Zephanii Smith '12 has some big shoes to fill. In February, the CMC student majoring in government was sworn in to the NAACP National Board of Directors during the organization's annual board meeting in New York City. At 19, she is the youngest on the board and joins the illustrious ranks of past members, including Julian Bond and Myrlie Evers.
At the meeting, Smith was supported by NAACP Stockton Branch President Bobby Bivens and LaJuana Bivens, area director of the NAACP State Conference of Branchesboth of them lifetime mentors and advisors whom Smith credits, for their invaluable assistance, in her attaining the board position.
"I first met Zephanii at an NAACP Youth Summit meeting," LuJuana Bivens says. "She was looking to find a mentor and was fascinated by student stories of how they pursued their dreams. Zephanii caught on to this and never let go. It has been extremely fulfilling for all of us here to see her fulfill her growth and potential."
In January, Smith conducted an interview with the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, while Jackson was on CMC's campus to deliver the College's annual Martin Luther King Jr. keynote address.
As a board member, Smith will attend regular meetings in various parts of the U.S. four times a year, and serve as an "active voice" for Region No. 1 (Hawaii, California, Oregon, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nebraska) as a member of the organization's governing body.
"We have full power and authority to shape the association's internal and external policies," Smith says.
Smith is a former member of the National Youth Works Committee, comprised of two youths from each of the NAACP's seven regions. The committee develops and implements national programs for the youth and college division, under the jurisdiction of the Board's policy and advocacy committee.
During her time on the committee, she helped with the NAACP's "Stop!" campaign against racist comments and images in the media; the "Save Darfur" campaign; the Campaign for College Access and Affordability; and the NAACP 880 campaign for equality in healthcare.
"Currently we're engaged in extensive efforts in raising money for Haiti," Smith says. "And in California, we are addressing the disgraceful racial climate created at UCSD by the Compton Cookout party," in which fraternity students were reported in February to have mocked Black History Month.
Part and parcel with Smith's election to the board is her appointment to serve as vice chair of the IMAGE Awards Committee and a member of the International Affairs Committee. The latter is a policy committee charged with recommending policy and advocacy proposals for consideration by the board. The former committee, she says, oversees planning and programming of the annual show, which celebrates "outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts (motion picture, television, recording, and literature), as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors."
She also has been added to the Convention Planning Committee, providing her the opportunity to help shape the national conventions in Kansas City (2010) and in Los Angeles (2011). "This is significant because it's been about a decade since the national convention has been to the West Coast," she says.
Smith knew she would be happy choosing CMC for her undergraduate studies, and calls the College a wonderful place to learn and grow with like-minded and like-spirited individuals.
"I am happy to call Claremont McKenna my home, with people who share my passion for learning, and, most importantly, the drive from within that both inspires action and inspires others to act," she says.
Almost every day Smith says she learns something new about her "campus mates," which serves to motivate her to be more, and do more.
"Our administrators and most professors work extremely hard to foster a nurturing yet competent environment," she says. "At CMC I know that I have all the resources I need to be successfuland I don't take that lightly, given the obstacles I have had to overcome in the past in order to get to where I am today. CMC is helping me to build a strong foundation for my character as a leader on campus, in my community, and eventually in our nation."
To illustrate that fact, last summer, Smith returned home with what she said was a "renewed and improved frame of mind" that led to her co-founding an organization called "Save Our StocktonA Youth Movement for Change," working with council members in Stockton on issues affecting youth and students. "We were responsible for the development and implementation of the Mayor's first Teen Task Force," she says.
A native of Stockton, Smith was introduced to the NAACP as an elementary school student performing at the Stockton Youth Council's Annual Youth Empowerment Summit. It was there that she first was introduced to civil rights and other youth-oriented issues, she says.
"I love government, international travel, media studies, military science, and the Kravis Leadership Institute," she says. And in terms of future plans: "I'd like to see each of the 14 wonders of the world, and aspire to serve as president of the Senate someday."