Dr. Reggie Smith III is the chair Emeritus of the Board of Directors for the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). As the organization’s first African-American CEO (2018), Reggie is a recognized authority on media and telecommunications issues, and has served as presenter, keynote speaker and judge at various events and conferences, including Mobility: A Game Changer for African-American Communities Braintrust, the Black Media Coalition’s Conference, Annual Pacific Telecommunications Council Conference, and Excellence in e-Learning Awards.
For his work, he has won an array of awards for his insight and dedication, including being recognized for distinguished service in supporting distance learning to include the USDLA Hall of Fame Award, Black Engineer of the Year Award for Community Service, Federal Government Distance Learning Association’s (FGDLA) Hall of Fame Award, FGDLA Pillar Award, Virtual World Association’s Excellence Award and the Action Hero’s Award from the Missouri Association of Community Task Forces. In 1993, he received a letter of commendation from New York’s mayor David Dinkins for supplying emergency programming during an asbestos crisis in the city’s schools.
That’s not all. As part of his determination to help as many students as possible, he serves as the board chairman for the Patriots Training Technology Center, which oversees STEM programming for more than 1,500 students annually. And, he is a Board Trustee for Berkeley College, which enrolls approximately 8,000 students each year, including more than 900 international students in its baccalaureate, associate degree, and certificate programs.
Dr. Smith received his undergraduate degree in English Communications from Lincoln University in PA, his MA in International Management from the University of Maryland University College, and his Ph.D. in Education from Capella University.
So it’s a privilege to interview Reggie for the July 2020 issue of Inkandescent Health & Wellness magazine: Black Lives Matter. Scroll down for our Q&A!
8 QUESTIONS FOR DR. REGGIE SMITH
1. Be Inkandescent: Given that this is our Black Lives Matter issue of Inkandescent Health & Wellness magazine, I want to start off asking about your experience in your career as a black man.
Reggie Smith: I’ve had broad experience across several industries for over 30 years. As a black man, I’ve experienced challenges far and wide, but I would not solely make them black vs white issues. I’ve had negative experiences from white managers and / or staff that undervalued my credential’s and/or experience. In some cases, I’ve been labeled as a person with “too much experience” once it was discovered I had a Ph.D. What is “too much experience,” when that same experience is the reason I won the business contract and delivered exceptional work to that same client? Then there is the black side: how I’ve been “tossed under the bus” by some of my fellow black men. I tend to chalk such experiences up as jealously. In my experience, it does not matter if you are white or black. Your character and how you treat others is the only thing that matters.
2. Be Inkandescent: With protests erupting is your belief about the current situation in the US, and the world?
Reggie Smith: As a black man, there are so many potholes to avoid and at the end of the day, we only want a fair playing field. These experiences range from high incarceration rates to prolonged unemployment and underemployment within my community. Despite COVID-19 being a terrible virus that is making so many people sick, coping with quarantine and limits on our personal freedom has also opened the eyes of so many to the profound violence and racism experienced by black Americans. I am in favor of continued peaceful protest, followed by action that will ensure the Black Lives Matter movement continues. As we share the ugly side of our nation’s history, we are more likely to create a country that provides equal protection — and the opportunity for everyone to live up to their potential.
3. Be Inkandescent: What do you think will happen in the near future about the essential issue of equality?
Reggie Smith: Airing things in the open will give us a common space to discuss important, sometimes painful issues. But we must follow our idea up with action or we will end up at this same spot in the future. I, for one, promise to make sure that does not happen.
4. Be Inkandescent: What do you believe will happen to create change in the long-term?
Reggie Smith: In the long-term, I think we will be able to move past this moment in history and begin to have a real discussion about race in this country. I also think that just because you are white, does not mean you do not understand what it means to cast aside or past over. Once we realize this, that’s when I believe we will truly engage in the dialogue to help move things forward regarding race and equality.
5. Be Inkandescent: We are witnessing an intense call for social change, while are a global society we are dealing with an international pandemic. How are the two are interconnected? And how will this impact the future of Black Lives Matter movement in the US?
Reggie Smith: Too often, most of us are running around in our busy lives — to and from work, kids’ activities, family events, etc. This global pause allows us to pay attention, and hopefully take action. I think it will help the Black Lives Matter movement in the short- and long-term because honestly, there isn’t that much difference between any of us. I was struck by this truth as an undergrad, when I had a rewarding experience living with my roommates who were Italian, Irish, and Jewish. We discussed a wide range of topics in an open forum as we watched the Arsenio Hall Show. We covered the pain behind the use of the word “nigger,” and the fact that I even had “negro” noted on my birth certificated being born in Washington, D.C. in 1969. By having an open discussion, one without judgement, just an honest dialog, we came to realize we all faced pain. Together, we joined forces to find peace.
6. Be Inkandescent: Tell us a little about your role as a father. How do feel this current movement will impact your children?
Reggie Smith: I have the incredible opportunity to have a real discussion about this topic with my children. Often, they hear adults say things they don’t fully understand, or they see something that offers them on television — but don’t ask questions. The Black Lives Matter movement has provided us with the chance to have rich discussions about race, racism, violence and ideas actions and/or how to engage with their peers or other adults regarding the movement. I feel my children are now better informed, and that gives them the power to make change in their own lives and the lives of others.
7. Be Inkandescent: Looking forward, what do you think the country / world will look like in 5 years, based on the protests and civil unrest we are seeing in 2020?
Reggie Smith: Good question! Five years from now, I think we will have data points based upon the changes happening today. We’ll see what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we can do to make improvements moving forward. Here are three important areas I’m focused on:
- The High School Drop Out Rates: According to an NPR report and the Huffington Post, “dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year nationally in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others. Not only are high school dropouts a cost to the economy, but a cost to themselves as well. Of the 3.8 million students that start high school this year, a quarter won’t receive a diploma. Those who don’t finish will earn $200,000 less than those who do over their lifetime, and $1 million less than a college graduate.” In the “Urgency of Now” report from the Schott Foundation, “reveal[ed] that nationally only 52% of Black males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school in four years while 78% of White, non-Latino males graduate in four years.”
- Incarceration Rates: According to research from the Public Administration published in The Atlantic, “one year at Princeton University cost $37,000 and one year at a New Jersey state prison cost $44,000.” Fareed Zakaria, from CNN stated that, “In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.”
- College Completion Rates: According to Complete College America, “for every 10 freshman seeking an associate degree, 5 require remediation, and less than 1 will graduate in 3 years.” In a 2010 study from the University of Chicago it noted that, “roughly 50 percent of the nation’s 500,000 foster kids won’t graduate from high school and nearly 94 percent of those that do make it through high school do not finish college.”
8. Be Inkandescent: Tell us a little about your time at the US Distance Learning Association (USDLA). What policies have you put into place to make it more of an equal opportunity organization?
Reggie Smith: I’ve been involved with USDLA since 1991, and it has been a wonderful experience. As the organization’s first African-American executive director (2018) and the first African-American president (2009) and chairman (2010), we have had a focus on Access, Equity and Diversity. This has enabled us to react swiftly and address the important issues of today. In fact, on May 14-15, we co-hosted the world’s first virtual Town Hall to kick off a collaborative grassroots call to action started by HBCU Action NATION, and devise an action plan to assist the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). We discussed solutions to address the challenges faced by HBCUs as a direct result of the current pandemic. Access to broad band is another hot topic for all of our USDLA constituents. I look forward to facing these important issues head on in the months and years to come.
About the US Distance Learning Association
USDLA is a 501(c) 3 non-profit association formed in 1987 that has a network of 20,000 people globally. Its sponsors and members influence nearly 50% of the $913 billion U.S. education and training market. It promotes the development and application of distance learning for education and training and serves the needs of the distance learning community by providing advocacy, information, networking, and opportunity.
Constituencies include pre-K-12 education, home schooling, higher education, and continuing education, as well as business, corporate, military, government, and tele-health markets.
The organization established video teleconferencing in the National Guard, which culminated in the deployment of a nation-wide, video teleconferencing system supporting the war fighting capabilities of the National Guard as well as active duty military forces.
Learn more here: www.USDLA.org