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Kemba Smith PradiaStrength and hope against injustice

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Many people have been inspired by Kemba Smith Pradia’s story of overcoming low self-esteem, abuse and a corrupt criminal justice system.

Simultaneously, Smith Pradia’s journey has uplifted those caught up in “the wrong crowd,” and served as a powerful warning to youth across the country, especially young women.

In honor of her efforts to raise awareness about the criminal justice system, Smith Pradia will be honored with the Sen. Carolyn Mosby Award during Indiana Black Expo’s Corporate Luncheon.

“Kemba Smith Pradia is an outstanding community activist whose personal story will certainly inspire the lives of others,” stated Indiana Black Expo president and CEO Tanya Bell.

Smith Pradia grew up as the only child of professional parents in a Richmond, Va., suburb. Upon graduation from high school, she left the sheltered security of her family to study at Hampton University, where she fell in the wrong crowd in an attempt to “fit in.”

Eventually Smith Pradia became involved with a popular drug dealer named Peter Hall, who was a major figure in a $4 million dollar crack-cocaine ring.

Hall drew Smith Pradia into the middle of his life and operations with physical, mental and emotional abuse disguised as “love.” He was later placed on the FBI’s top 15 most wanted list, and was found murdered. Smith Pradia had ended their relationship, but only after she had been coerced into conducting tasks for Hall’s illegal enterprise.

Authorities tracked Smith Pradia down, and a prosecutor promised her a lenient sentence, if she turned herself in. Expecting a light sentence, she pleaded guilty to a conspiracy drug charge, money laundering and false statements.

“The prosecutor reneged on his promise,” she said.

Instead of 24 months, Smith Pradia was given a 24- and-a-half-year term in federal prison due to a new mandatory sentencing law.

“I was shocked,” Smith Pradia said. “I knew from that point forward, the only way I was going to make it from day-to-day was for me not to lose faith in God.”

Smith Pradia was pregnant with Hall’s son, and was forced to deliver the child under difficult conditions in prison. In the meantime, however, Pradia’s parents raised awareness about her case, which drew attention from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and George Curry, former president of the National Newspaper’s Association (NNPA).

In 2000, after more than six years in prison, Smith Pradia was released after receiving a pardon from then President Bill Clinton.

Since her release, Smith Pradia has refused to be defeated by her setback. In 2002, she graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and is now happily married.

She devotes a significant amount of her time speaking to youth around the country through her non-profit, the Kemba Smith Foundation, and is actively involved with several criminal justice organizations working to address the issue of mandatory sentencing and the effects of ill-conceived drug policies.

“My goal today is to remind youth to be careful about the choices they make, because those choices could have long-term consequences, sometimes lifelong consequences,” Smith Pradia said. “If bad choices have already been made, they can learn from them and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.”

For more information on the Kemba Smith foundation, or speaking engagements, visit www.kembasmithfoundation.org.

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