Legacy, wardrobe of influential publisher will empower Memphis youth

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - On what would've been Bernal E Smith II's 46th birthday, the community opened an empowerment center in his honor.

With his signature fashion, Smith served many roles including mentor.

The former New Tri-State Defender Newspaper publisher was a board member of the Memphis Urban League and supporter of the Save Our Sons Initiative, a program designed to advance the workforce readiness of African American men ages 18-34.

"We give them the tools that they need to be successful, now they have the attire that they need to be successful as well," Memphis Urban League CEO Tonja Sesley-Baymon said.

Smith's wife recently donated his wardrobe of more than 150 suits, ties, shirts, and shoes to Memphis Urban League as a way of expanding her husband's legacy.

"I felt like he had nice things, and I wanted to share that with this community," Smith's wife, Towanda Peete-Smith, said.

At the league's location on North Cleveland, the clothes closet was dedicated Wednesday as the Bernal E. Smith II Empowerment Center.

"As our men are going out to interview, there are barriers that they encounter, so this is one barrier they won't have to deal with," Sesley-Baymon said.

Memphis Urban League hopes this will inspire other leaders across the community to donate their professional attire.

"We're partnering with some of the other professional organizations like 100 Black Men and fraternities," Sesley-Baymon said.

"I just hope more people will get on board and more people will donate," Pete-Smith said.

"Bernal's legacy lives on through his voice, through the lives that he's touched, and now through the Bernal E Smith II Empowerment Center," Sesley-Baymon said.

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