Ben Smith grew up in the Desire Housing Development in New Orleans, graduating from George Washington Carver High School. After graduating from High School Ben attended Delgado Community College completing a two year program and apprenticing with Local 37 Boilermakers. At 28 years old Ben was arrested for the first time. He stayed in jail 23 months and although he was acquitted he lost his housing, his job, his taxi license, and many relationships in the community. Shortly after his release, unable to find employment, he began selling drugs and quickly he developed a substance abuse problem. At age 38 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for distribution of cocaine. After 13 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary returned home to the support of the team that would eventually found The First 72+.
When Ben is not directly assisting our residents with getting jobs, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and social services he is helping them get reacquainted to the city. He also hires several FIP at his Mobile Catering Company – Da Grill, which can be found at most second lines and at music clubs around town. Ben also has two beautiful daughters, Gisele and Keisha.
Ben has been out 12 years and reminds himself every day, “You have to crawl before you can walk, that’s how you make it out here. If you were in 13 years, you got nothing, but if you can stay out here 13 years you will accomplish something, give it time, give yourself a chance.”