Life is like a box of crayons: the container comes with various colours inside and some are brighter than others. People may come from the same background and community, but they exude different characteristics. Graig-Lee Smith happens to be one of the brightest colours in the pack.
Graig-Lee is only twenty-six and from Bellville South, but he’s a producer for the SABC radio station, Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) FM. His career in radio began in Grade 10 when he was nominated to be a guest DJ on a community radio station. That’s when his love for radio was cemented, him having been an avid listener for years already. However his aptitude as a communicator began to shine at a very young age. At primary he already participated in debates and was selected as a prefect.
Radio producers typically sit behind a desk (with a laptop) and keep quiet. Sitting and listening well happens be something that Graig also did every day in primary.
“I was an introvert with two friends only. I’d sit in the corner and just keep to myself.” However, Craig knows what he values in friends, saying that best friends are the ones who tell you when you’re going off the track – and then help you back on track.
Graig might be an introvert but he is able to understand and empathise with people generally. His ability to easily integrate is something he inherited from his parents. He explains:
“Both my parents are in the hospitality industry, so we travel a lot and get to meet different people with various backgrounds.” He has even been ‘on air’ several times – literally. “I have been to Thailand, Bangkok and Hong Kong.”
Every crayon eventually goes inside the sharpener, a process that can either break it or give it a point. It all depends on how strong it is. In his matric year in 2007 he faced a huge obstacle that could have been detrimental to his future. His teachers embarked on a lengthy strike prior to final exams.
“But we had to change the situation around. We approached Die Burger newspaper about the situation, and surprisingly, we appeared on the front page,” says Graig. (For your information, the national pass rate in 2007 was 1,4 % lower than in 2006.)
After that initiative and success in taking action, it became even harder for him to ignore the media calling. In 2009 he enrolled at a private institution and graduated with a Journalism Diploma. However, he was not satisfied:
“I didn’t develop the skills I required,” he says.
One day during that time he was watching a movie and something struck him – the power of the words changed his life for the better. At the end of the film one character said, “I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again”. (This is a line written by US movie screenwriter Eric Roth.)
Graig decided then and there that he wanted to study further. “So I enrolled at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) where I’m currently a third year student in journalism.”
Graig says he now has the confidence to do his weekly youth show with a big smile on his face, while pursuing his studies to the depth he wants.
What drives him; what does he enjoy about the job? He says:
“I get inspired when someone comes from a disadvantaged background but still makes it in the big world. I live for that; I love telling those stories.”
Most youth would like to be on national radio for the ‘fame and fortune’ that comes with it, but that’s one thing that Graig despises about it. For example, he says, “I do drive but I prefer trains because that’s where I draw my inspiration from. I don’t want to be picked out as ‘that guy from RSG FM’. My national radio show doesn’t have to change the way I treat people.” The young producer has stayed humble.
Radio’s ‘footprint’ reaches a mass audience and so is the perfect vehicle for Graig’s passion to inspire the underprivileged and needy. “I worked for Social Development where I interacted with drug addicts and with children. My passion is to develop the youth.”
He says the biggest challenge facing his community is the school drop-out rate, which is accompanied by a negative mind-set.
“They cuff their hands with chains. Youngsters usually say ‘I am a drop out, so this is probably the way I should live’,” says Graig.
He says young people must not resort to shortcuts in life or give up when something does not work out for them. “It took me seven years to get to where I’m today. We must be realistic here, it [a successful career] takes time and commitment.”
He also urges young people not to allow past failures to prevent them from accomplishing things in the future. He believes the past doesn’t have much power.
Graig concludes our interview by quoting the legendary Bob Marley’s message in ‘Redemption song’, a message he is conveying to everyone who listens to his shows:
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.”
You can tune into his show every Tuesday evening at 19:30 on RSG 100-104 nationwide. The show is in Afrikaans. Graig is also a freelance journalist and has been published by media houses such as EWN, KFM, Health24, Image and Netwerk24.
Tell us: If you had a “shortcut” to a better way of living, would you take it? Why? Why not?