George Walker Smith
Religious and Community Leader
San Diego State University
The Reverend George Walker Smith is one of San Diego's best known, most effective, and most admired leaders, providing bridges of understanding across cultures and ethnic backgrounds. His long-held belief in encouraging dialogue as a way to build respect and civility has been credited with helping San Diego avert the urban strife suffered in so many communities.
Reverend Smith was instrumental in drawing together a widely diverse group of San Diegans to provide counseling and comfort to community members during the Watts riots and the disturbances resulting from the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson trials. In the wake of the Simpson trial, he cofounded the Coalition for Equality, an organization that sponsors seminars, rallies, and forums to address discrimination.
These actions might be considered Reverend Smith's best-known contributions to the San Diego community, but they represent only a small measure of the many civic activities he participated in during his more than 40 years as pastor of the Christ United Presbyterian Church in San Diego, which he organized in 1956 and led until his retirement in 2000. His leadership—literally his life's work in San Diego—has influenced the young and old, the most powerful and the most disenfranchised.
Young people have always been paramount in Reverend Smith's concerns. He demonstrated his commitment to them and to the community by serving on the San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education for four terms, a total of 16 years; he was the first African American to serve on the Board of Education. In 1976, he was elected president of the National School Boards Association.
Through the years, Reverend Smith continued his commitment to education and young people, serving on the National Advisory Commission on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the White House Committee on Education and the Arts; the National Advisory Council of the Educational Marketing and Research Corporation; the White House Conference on Children and Youth; and the appeals board of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Within the state, Reverend Smith has served on the California School Boards Association, the California Junior College Association Committee on Student Personnel, the California Non-Partisan Voters Registration Committee, and the California State Health Review and Program Council. Locally, he has served on the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Community College District, the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement, and the San Diego Crime Commission.
Reverend Smith holds a Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Mary Holmes College. He recently received a richly deserved community service award for founding the Catfish Club, a weekly luncheon dialogue that for the last 32 years has brought together leaders from San Diego's many ethnic communities to discuss the political and social issues of the day.
In recognition of his lifelong contributions to the community, state, and nation; his sensitive leadership; his demonstrated respect for all people; and his commitment to youth and education, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San Diego State University are proud to confer upon the Reverend George Walker Smith the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.