Diverse City

As a nation we take time this month to celebrate historical Black Americans whose contributions have helped build and strengthen our nation and our communities. And while the groundbreaking accomplishments of those historical folks may be well known, it is important to recognize that Black excellence is still right here, right now.

Anybody who knows DeAndre Smith knows he is always building community, juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once, and with a smile on his face. “I don’t sleep that much, but I do sleep… I get about four hours for sure,” he says.

Over the last four-years, the work of ONEBODY ENT, the nonprofit Smith co-founded with his wife Jennifer, has captured attention across the city and nation. As a lifelong resident of K-Land (a neighborhood just east of the Southside/Hillside), his roots and work in the community stretch back further than just the past few years. 

ONEBODY ENT’s mission is to serve all members of our community, without discrimination, through faith-based programs in housing, supplemental education, and by providing school supplies and critical household needs. Their work includes back-to-school giveaways, their Raising Queens with a Mission mentoring program for girls, StudyPoint (started during COVID quarantine to help students who were falling behind), their COVID food relief program, the Christmas in K-Land toy drive and most recently, Men of Influence (MOI).

But, it’s not all work and no play. The Smiths surely know how to throw a party.

Most notably they host an annual Black History event (in its ninth year) that honors prominent and historical figures through reenactment, music, dance, fashion and poetry. It’s one of the Southeast’s biggest events and this year the donation-only event will be held on Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. at Story Church, 2520 Airport Road and livestreamed at tinyurl.com/1bodyent. Even with 2021’s COVID restrictions, they still drew 300 people on Zoom, and thousands of people attended the couple’s first (and the city’s biggest) three-day Juneteenth festival at America the Beautiful Park.

It takes a massive amount of time and energy to keep things going, but Smith says assisting others is what motivates him. “I don’t know, I just like helping people. I think it just boils down to that. I don’t like people to feel like there ain’t nobody there for them,” he says.

“The people who need the most help are those who are a meal or a bill away from being homeless,” he says, adding that COVID taught him a big lesson: “I don’t care what status you are on, there is always going to come a time when you need help.” Smith says the nonprofit works hard to ensure that those participating in their programming do not feel shame. It’s important that people keep their dignity, and he hates the words “charity” and “giving back” because of their impact on the self-worth of those who are less fortunate, and nobody wants to feel like a charity case. Giving with a compassionate spirit never comes with a qualifier — the “why” doesn’t matter.

“Southside/K-Land BBQ is the time where everybody that has been getting help with gas cards, groceries or any kind of essentials get a chance to [support] these programs that have been helping them,” says Smith. “The people who have been donating [to provide those things] now get to come and eat on the ones they have been helping all year… a lot of these folks use their food stamps to support.”

The thing that strikes me the most about Smith is just how humble he is. He loves to laugh and joke, but he isn’t really one for the spotlight. If he gets an idea, he moves quietly and does what needs to be done, brings together those who need to be at the table and accomplishes things that need to be done. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He remarkably bridges gaps between the most difficult personalities if it means fulfilling the needs of his community. 

It is leaders like Smith who are paving the way to a new, more just and inclusive Colorado Springs. And our city’s story is better because of him.