A little boy walks up to the refrigerator and opens it: no food to fill his stomach. He walks into the living room to relax from another day of uncertainty. With no books to read, he flips the switch and there is no light to shine on his curiosity.
Sometimes in life, a thing called adversity will knock on the door and take a seat on the couch, if there is one to sit on.
OCCC political science professor Markus Smith credits his success today to the hardship faced in the past.
Born on a U.S. Air Force base in Tachikawa, Japan, Smith credits instances like that to accepting responsibility.
“Hard work will pay off,” he said. “A strong work ethic and a will to be responsible for my actions made me who I am today.”
Smith admits he has made bad choices in life, but said he learned from them.
The family returned to the states and moved to Wyoming, staying until he was 2. From there they proceeded to Oklahoma. That movement came 38 years ago and counting.
Smith, his mother Japanese and his father black, leans back in his chair when asked about the negativity he faced as a young man in the of Oklahoma City public school system.
He describes, with the aid of hand movements, the low expectations the teachers provided.
“Their negative perceptions motivated me to pursue the highest degree in my field of academia, maybe it was reverse psychology.” he said.
Between the ages of 18 and 28, Smith was faced with a decade that would mold him for years down the road.
“These 10 years were the most chaotic times of my life. I was spiraling out of control. I was partying at all hours of the night and at 19 I learned that I was going to be a father,” says Smith.
He then describes working odd jobs wherever he could find one, and running the streets. At the age of 28, he decided to get his life back in order, and go back to school.
“I had attended OU immediately after graduating high school, but it was very apparent that first semester that the public school system had not prepared me for college,” says Smith.
With a grin, he says that the system’s preparation resulted in him withdrawing and taking a 10-year sabbatical.
Smith decided that in order to provide the things for his daughter that his parents were not able to provide, he needed to go back to school and get an education.
As a 28-year-old student at OCCC, Smith enrolled in a class taught by professor Clay Randolph. Smith recalls at the beginning of the course, Randolph told him something he would remember forever.
“Well, I’m glad you decided to come back to school and that you’re here,” Randolph said. The 28-year-old had an instant connection to those words that most people wouldn’t understand.
Smith made up for lost time in the classroom with his degrees which include: a doctorate in educational studies and a master’s in educational studies at the University of Oklahoma; a master’s with honors in political science and a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Central Oklahoma; and an associate degree in political science from OCCC.
As a mentor, taekwondo teacher, father, and husband, Smith’s mindset every morning when he wakes up is how to affect or influence someone. Those feelings were apparent long before his first day as a professor on campus.
An appreciation quickly emerged for the now 37-year-old for his childhood. He testifies not knowing where the next meal would come from, and exposure to the idea of drugs, alcohol, and gangs, can strike any soul.
When walking into Smith’s office, a person will often glance over the room with a set of eyes that soon get a sense of his personality.
Portraits of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., a touch of Barack Obama, the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, and down below; a completed dissertation on his desk.
A typical day in the neighborhood of Smith and his family was described with a unique blend of gratitude and determination.
“I grew up impoverished on the northeast side of Oklahoma City. The neighborhood was filled with gang violence, drugs, and prostitution,” Smith said. “It was not uncommon for me to see a dead body lying on the sidewalk or in a field as I walked home from school.”
“We lived across the street from an apartment complex which served as the neighborhood crack house and brothel. It was also not uncommon for us to dive for cover when rival gangs decided to settle their disputes by shooting up the neighborhood,” recalls Smith.
Toward the end of the school year at Southeast High School, seven people including Smith, out of a possible 400 students, were enrolled in a calculus class. Smith and two other classmates were black. Their teacher A.C. Green, also black, is credited by Smith for encouraging all seven to believe in destiny.
“Look forward to doing great things regardless of the obvious circumstances of poverty,” Green told them.
Green also told the three he knew for a fact they would face more discrimination, racism, and hardship compared to other people in the racial spectrum.
Smith readjusts himself in his chair as he continues the story.
Green expected more out of the three students. He lived from paycheck to paycheck himself, but nothing less than the best was expected out of every aspect of a student’s life.
When college testing peeked around the corner for the calculus students, there was a dilemma.
“Our parents didn’t have the $75 to pay for the math test,” says Smith. Green stepped forward and paid in full for all three students to take the exam. Green also volunteered to pay for any students whose parents could not afford to pay for the test but primarily this option was directed towards the black students. Smith recollects not knowing even today how Green did it, but gratitude shined through his heart onto his face.
For Smith and the other students, the test was not a pass/fail. The scores ran from 1-5 and the students needed to score at least a 4 to be able to receive college credit for the class. Smith however, scored a three on the exam.
Smith’s advice to all students is to make sure the choice of a major is exactly what a student studies and prepares to a great extent.
“I will never be satisfied. I will always want to have a thorough scope of the world, especially religion,” he said. “Educating one’s self will never end. It will last forever.”
Educating himself also includes educating students around him.
“Keep persevering. Education will unlock doors that you never even thought of. For me, education literally saved my life. If I had continued running the streets, I know that I would have ended up like the majority of my friends who are either incarcerated or dead,” says Smith.
Smith has many mentors including Dana Glencross, political science professor. Her first impression concerning of him stems from her class, Introduction to Law.
“He was a very dedicated student and he always took me up on the option of coming into my office and reviewing every piece of work for feedback and that started out the relationship,” says Glencross.
She says part of Smith’s character that has rubbed off on her is his desire to make sure all political science students are prepared and have a desire to go to higher levels beyond OCCC.
A man comes home and greets his wife and daughter. He looks into the refrigerator and finds food to satisfy his hunger.
After a long day’s work, he goes into the living room with the “good book” in hand. With that, the switch is flipped, and the light shines brightly on his curiosity.