Black Olympic Fencer Keeth Smart Overcame Adversity To Succeed In A White Sport

Keeth Smart

Black Olympic Fencer Keeth Smart Overcame Adversity To Succeed In A White Sport

The PBS film “Stay Close” documents Smart’s journey to becoming the first American to reach number one in the world in saber fencing.

PUBLISHED ON : JANUARY 8, 2020 / 12:12 PM

Written by Jarod Hector

“Stay Close,” the story of Olympic fencer Keeth Smart, debuted Monday night (January 6) on the PBS series POV Shorts

The documentary short highlights Smart’s remarkable story of achievement in the face of adversity and personal tragedy. 

“This film is really therapy for me,” Smart said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s really a family film. It’s been a fun way to recall my parents and what they mean to us and what they did for us.”

Smart and his sister Errin earned scholarships from the Peter Westbrook Foundation, based in New York City, and teaches inner-city kids fencing.

Keeth and Errin earned fencing scholarships to Columbia University. Keeth rose to No. 1 in the world and was the national champion in 2004. His sister became a four-time national champion and a silver medalist in the 2008 Olympics. 

Related: Black Girls Rock Highlight: Ibtihaj Challenges Media Narratives as a Black Woman in the Olympics

But lots of tragedy occurred, including the death of their father. Their mother was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died, and Keeth battled leukemia.

All that and the issues of race that come with attempting to ascend in a sport that is not traditionally Black. 

“It was really hard. When we were 12 and 13, my sister and I spent two weeks at a (fencing) camp in Hungary. We were by ourselves. Our parents could not afford to come. We saw everything under the sun as it relates to racism. They called us every name . . . in their native tongue,” said Smart. “And people translated for us. But it taught us to stay together. And in the end, we did what we had to do and showed them what they thought of black people was not what their perceptions told them.”

“Stay Close” has been short-listed for Oscar consideration in the best documentary short subject category. The nominees will be announced on January 13.

(Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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