Institute cohort. 

Join us on Thursday May 6. Register via your Online Center account.