Will Smith visits Open Doors

Front (Left to Right): Will Smith, Eli Stone-Harlan, Eighth Grader. Back: Taylor Reynolds, Open Doors alumna, high school sophomore.  Photo by Chela Crinnion.

On Nov. 21, the students of Open Doors Academy were stunned by the arrival of a surprise guest, movie star Will Smith.

The students had been told that a very special guest would be visiting them, but had no idea who it might be. A hundred students and alumni of Open Doors gathered in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, anxiously awaiting the guest’s arrival, their cameras poised as they sat on the edge of their seats.

Right before the big entrance Executive Director Annemarie Grassi and Program Director Paul Theodore teased the students that they could not recite the words to the theme song from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

As the students began chanting the song in rhythm, Will Smith entered the room rapping along. Screams of excitement let out as the students realized their special guest had arrived. Dropped jaws, disbelief, and tears of excitement and joy filled their faces as Smith made his way around the room giving hugs and hi-fives.

Tre Grady, 7th grader, later disclosed that he felt as if he was going to faint when Will Smith walked into the room. Followed by the comment, that this was the best day of his entire life!

As the screams and cheers settled, Smith joined the circle of teenagers and began to participate in the Open Doors monthly tradition of a community meeting. The topic on the table was peer pressure. Smith shared his experiences with peer pressure, the importance of realizing your dreams, never giving up on them, and choosing your friends carefully.

Students asked Smith questions about being a role model and struggling with failures and setbacks. The students also shared their own personal stories and challenges that they have faced growing up.

"Everyone wants to know if Smith is as nice as he appears, and the answer to that is he is the most humble, gracious, and down to earth person," said Open Doors director Annemarie Grassi. "He is inspiration and a role model to youth, a phenomenal speaker, and a genuine humanitarian. It was a true honor to have him in our presence and we will carry this day with us for the rest of our lives."

Open Doors is a developmental after-school enrichment program that is designed to provide a safe, nurturing environment, promoting academic, emotional, and social enrichment for middle-school students in unity with family, school, and community. The mission of Open Doors is to nurture, protect, inspire and challenge adolescents to reach their full potential through the provision of meaningful out-of-school enrichment activities in a safe and structured environment, and to improve our neighborhoods by collaborating with families and the community.

For additional information, call 216-229-1900 or 216- 407-5633 or email agrassi@opendoorsacademy.org.

Read More on Heights Kids
Volume 1, Issue 9, Posted 2:55 PM, 11.24.2008