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Greg Smith - Rebounding From Katrina



I always suspected Greg Smith was a hero.

Really close readers of the St. Petersburg Times may recall I wrote about Greg back in February, when PBS picked up a scrappy, warts-and-all documentary about this 65-pound radio personality with Muscular Dystrophy confident enough to sell himself as the "wheelchair dude with the winning attitude."

Greg once lived here in the Tampa area, when he hosted his disability-focused radio show, On a Roll, for a local Web site. But when the Web site went under, he eventually moved back to his native Mississippi, where he reinvented himself as a motivational speaker, author (his autobiography is called, of course, On a Roll) and host of a motivational radio show dubbed The Strength Coach.

His spirit is so indomitable it fills every frame of the documentary; I jumped to the chance to moderate a screening of it at the most recent National Association of Black Journalists convention in Atlanta in August. Of course, when NABJ scheduled the screening, no one thought to install a wheelchair ramp so Greg could get to the stage. It was the only time I can remember seeing his boundless optimism dim -- just a bit.

So it was with particular sadness that I heard the most recent news about Greg: Hurricane Katrina had brought four feet of water into his home, destroying his special red wheelchair, his specially adapted van, and forcing him to move to an assisted living facility -- a particularly discouraging turn for someone as proudly independent as he.

But even in this adversity, Greg found a way to shine; offering a poignant commentary for National Public Radio that focused on a possible positive -- now those rebuilding homes and businesses can easily make them handicapped accessible.

"Since everybody is starting from scratch anyway, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to build a community that is accommodating to everyone?" he said.

I can't wait to see Greg at the Times Festival of Reading later this month, so I can tell him in person what you're about to read: Now I know he's a hero.

And after taking a few moments to check out his NPR piece, now you know, too.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:34pm]


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