Flint high school coach Keith Smith uses music to address police brutality

FLINT, Michigan — There was a palpable buzz that blanketed the block of MLK Ave and East Dewey as I met Coach Keith Smith to discuss the Flint school system, police brutality, and how he’s chosen to share his life experiences through music.

You could smell the summer sun greeting the neighborhood for the first time as we stood in front of a mural painted by Kevin Burdick of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., interlocking arms with civil rights leaders and activists like the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Behind them, a community of people stands in solidarity. The mural prefaces the pictures painted in Coach Smith and The Administration Family’s record titled “Another Down” featuring Ty’ana Williams.

For over a decade, Smith has coached, beginning his career at Flint Central, then Flint Northern, and landing at Hamady High School becoming Hamady’s Girls Varsity coach in 2000. Under his coaching, the Lady Hawks currently hold a 92% winning ratio, two state titles, five final four appearances, and three trips to the state championship game played at the Breslin.

He hopes for more wins, growth, and seeing more of his athletes, like Ty’Ana Williams, attend college and attain success beyond what they may imagine. 

Flint native and Hamady High School student Ty’ana Williams is featured on "Another Down" and appears in the video.

Williams, a player for Hamady’s Girls Varsity basketball team and vocalist, expressed her discomfort as a young Black woman in Flint. “I protect myself by surrounding myself with people I trust and staying focused on hooping and my personal goals,” said Williams.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to lead my girls to victory,” says Smith. “My wish for them is to continue being great and achieve success. I know that many of them are successful. Heck, many of them are doing much better than me!” 

However, it was hard to ignore the essence of the mural and Dr. King's sentiments as we dug a little deeper into the heart of “Another Down.” 

“I don’t want the people of Flint to get lost in the shuffle of police brutality,” Smith says about the song which addresses stories of police brutality in Genesee County. The song has sold over 800 hard copies, and the music video has reached almost 6,000 views on YouTube. It was inspired, in one part, by the story of William Taylor Jr., affectionately known as Billy Taylor Jr. 

Taylor was an unarmed 15-year-old Black teen suspected of attempted burglary of an unoccupied home on Basil Lane on July 8, 1980, resulting in his murder by patrol officer Gerald Collins. Taylor, plus another 15-year-old and two other children — ages 12 and 14 — were said to have taken jackets, purses, a TV, and kitchen items. Collins, cleared of wrongdoing in another fatal police shooting in 1978, returned to street patrol less than a year later.

Featured in Coach Smith's video for "Another Down."

Within weeks, the city settled the lawsuit pursued by Billy Taylor Jr.’s parents, which was believed to have been the largest cash settlement in Flint’s history. In addition, Michigan State Police changed its pursuit policy in September 2017, limiting chases to occurrences in which troopers have a reasonable belief that a felony has been committed.

Smith deeply exhales as he remembers being scared, hurt, and devastated following the murder of Billy Taylor Jr. He recalls the shock and rage throughout every era of police brutality seen. Still, he feels he has witnessed a change in reinforcement in Flint and is hopeful for the future. 

“A lot of people weren’t aware of Billy Taylor Jr. and what his father did to fight for policy changes or Jaqueline Nichols and what her family has done,” shares Smith. “You know, now, state troopers can’t just come flying down these streets in pursuit without regard. I wish our young people would also stop speeding through the streets and show more accountability on their part.” 

“Another Down” also addresses the untimely death of Jaqueline Nichols, who was heading home to her residence in the 1100 block of East Pierson Road, Thursday, July 3, 2014. Nichols and two others in the car were hit by a Michigan State Police cruiser driven by Timothy Fagin chasing a suspect on North Street from Stewart Ave.

"I plan to keep making good music for the community." - Coach Keith Smith

Fagin, pursuing a suspect for a seatbelt violation, ran stop signs and a blinking red light at Pierson Road and North Street and broadsided the vehicle. Court records show that Fagin violated the State Police chase policy because his father participated in a “ride-along” during the chase. State Police policy requires a ride-along to sign a liability waiver for the driving trooper to engage in pursuit — a waiver never signed by Fagin’s father. 

I asked Smith, now at the end of our conversation, if he felt that the incessant expression of Black people’s pain and trauma through music related to police brutality had impacted this community.

“I think it’s had a positive impact because people need to know, said Smith.” “They need to feel what’s said [and] a lot of people are not aware. I’ve had the chance to attend college at Concordia River Forest College of Illinois and most of my peers there never had the experience of police brutality. But through the music, we’re able to share these stories in a way that may resonate differently than daily news. It’s a way to express the things we go through as well as educate people.”

And through music, Smith, says he will continue to speak up and speak out. 

“I plan to keep making good music for the community,” said Smith. “Some records you’ll be able to party to but we’ll make sure to keep the message conscientious.” 

Find more music from Coach Smith and The Administration Family on their YouTube channel: Keith Smith TV

Read more articles by Jarielle Tasha Nettles.