Jada Pinkett Smith remembers well the crossroads she faced during her rough-and-tumble high school years in Baltimore.
Smith’s life changed when she got the chance to attend the Baltimore School for the Arts and later earned a scholarship to North Carolina School for the Arts. Had she not discovered her passion for acting, Smith believes her path to adulthood might easily have included a stint in jail or worse.
Smith’s memory of that pivotal period drove her to launch the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation’s Careers in Entertainment program designed to open doors for youths in underserved communities. The foundation has partnered with Discovery Communications’ Say Yes to the Prom initiative to provide scholarships, internships, mentoring services and networking opportunities to students in several major cities across the country.
Say Yes to the Prom provides similar mentoring and scholarship opportunities, as well as prom dresses, tuxedos and styling services to 1,000 high-achieving students selected by guidance counselors at schools in economically disadvantaged areas. The program is a philanthropic offshoot of TLC’s popular “Say Yes to the Dress” unscripted series.
Smith said the idea of providing students with formal wear for a rite of passage like the prom appealed to her because of her own high school experience.
“It really provides a level of self-esteem,” Smith told Variety. “You’d be surprised to see how something like this can give a young person the energy to be able to participate in the world in a positive way. You’ve got young people who are preparing for their future. This is an opportunity to put them in that state of mind to encourage them to go in the right direction.”
Smith said she was “involved in a whole lot of mess” during her teenage years, but the fact that she was still seen as worthy of educational opportunities made a world of difference. Landing the scholarship based on the talent she demonstrated at an audition “was the little push I needed to get on the right track,” Smith recalled. “If you just remind kids that there’s good in the world and there are people who want to help you go in the right direction, it can change them.”
The Smith Family Foundation’s partnership with Discovery is to be unveiled Wednesday at the Say Yes to the Prom event at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City.
As part of the partnership, Discovery and the foundation have launched the Discovery/Careers in Entertainment Fellowship program to endow 20 college scholarships and establish more internships. Say Yes to the Prom participants will have access to various programs through the foundation’s CIE initiative and Discovery’s educational and outreach activities.
The Smith Family Foundation launched the CIE program last