By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The 2021 Leadership Knoxville (LK) class consists of 54 outstanding individuals working to improve life in Knoxville, and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is in that group. Kimberly Smith, an EBCI tribal member, will participate in the Class of 2021 Flagship Program of Leadership Knoxville.
LK officials noted in a statement, “During the year, class members will participate in monthly sessions and focus on Servant Leadership. We are excited to begin our journey with this year’s class of 54 community leaders.”
Smith describes the selection process, “Individuals must be nominated, complete an application which is then reviewed by the organization’s selection committee. My nomination was anonymous. As the Census Bureau lead partnership specialist in this area, I worked alongside so many to build awareness and engagement with the 2020 Census. I genuinely do not know who nominated me, but I hope to make them proud. This year’s class saw 54 out of 100 nominations selected. When I submitted my application, I honestly did not expect to be chosen. I was nominated last year for Tennessee’s Leadership Next program but was not selected. The Leadership Knoxville selection process was very intentional. There is a balance of gender, a diverse class in age, race, socioeconomic background, and employment. However, each class member is passionate about improving the quality of life for all in Knoxville.”
Smith said she initially questioned her selection. “My class consists of doctors, lawyers, political leaders, judges, CEO’s, and presidents. My 10 years in the Knoxville community has mostly been as a student at the University of Tennessee (UT). I’ve done several amazing things there. I worked with top UT leadership to develop a Native American Interpretive Gardens and hosted halftime shows at UT football games. Still, I never felt my work was substantial enough to be recognized in such a capacity. When informed of my selection, my immediate response was shock and excitement, then came the desire to get to work. The LK network is massive. I knew through potential partnerships, I could accomplish great things. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, and when it’s supposed to. LK came into my life at the perfect time. I want to use this opportunity as a platform for personal and professional growth. LK has already pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways.”
Smith is constantly busy.
She just ended a contract as a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, and she is currently the News & Views editor for the Federally Employed Women Organization. In addition, she served the EBCI as the chairperson of the Cherokee Beloved Women Committee.
Smith said the work on the Beloved Committee has been very influential. “Being involved with its work has been an incredible influence on my career and educational aspirations. One of my LK classmates recently transferred from UNC-Chapel Hill; he worked with the UNC American Indian Center and with a previous EBCI administration. Our conversations have rekindled the idea of continuing my educational goals. I’m humoring the notion of an advanced degree in Indigenous Women in Leadership. So that may be an adventure on the horizon.”
Although involved in a world off of EBCI tribal lands, Smith keeps the Tribe close to her heart and mind. “I’m mindful of how I represent the EBCI in all that I do. I want my LK cohorts to learn some of our most vital principles, with the hopes of a ripple effect. On our first night, LK asked what motivates us to lead. I shared the 7th generation concept and how my work today isn’t for me but the happiness and health of the 7th generation.” She added, “As an EBCI in LK, I see myself as Jimmy Cricket of sorts for my cohort, selected to help them see the world through a native lens. Hopefully, by the end, they’ll be more mindful of themselves and understand the environment they live, work, and play in doesn’t belong to them and needs to be respected. I also feel an obligation to Cherokee. LK is my opportunity to help EBCI by sharing learned knowledge with my people. I’ve already had several conversations with EBCI members on LK model benefits to Cherokee workplaces. I don’t want to decolonize Cherokee; someone else can champion that. I want to ‘Nativeize’ this country and start in Knoxville.”
Smith is grateful for her family, especially her daughters, and thanks them all for supporting her. “They have been my inspiration for the past decade. Doing what I can to give them a better life has led me down the path that brought me to LK. Second, my mom. Seeing her years of self-sacrifice gives me strength and keeps me grounded. My Granny Fran, Aunt Carm, and Great-Granny Ruth for being so selfless in their lives, building up the foundation of our community and family. Knowing the Sneed leadership blood runs through my veins motivates me to live up to their legacy. The community members who have supported me in my journey and those who gave me a chance to lead, you made me feel like a valued member of the EBCI. Last, to those community members who did not, thank you as well. You helped me persevere.”