December 2, 2010 | 11:26am
Dushaun Smith doesn't want you to think he's a criminal.
"You don't feed milk to a stray cat," says the longtime Fort Lauderdale resident. "I'm careful how I feed the media milk. They keep coming back for more."
It started out with a feel-good story like this
, about the summer camp for low-income kids that Smith started last year. Then came stories like this
, about how he was sent to prison for trying to pay camp employees with a phony check. Then reports surfaced that his latest endeavor, a daycare tuition-assistance fund for poor families, was a fraud
. He's facing those accusations after another jail stint in Tallahassee for probation violation.
Most egregious of all, say the angry parents, is the fact that he claims his work is motivated by God. The name of the daycare group: Keep the Faith Ministries.
Smith is a bright, engaging, fast-talking 22-year-old. He has a way of holding your interest through drawn-out hints of a disarming smile. He grew up with an absent father and a drug-addicted mother and lived with his grandmother, who started to go blind when he was 10 or 11. His grandmother encouraged him to talk to God, so he went church-shopping ("I prefer to call it spiritual finding") and ended up at New Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Smith's Twitter feed
is full of references to God, prayer, and self-improvement. His MySpace name: Godizreal. And despite all of his complaints about his work going unrecognized, dishonest associates, and unfair prosecution? "I'm blessed," he says.
Smith's story revolves around music. "At Dillard High School, I had a strings teacher named Jack Cunningham," he says. "He died in 2002. He was my motivation." Smith says he studied the viola under Cunningham, and attention to the arts gave him an escape from the defeatist mindset that plagues many low-income families.
"My sister was into dance in middle school," he explains. "Then she got out, and she ended up becoming pregnant. If they don't have any positive influences, kids imitate what they see going on around them."
Following Cunningham's inspiration, Smith started Bright Globe with a partner, Evans Philias, to teach kids art, music, and dance during the summer months. Smith says he asked one of the students what he would be doing if he weren't there. "Getting in trouble," the kid replied. Smith felt a swell of pride.
"We had kids coming in, eighth-graders who couldn't spell words like caterpillar or hypocrite," says Smith. "We offered tutoring and assistance, and they left knowing how to spell."
But things turned sour. Employees complained about fraudulent checks, and Smith was found guilty. Now he's out, and the Broward Sheriff's Office is investigating the allegations of daycare fraud.
"I know I'm not going to be found guilty" of defrauding parents, he says. He blames his failure to pay on the fact that he was sent to jail before he got a chance.
His next project? A campaign by Keep the Faith Ministries to reform the laws that require notification about the whereabouts of former inmates. Smith says he's "trying to get a meet and greet with Gov. Rick Scott" and has been emailing the ACLU. He says talk-show personality Tavis Smiley has made offers of assistance.
But that brings to mind the accusations about his latest fracas, the daycare assistance fund. According to the Sun-Sentinel:
Several providers saved fliers from Keep the Faith, including one that stated the program was funded through a grant from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as sponsorships from Publix, Winn-Dixie and the Miami Dolphins.
Spokespeople from those organizations said they never sponsored the group.
"When you're doing good, nobody recognizes you," says Smith. "Then something bad happens, and everybody does."
Meanwhile, Smith turns 23 on Saturday, and he's moving to Tallahassee. "Dushaun 2.0 is coming soon!!!!," he tweeted this week. Stay tuned.