Reverend Thomas Emory Smith: Presente!

By Lisa Vilanti


It is impossible to encapsulate and condense the life of an activist into an obituary. We all do so much in our service to peace, love, and justice, in what is always too little time.

Instead, our lives are truly commemorated at the convergence point where each of us shared common cause in our collective efforts to make a better world, that our lives are valued and genuinely memorialized. Each of us through our shared witness, become biographers to each other. We hold each other up, we remember, we inspire, we mourn, we organize in gratitude, in tribute to those who walked beside us in these endless mortal struggles.

Rev. Thomas Smith was an icon in Pittsburgh. As a young man living in Virginia, he thought he would be a radio disc jockey, until a near fatal car accident put him in a coma, converting his vocation to devoting himself to the church. His roommate in Seminary, Mack Jones, (who himself became another national civil rights icon) inspired Tom to understand his mission to “walk the walk” as an activist clergyman.

When the TMC gave Dr. Lucius Walker, Jr. the Thomas Merton Award for his work in Central America during the IranContra wars, Rev. Tom joined the InterReligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), IFCO is the only African-American led foundation in the United States that supports selfdetermining community organization in Native American, Afro-American, and Latino development projects, like Pastors for Peace, and the Palestine Humanitarian Flotilla. He later became the President of the national board for IFCO/Pastors for Peace and helped organize the U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Caravans, which brought many people from Pittsburgh, especially young people,s to see Cuba for themselves and experience the value of revolutionary engagement in nation building.

Being a person of color, he had to navigate the fundamental institutional racism, with its segregation, injustice and indignities that devastated his community. For 29 years, he pastured Monumental Baptist Church in the Hill District as a safe haven for all progressive causes. His church never charged a fee for being a meeting place. It was open and hosted events that brought the whole world into its sanctuary. His congregation was welcoming, generous and hospitable; serving food, giving shelter. Through its mission, he served at-risk youth, a food pantry, a clothing store, and many essential community services.

Monumental hosted the Pastors for Peace Caravans, the World Trade Organization demonstrations, you name it. Rev. Tom was a part of every struggle at home, and abroad. He served on the Board of the Thomas Merton Center, the NAACP, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, helped found the PittsburghMatanzas Sister Cities Partnership and was a leader in countless other organizations.

Many of us knew Rev. Smith. We have our own stories to remember him. He was unconventional, and hardworking, engaged in service, always stepped up and smiled his big smile in the face of adversity; R.I.P. La lucha continua. The struggle continues. We honor his efforts, and as he would ask of us, we continue. Venceremos!

Lisa Valanti is the leader of the Pittsburgh Cuba Coalition


Categories: News

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