By Emmanuel Freeman
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Denias Smith has big dreams. He wants to become a surgeon, own his own business, and eventually become the first black governor of Tennessee.
“I want to level the playing field and create equal opportunities for everyone,” says Smith, a senior pre-med student majoring in biology. “It is not so much about making history, but a way of increasing representation for people from low-income housing like me.”
A transfer student in his sophomore year, Smith says he came to TSU to fulfill a yearning to attend a historically black college or university. He says growing up in his hometown of Bolivar, Tennessee, he did not know much about HBCUs and how nurturing they are until he started reading about TSU on social media – the strong academics and student life.
“I am a first-generation college student. I ended up attending a predominantly white institution,” says Smith. “I didn’t feel I was being nurtured as a black student. At TSU, I saw students doing their own thing. They were holding down their academic duties. They were being student leaders.”
Smith says he was in awe of what he saw going on at TSU. “I said, wow, I can do that. I told my mom I was going to transfer. It was a quick decision, and I don’t regret it,” says Smith. “Here I am today growing as a student – academically, and as a student leader. I have grown to love myself because of the environment I am in.”
At TSU, Smith has adjusted well and proven to be an overall outstanding student, with high leadership skills. He has remained on the Dean’s List since coming to TSU. He is a National Society of Leadership and Success inductee; member of Collegiate 100 Black Men of Tennessee State University; secretary of the National Professional Advancement for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers; and the Tennessee Louise Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, where he recently presented a research paper. Smith is also the current president of the highly respected Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Society, a pre-medical and pre-dental society at TSU.
Dr. Keon Vercruysse, associate professor of chemistry, teaches Smith and also serves as the faculty advisor for the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Society. Vercruysse describes his young protégé as a dedicated and accomplished student, who takes his academic duties very seriously.
“Denias is a friendly and sociable person with a diverse mix of skills that will serve him well in his current and future academic endeavors,” says Vercruysse. “In his capacity as president (of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Society), he has shown his potential as a leader and as someone that looks beyond his own interests.”
A social justice advocate, Smith played a key role last summer in organizing a peaceful protest following the death of George Floyd. With help from fellow TSU schoolmates, he organized a protest in his hometown to bring awareness about police brutality and other injustices following Floyd’s death. He remembered the moment his plan gained city-wide support. Local law enforcement, the mayor of Bolivar, and other elected officials participated. “I had finished talking to my mom about my plan, made a social media post, and went to bed. The next morning, I got a call from the mayor and a radio personality saying they would back me up 100 percent,” Smith was quoted as saying to a local CBS affiliate.
On his future career, Smith says his goal is to become a plastic surgeon, and eventually get into politics.
“That’s what I am working toward now,” says Smith. “My dream is to own a surgery center. As time goes on, I plan to be a politician. My long-term goal is to be governor of Tennessee. I am all about creating opportunities for people who look like me.”
Smith is a graduate of Bolivar Central High School, where he was an academic standout.