Sheila Smith and Dana White

Recorded December 3, 2010 Archived December 3, 2010 01:09:33 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: LMN002374


Sheila Smith is interviewed by her daughter, Dana White about her ex husband, Damon White, his death, and being a single parent and raising two.

Subject Log / Time Code

SS talks about the death of her 1st husband Damon White.
SS talks about Dana and her brother Kevin and their personalities.
SS talks about her parents influence.
DW talks about the freedom her mother allowed her as a child.
DW talks about her mother’s experience.


  • Sheila Smith
  • Dana White

Recording Location

StoryCorps Lower Manhattan Booth

Partnership Type




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00:02 Hi, my name is Dana. And as of today, I'm 34. Today is December 3rd 2010. We are in New York City and I am here with my mom.

00:15 Hi, my name is Sheila White Smith. I am 57 years old. Today's date is December 3rd. My daughter's birthday. She's 34 years old. I'm in New York City. And like I said the relationship to the person that's doing the interview is my daughter is my 34th birthday. And I remember when you were 34, I realized that you weren't that old now that I'm 34, but you were the mother of an 11 year old girl and the mother of a nine-year-old boy Kevin my brother and you had been recently widowed. So I will just wanted to bring you in here and asked you what was July 5th 1988 like for you when we lost Daddy.

01:11 It was a very hot day you and Kevin were out at the pool playing. I knew I had to go to work at the police department. So I came inside, you know, you were still out there. Kevin was still out there with people had left you with.

01:28 The phone wrong. It was your father's racquetball partner and a picture fell off the wall as the phone was ringing.

01:39 And I got out of bed and answered the call and he said you need to get down to the hospital. Damon's had a heart attack.

01:47 So I took a deep breath and you know, me and my police mode, I grabbed everything and run out to the pool to get you and Kevin and you and Kevin were there now you were down at high Wheeler high wheeler getting some ice cream the so I drove fast down the street to OU up and as we were driving to the hospital, I was praying Lord. Let him be okay Lord. Let him be okay, please Lord beat let him be okay. So, you know the story after we got to the hospital what happened? What I wanted to know is once you realize that you were single parent.

02:24 What were you afraid of what were your fears?

02:31 I had no fears because I knew we were going to be financially sound. I knew that whatever I had contemplated for the rest of my life with your father. That would not be there anymore. So I was trying to gain strength knowing that I had to support the two of you and mold you into the citizens. I wanted you to become you and Kevin took it and started running with it. I just wanted to make sure that the plans that your father has set forth in reference to college in reference to you guys becoming adult that. I stayed on that Pat that I made sure that you had food shelter and education.

03:14 And love ya. Hell. I love Mom. That was the most important thing since he was gone that you never doubted that you were loved either buy him or me. Right? Was there anything you were looking forward to being a single parent? I mean, it's kind of hard to think, you know, this is going to be interesting or good about being a single parent is not good. Although your father in the years that you had with him grounded you if you had your foundation and it was up to me to now stack up this house and make it hold. Okay. That was my goal. That was my drive you and your brother were my life everything. I did. I had to think it out to make sure that it was good for you and Kevin not just for me, but for my children the love was always going to be there from your father the affection you had that grounded in you now, it was my turn to take it bring It Forward into the future.

04:14 Impressionable age. I mean again, I was 11. Kevin was nine. I was about to hit my teen years, you know those questions about being sure of yourself. You know, who am I in this scheme and you know growing up I had to reflect on who am I going forward without this man who was also my best friend and I'm not just saying that because he's no longer with us, but you know Daddy was my my friend and then you know, you have the awkwardness of growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan and being, you know, one of few very few blacks being marginalized and that way now, I'm not having a dad and not being able to express the people that you know, hey, my dad loves me too because you know, even though he's gone, but you know, I know you weren't a lot about Kevin because he was young and you know, there was something that you and I discussed during your time here about

05:14 Kevin I'm what personality traits did you see and Kevin at a young age that you you know, you look at Kevin now and you go I saw that I saw him being a strong man not being a man myself. I was trying to be mother and father. I saw traits of the basketball the love that he had for it and I never told him that he could not do that. I know I know a lot of parents would have said I don't know you got to do this you got to do that, but I always let Kevin and you be you and that was important to me to bring out the goodness in you and the things that you wanted to actualize but also learning from my own childhood.

05:58 That I didn't want any boundaries set for you guys. Like they were set for me the world was going to give us enough. That's right. I wanted you to be able to do your thing and actualize your own dream waves with Kevin when you saw the basketball love, how long is 3 years old sitting in front of the television making X's and O's, you know, when explain to me, what was okay. Okay, he got it. He understood it in and that was embedded in him and he had to realize that dream you had to

06:37 What time what personality traits did you recognizing me?

06:42 Oh my gosh, my Dana.

06:45 That you were going to be a star that I always told you that you were going to be somebody because I saw it in you, you know, your focus and your drive just like preparing for the day you thought about it the questions that you wanted to ask. I saw that in you as a child and I always told you you were doing for greatness. How old are you when you saw my how was I five years old 5 years old really when you set foot in Saint Monica School. How do you were determined to make your dreams come true? And you had your daddy there at that time and he was molding you to be a lawyer or whatever you were going to be. He wanted you to be successful. It didn't make any difference what it was as long as you were successful after daddy died. What were some of the comments for you when I was going out like was ever a time where you just go into your room and put your hands on your head and say I don't hear your MyTeam your teen years.

07:45 You weren't Dana you were something else. You work Define me and every twisty turn that you cook your teenage years are just some things just weren't adding up and I just thought if I asked you a lot, I we talk everyday that's when we started my time and you had time with me and Kevin had time with me and talk about your day how things were going. If you weren't happy why you weren't happy that was important to me because working in the police department from Midnight to 8, you know, I had to give you guys your time after school cuz it may be time to go home go to sleep and then wake up and cook dinner. And at that time before you got your card, I was shuffling you guys everywhere. So now they are grown up. Have we do you did good. I'm proud of you very proud of you. As you know, I've told you every year how proud I am of you and what you're doing, especially you live in here in New York.

08:45 What's the part of your father that you took?

08:50 And that made me proud because if anybody could make it anywhere it was going to be you Kevin. Give me my Kalamazoo my small town. I'll be the big fish. Cuz when you jumped into the pond at New York, I was very proud of you and I still am proud of you. You know, you're doing a kid if you can make it here. You can make it anywhere and you're making it and I'm proud of you for that. It's hard though. I know it, but what is it hard? If you want it, you got to go for it. So you're saying that Kevin and I did a good job. You're proud. I mean where your expectations met exceeded. Where did you say, you know, Dan and Kevin will I expect this and they've gone beyond that really and you're still got things to do.

09:38 And I want to be here to see you do those things. So my chest pain could be at 48th week and now I'm a proud mom.

09:47 Mom stick it out. So two years ago. We lost granddaddy Arthur Warren and a year after daddy died. We lost Grandma your mom pair Elite and I've always wanted to know what did you get from them that you've instilled in Kevin and I that will be able to pass on that you think will bleed into the generations that are listening to us now.

10:15 Faith in God honesty being your true self and neither one of them graduated from high school. Dad worked at General Motors for 40 years.

10:31 They instilled that loving me to love you and Kevin. I was very much loved growing up. Yes, and I wanted you guys to have that to know that you could do anything you wanted to do no matter what it was that you were going to be locked. There was a lot of love. I mean I have to I thought you know the questions from what rhetorical but I notice, you know, when coming out with Grandma and granddaddy there was a lot of love and again there was that rule of that thing rather of no barriers, you know, you can do whatever you want to do. Don't let anybody tell you what you can and what you can't do and even it within our family there were limits how well, you know, you shouldn't do that or you know, it was now you can you can go there if you want to go there now granted some of the things I've chosen to do have given you heart problem. I understand that.

11:31 That was a little are you know Kuwait. That was a problem.

11:35 One of these times, you know, it was a problem for me because number one no one had ever traveled outside the country and the things that are going on in the Middle East you are a woman and they don't look at women like we look at women here. I was scared for you. That's why I watch that plane go over on my computer go over that ocean and I constantly prayed for you Lord keep her safe. Can you know she may think that this is all well and good but as a mother, you know watching MSNBC seeing what was going on in Pakistan. I was like Lord just keep her safe nor just bring her back to me because I will lose my mind if anything happens to my child over there. I will be at the White House doors and talked into Obama about bringing you home.

12:21 By any means necessary get her back here and Daddy and Grandma they

12:28 I just think I think you're spot on with the honesty. There's never been a reason to lie. No I even when I think about that, I think

12:38 Just tell us the truth the truth. There's no reason, you know, we'll get through it. Just tell me know. Okay, you still like okay now that's where we go from here. Let's take it back. But I never knew I didn't steal if you guys would never do that bike right my Police Department work and what I was doing shows you that good is better than evil.

12:59 You have to work for it, but there's no necessary needs to do that. But the thing again, I got the most out of it was definitely the love and love in the form of support the love in the form of affection. We were always hug and kiss it wasn't stifling it was just ever-present and reassuring and that was very important. Especially after dad died. And even though you know, you taught him how to be affectionate with us because he didn't know but he learned it and loved it. We got to go you got to go make

13:46 Sitting on your butt any left but you felt you felt better knowing that it was four point. It wasn't you know this because it hurts me more than it hurts you in when he would come in the room say I love you. You can see that but again, you know now that I'm here in New York, and I remember I called you one day cuz I was having the hardest time and I just wanted to ask people here like getting your mommy love you like this and I was so something like maybe she love me too much that freedom that you gave Ken and I let you know. I really admire the fact that you raise this your way not the communities way not the the church's way you raised us your way. And I know my kids. I'm the expert on Dana and Kevin and you allowed us.

14:41 Hey here. Try this drink because you knew that you have kids that if they're don't get a chance to try it. They're going to go out there and I'm going to try it. But if you took the excitement away from it with us, then we wouldn't be excited about it. And we weren't, you know, when our friends are out drinking in high school and you look stupid because why we've been there done that, you know a little wisdom just a little bit more when we were when we were young but I worry about you sometimes cuz you haven't been well you had a stroke a couple months ago. And now I'm so glad that you're here with me my goal and getting you here was to strengthen you have done that through love through love you dumb and food bobbi's hummus.

15:33 And I want you to know that you've survived so much in the past.

15:41 I still want you to look forward. I don't want you to rest. I don't want you to resign no to not being 100% No, I want you to get to a point where you're as close to 1 as you can be.

15:54 And live your best life Oprah Winfrey on you, but what you live your best life. So what does your future hold?

16:05 Being there for my kids because I've always been there for them having a 8 year old boy walk out on the porch and looked up to me and saying mama. I don't ever want you to leave me. I know one day I will but until I do I'm going to be there for you and Kevin cuz that was my life's goal to be there for Dana and Kevin.

16:29 To be a good mom to be the best mom that I could be I mean

16:35 It's

16:38 It's great. You know cuz I need you more now than I did then what I know. I need you more at 34 then I did it for you know, what I think about that. You know, Kevin I call you every day almost every day and it's not because we have this weird attachment to you. It's not that it's just a there is there's a lot of support and in love. I'm in the love doesn't always come in positive. Sometimes it comes and getting cussed out. Sometimes it comes in anger. But it we know where it comes from.

17:19 You know.

17:20 In doing this, how would you like to be remembered?

17:26 You know whoever is listening to this right now, how how will they remember you that I was a good mother the best job even though it's free the best job in the world to bring two lies into the world and to mow them and shape them and knowing that what you've done will go on with their kids and their kids will have that same effect for future Generations.

17:53 Sit down and think about

17:57 Life

18:00 And that it is all about love and nurturing and caring and giving that's what I want to be remembered for giving you all that I had.

18:10 To make me who I to make you who you are and who your children will be in the future. That's that's Monumental to have that job to knowing that I'm passing on what was before me. And what is me now to you and Kevin very important to me to be remembered as a good mother. Well, I can't you know, I got no thanks are in order. But thank you. I guess you know again the thing that stands out the most to me is just this whole free to be do you know what I mean? Like we could be, you know, you're no restriction I could box and even then when you would watch me box or hand with you over your eye and you are practically nauseous because of the smell you were being you right? I was being me when I clear is it? All right you let me play rug me rugby you let me play soccer.

19:10 Let me play with boys and there wasn't a Dana. No, you can't do that. You let me play basketball. It was okay for me to be a tomgirl. It was okay for me not to want to be cutesy cutesy girl, some of which is still inside of me the time girl tomboy, whatever but as I get older, you know, I'm like hey.

19:36 Not that Pamela can have a girl. I don't mind looking like a girl sometimes but just this whole notion of being free to be you and I'll never ask your mom. If I had ever been, you know, you know homosexual vitamin transgendered love you. It was it was it was the same thing. It was you know, Vine and then I would test you I would test you with well. What if I did this Dana you wouldn't do that because this I know when we were young and one question you did ask us is not to abuse drugs.

20:14 Okay, you didn't say try them you didn't say you didn't say that. I mean, I think you accepted the fact that we might and probably wouldn't but you didn't want us out with something that you couldn't you couldn't tolerate was he abuse of drugs because it led to hurting so many other people around you and you've never been about that. You never been about hurting, you know, don't hurt that. Are you in when we would hurt each other? Why'd you do that? You know, that would be the one thing that was front your face up. You know, why did you why did you do that? Yeah. I just wanted to to know more about what you want for yourself. Even though you're 56 57 and 2 days cuz your birthday December 5th Road and you take what you're given but you tried to make it as smooth as possible and that's what I tried to do for you and Kevin to make it as smooth as possible. Yeah, there were going to be some hard knocks and that's life.

21:13 But I wanted to be there for you when you needed to pick up the phone and call and you knew I was going to be there. That's why you guys can reach me 24/7 cuz if you need me, I'm going to be there question for you. What fears did you experience when the house got shot up because of what happened at school and 1993 me being called the an expletive at school in the National wigger day and you speaking out on the news and then they came in they shot the house up luckily, you know, Kevin and I weren't there but you were there and there was nothing more frightening than pulling up the next day and seeing the house and the driveway littered with squad cars.

22:05 That is for a child. That's just recently lost her parent to see all of that action. It's so numbing. I mean, I remember my whole person. I was driving in my friend's mother's car. And where is she is all you can think about but you were unharmed but how was it when?

22:28 Our neighbors as being the only black family. How's it how some of them?

22:34 Looked at us will first of all, they didn't think we should be there in the first place. How can she afford to live here? They thought I was a drug dealer when I was working for the police department will say that you were sleeping with one of us somebody officers and they were sponsoring whatever paying for your life. But that was not happening. Your father had left us secure and the job that I had I wanted to keep cuz that was me. Yeah, and I had just came home park the car in the garage from the Vegas night for you to go to Hawaii. Yeah. I had just came home had a cold and like I'm gone guys, I got to go home. I'm not feeling good and to pull into the driveway to open the house door and come in and get me some milk and go down to the family room and all of sudden. I'm here, papa papa pow glass breaker, you know, the the

23:28 Kitchen

23:30 Being bombarded with bullets and I'm like, I just sat there.

23:34 And I took a deep breath and I might thank God Dan and Kevin are not home and I picked up the phone and I called Fred who was a dear friend at work for the Michigan State Police Department. I finally got up off the couch in the family room and walked upstairs and saw all these bullets and saw all the glass break its

23:55 And I just got to say thank God that I'm still here. But thank God Dana and Kevin were nine. I just close the blinds cut off the living room light and went downstairs and the bullets came and I just sat there paralyzed like what is going on after I heard the car Screech off. I did come upstairs and looked at everything that was done. And like I said Fred was on his way over. He called the Michigan State Police and then the Portage police got wind of it and then came the barrage of police officer. That was really scary. I was I felt insecure and I didn't trust my classmates, you know, this, you know, my high school was

24:42 The Catalyst for for it on the hate mail, you know, why are you here and I could not believe this this was 1993 like really 1993-94. I think I almost everything was a junior in high school.

24:59 And I saw the show on Oprah invited about wigger. They were going to pray that I'm like, oh hell and then all school where your beeper's and it was really upsetting because the administration came to the few minority students that we had and said, well, what do we do? And then I said, you're the superintendent of Portage Public Schools. You have a Doctorate in Education. I don't even have my high school diploma and you. You're not verse. Do you know how to do race issues how to manage this, you know that the diversity and Damen that they didn't know they even still they didn't know what to do and they said but it wasn't you know, it it wasn't it. It didn't really solve anything. You just met people be more quiet about it. They were just quieter about but I know that made you and Kevin stronger absolutely.

25:59 I mean Hafer going for character-building, you know, that'll do it. But you know, I would have preferred not to be in the black girl or you know an even when we were there.

26:14 They like

26:16 What are they do they are the parents and all the plants got together and all the kids, you know, all the black kids and little black parents got together and they said enough is enough when you move it move it and everybody thought it was like the worst decision you can make while your house or just some shut up what you mean, you're not moving in. You know, you told him my kids deserve to be here and go to the school system just like anybody else. I'm not a part of your father. You know, I'm not letting them run us out and we stayed and it taught me and Kevin again be who you what it was at the saying be who you is and not who you ain't cuz when you answer you ain't you still hate the police were at our house and they put the Michigan State Police put the camera cuz they wanted to see they were out there picking up the shells and it was Major. It was Major for Portage.

27:13 Support is Michigan several Kalamazoo. Yeah, that wasn't that was Major mom. Do you have any questions for me mama?

27:23 The question the one question that I have for you.

27:27 Is

27:28 Are you okay through all of this?

27:32 You know one are you okay through all the stuff we went through with your father dying grandmother dying going to a private school then ended up in the Portage schools with your father wanted you cuz we would look at that scores every year.

27:46 Did I do okay.

27:49 NBC

27:51 Did you do okay. I think he did a good job.

27:56 I think you did a really good job. I scored you guys, right and I know you from the possessions when I think about do I love myself. Yes. Do I like myself? Yes. I knew you were going to cry. Do I know you coming here to New York and see my home that was huge this trip because it is a direct reflection on the home that you created for. Me and Kevin. I may not have cable cuz I don't watch TV. Why because I'm an Avid Reader something that I got from you in my father. My love book The Love literature. I love music as you as you know, I I I played Django Reinhardt Billie Holiday, McRae sings the two things that I heard and I listen to all the way to Amel Larrieux, you know, this the new age Progressive.

28:57 Stuff because then again it's reinforced in what do you like? I can answer that question. I can tell you what food. I like I can tell you where and who and what food I like which would I don't like I was exposed and I think having been in New York and realizing there's a lot of people aren't who unfortunately their parents didn't have the time to to expose them and take time with them to get them to learn about who they were and I believe you and Daddy did to I mean, don't get me wrong. Daddy. Daddy did a good job to his Saturday morning talks with me for years, but in those formative years

29:44 11 12 13 14 15 16 17. You did a good job with saying you are okay other people will say this about you and I'm so sensitive and still am others will say this about you in that about you but you're okay and coming to New York and being an environment where you can be whoever you want to be just as long as your honey bunny it kind of Falls in line with the principles that I was raised with. You can come to New York and get it anything. You can go down the wrong path when left to your own devices. I've been left to my own devices and I join a book club. I left my own devices and I'm a food. I mean a food Club.

30:29 It's just is it I think you should be proud because Kevin and I are dream realized the head coach of his alma mater. Yes head varsity coach the same high school that took him in when he was a little boy after he had lost his father's the team coaching now that's huge. You know your daughter's in, New York.

30:52 Making your own way and doing a fairly good job at is hard as it is, and I wanted to say to you Mommy. I know you worry about me being here alone don't.

31:03 I'm okay. I know you worry. I don't want you to be alone. I don't want you to be alone the Independence that you've given me is what's getting me through. I'm okay. I'm alone, but I'm far from Lonely. I've got things I've got things that I occupy my time with I occupy myself with I know you'd love for a man to be there with me. But you know how I am and you know that it has to be the right one in until then. I'm okay. So Don't Cry For Me Argentina, I'm going to I'm okay here by myself. You see my home have a lot of peace and a lot of Peace in my environment and I don't let friends significant other or anybody in that's going to disrupt my peace as long as you know that I have that don't worry about me. Okay? Okay. Don't worry about me plus it's planes and cars and email and phones.

32:02 I love you.

32:06 I know you do Dana. I adore my mama and I love you, too. You do you and Kevin have been the joy of my lights. We love you, baby girl.

32:17 I couldn't have asked for a better life. Unless like my mother always said.

32:22 Sheila you got it. All the only thing you don't have is money while I'm working on that I'm working on that.

32:33 I am so proud to be your mother and I wish a lot of Muppets could say that but you and Kevin have helped me up to keep me going. Yes. We love you. I love you guys, too.

32:52 You crying.

32:55 Aspen my fulfillment. Yeah, you guys get to where it doesn't bother you that we're not married. No kids. Nope.

33:06 Of course, I would love to have grandkids but it does not in the picture, I love to but if that's not in the cards, so be it. Okay, and I'm happy with that when we love you. I love you Mama. I know you do date. I think this trip made me realize that how much I love you. You didn't do your hair when you sleep. Okay made me realize it.

33:35 You think I didn't want me to be gone you needed me.

33:43 And we still need you.

33:45 And all the time I know how much you guys loved your father and I was sad because it wasn't me now Mom, but now I realize that it couldn't be me because I had a job to do.

33:59 And I'm hoping I did it. Well, this has been a great birthday.

34:06 I love seeing you at 34 cuz you know how I was and responsibilities that I had that you don't have.

34:15 Now, I'm not a mom.

34:22 I just yeah, I don't you know again it's all about my my peace my peace and quiet and you saw my friend. So, you know, I'm surrounded by good people great people. Okay, and you going to be okay be high if you are in Bed Stuy, New York.

34:45 EBay