ShonTe Smith Is a pre-school teacher and waitress from Plainfield New Jersey. After a trip to Ghana, Smith was inspired to contribute 3,000 books to the Library in Ghana. Though it seemed impossible, the mission was accomplished!
EGL had the pleasure of interviewing ShonTe Smith. Read on as we talk about her fears of traveling to Ghana, how Yandy Smith Harris helped her reach her goals and what is next.
EGL: When did you travel to Ghana?
ShonTe Smith: May 2016
EGL: How did you end up traveling to Ghana?
ShonTe Smith: I was a part of the When I Grow Up Project. It was a group of 20 students who were to interview professionals in the community. We wanted to know what success meant to them. I filmed the documentary in Guatemala. Dr. Patricia, a Virginia State University Alumni and proud Delta were one of the women who I interviewed for the documentary. I kept in touch with her when I got back to the states.
Dr. Patrice reached out to me and invited me to come to Ghana to mentor some high school students.
EGL: What was your initial reaction to getting asked To travel to Ghana?
ShonTe Smith: I was hesitant to go to Ghana. I had never been to Africa, but with the global crisis going on with the killing of our black men, I was inspired to take the journey to Ghana. I became excited to go back home.
EGL: How was your experience mentoring the youth in Ghana?
ShonTe Smith: The school system is a lot different than in the states. I have a passion for teaching. I was ready to mentor these young kids, but they instead taught me! There was this one girl who I was talking to; I told her how smart she was. I told her she was a genius. She responded by telling me that she was not smart. This young girl said that if she had more access to books, she would be a lot smarter. I asked to explain why what she meant. She told me that there were not enough books for her to check out.
The books were to stay in the library. They could not check any books out. It was not like they can hang around campus after hours. They had families, so they had to come home. I asked her to take me to the Library. Wanted to see for myself how many books they had.
EGL: How many books was in the library?
ShonTe Smith: There were only 150, maybe 175 books! My jaw dropped. There is only one Library in the village and all the schools were all close to each other. The Elementary school, Middle School, and High School were all in the same village. So to only have 175 books for all the kids to read was sad.
EGL: Share with us how you came up with sending 3,000 books!
ShonTe Smith: Initially, I only planned on sending 200 books. I talked to the librarian and asked about what books would she like to have in the library. She told me that she would like to have more Mathematics books, Poetry books, Children’s books, History books and so much more. I made a declaration right there that I will send 200 books to the library.
I shared my mission to send 200 books to some volunteers. This one guy said, “200 books, that’s nothing, send 500 books!” I came back to Plainfield New Jersey with the intent to send 500 books.
EGL: How did you get from sending 500 to 3,000 Books – Why 3,000?
ShonTe Smith: When I started, the mission was 500 books. I asked for donations from others to donate books. I ended up with 1,000 books. I was ready to send 1,000 books out, but when I researched the Container cost for the books to be sent out. The cost of shipping 100 crates of books to the library in Ho, Ghana will cost approximately $3,000. I decided that I would just send 3,000 books instead!
My goal is to get $30.00 donations from 100 sponsors.
EGL: How long did it take to get 3,000 books? Did social media help send awareness of your mission?
ShonTe Smith: It took a year for me to collect 3,000 books. I didn’t have Instagram. But when I did the When I Grow Up Project, I made a choice to use my project as my Instagram platform. I wanted to share with the world my documentary and make an impact.
When I decided to raise 3,000 books for Ghana, I used the hashtag #books4ghana to reach the masses. It helped raise awareness for what I wanted, for the kids in Ghana to have these books.
EGL: How did Yandy Smith Harris of Everything Girls Love get involved with you reaching your goals?
ShonTe Smith: First of all, I love Yandy! I have always admired her. She is the friend in my head. I love her work ethic, her drive, and her hustle. I used to tell all my friends and family that I would one day meet Yandy.
My first chance to meet Yandy was when she was in New York to do a workshop. Unfortunately, it was postponed due to the police brutality that was going on.
I have been communicating with EGL regarding getting sponsors to help fund my movement to get the books sent out. I had 2,500 books.
EGL: When were you able to finally meet Yandy?
ShonTe Smith: Yandy came back to New York for the EGL workshop “Turning Passion into Profit” November 4th, 2016. It was during an open panel discussion that I decided to stand and share with everyone about my mission to get the books out to Ghana.
One of the ladies on the panel looked like she seen a ghost! She told me that she had seen that very email and apologized for not getting back to me. Yandy stood up and said that I was doing a great thing for Ghana. She wanted to help.
Yandy blessed me with the remainder of the money I needed to get the books sent out. Getting the books was not easy, but it was not as hard as getting people to help fund the cost to send the books out. Meeting Yandy was a blessing.
EGL: What did the experience teach you?
ShonTe Smith: This experience taught me to be true to my word. Life can get in the way of us keeping our word. It was important for me to keep my promise and get the books out to them. Another huge lesson I learned was not to get caught up in passion projects. This project was fulfilling, but it took over my life for the year. I had books stored in my car; I did not have much time for myself. I was so focused on getting these books out. It got a bit overwhelming at times. So I learned to work on my passion projects but do not let it control all aspects of my life.
The key in doing these projects is to be organized, have a great team to help and to have a plan! I realized that I could not have done this alone. I am grateful for all who donated books and helped funded for the books to be shipped. With the help of Yandy Smith, I had enough to get the books sent out. But it took a lot out of me to get it done. Glad I was able to keep my promise.
EGL: What do you want the children of Ghana To know about the books being sent?
ShonTe Smith: I want them to know these books came with love. They came from someone’s house. Somebody had to part ways with these books to share this knowledge with them. Books speak to you. There are a lot of lessons in these books. These books are relevant and they come from love. They were sent to love, and a lot of work went into this so they can learn and grow.
EGL: Would there be A future collaboration with EGL?
ShonTe Smith: I would love to work with Yandy again! If they need any volunteers for any projects, they have – I would love to participate. I am forever grateful to Yandy for her contribution to my mission. If there is any way I can work with her again, I will jump at the chance.
EGL: What is next for ShonTe Smith?
ShonTe Smith: I am a state finalist in the Miss New Jersey USA pageant representing Plainfield, New Jersey
I am excited to represent for women of color. I want others to see that a black woman with her natural hair, who does not wear much makeup can be a part of this pageant. I do need sponsors to help fund my pageant. All I need is $1,200. I want to reach my personal goal this time around. I look forward to representing black women in the upcoming pageant!
EGL: Is there any way someone can reach you to help with your sponsorship?
ShonTe Smith: You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org I am appreciative for anyone who would like to help sponsor my pageant.
For more on ShonTe and her mision visit her IG, @whenigrowupproject
Written By Keke Waldon, Modern Domestic, Staff Writer