EBONY.com isn’t the only elevated avenue where the Smith family’s light shone recently. The suburbanites were selected by the mayor of Bolingbrook, Illinois, as the community’s 2013 Family of the Year. The parents of three promising graduates, John and Carolyn Smith received their accolades with honor, humility and an admirable cool. Carolyn says, “Our family was so humbled. We just do what we need to. Turns out when you do what you’re supposed to do, it’s a big deal!”
Meeting at a Greek picnic at Western Michigan University, John (a graduate and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity) spotted Carolyn (a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and Illinois State University grad) in a crowd of beautiful women. “I wasn’t really looking for anyone at the time, but she was a show-stopper,” says the Canon USA sales executive. They fell in love during a two-year dating period.
On May 27, 1989, they were married. “What drew me in to John was his outgoing nature, and he was so much fun,” Carolyn says. But both being of sound mind, it was talking about their mutual dreams and goals that sealed the deal. Carolyn recalls, “We were on the same path, and we had so much in common.”
Recently celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, John says, “As a husband, I believe my wife would describe me as a provider and, other than traveling for work, I’m always around. I hope she would say I’m loving and caring… almost to a fault.” He adds that his wife and children’s needs are always to be cared for without a doubt.
Jacqueline (Jackie) is Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s first-born. When Jackie was 3, they found out Carolyn was pregnant with twin boys. While a lovely surprise, the new mom didn’t necessarily plan on three kids under 5 years old at once. Luckily, they had lots of familial support. “My mother-in-law moved in with us [from Detroit] for six months when the twins were little,” she says. “My mom, dad and sister live five minutes away.”
John, excited about having sons, took thoughtful measure in naming them. “My name is John Smith, my father’s name is John Smith and his father is John Smith… I didn’t want to do the whole George Foreman thing.” Serendipitously, it was attending the Million Man March on October 16, 1995 that inspired the names Malcolm and Marcus. “That time at the March made me grow up even more. Right then and there, I knew I had a responsibility. I decided that my sons would be top-notch, men to be reckoned with. I [would teach] my sons to be producers, not consumers.”
Mr. Smith continues, “Fatherhood made me slow down. It made me create a plan, a vision for my family.”
All the Smith kids are recent graduates: Jackie from the University of Illinois. Carolyn lauds, “High school graduation is a big thing, but college graduation… that one really gets to you as a parent. I was so proud.” Jackie’s next life chapter is a job in Virginia with the Nestlé Corporation en route to become a business analyst.
The twins just graduated from high school. Malcolm is following in his sister’s footsteps attending the University of Illinois, looking towards the medical field. Marcus is going to the University of Iowa, considering math as a major. All three earned academic scholarships to college. “They worked really hard in high school,” Carolyn says. “My daughter provided a wonderful example, and my sons were just as successful as she was.
“I’m not sure what we may have done. Our kids are really self-driven. I think they’ve seen their dad and me get up and go to work every day, meet our goals, get promotions. I guess we led by example of what it’s like to work hard,” affirms Carolyn.
“What have I learned most being a wife and mother? Compromise,” she says, with no hesitation. “It’s no longer all about you.” Mrs. Smith, an underwriter for a life insurance company, goes on: “Having two careers and three very active children… I swear they were involved in everything! But they knew that somebody in their family would be [present] for soccer games, band, baseball games—we would be there. It’s important to cheer your family on!”
Carolyn continues, “Now that my kids look back on it, they realize how much it meant to have their dad and me support them. You have to wait until they get older to get those accolades!” John echoes that sentiment with a quote from his daughter: “Jackie says, the older she gets, the smarter I get!
“With the kids, there’s good cop Carolyn and bad cop me,” he continues. “She’s very toned down and I’m not all the way toned down. She’s very complete in getting things done. I travel a lot for work, so we communicate to make sure we’ve got everything in order for the family. We had three really good, grounded kids that are very appreciative of what they have. They realize it didn’t have to be this way.”
Mr. and Mrs. Smith acquiesce on their admiration. John concludes, “I don’t know why people notice our family. We just tell our kids to be the best they can be. Make sure they make positive changes. Save money. And get the foundation right.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at [email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.