Before he became the prominent journalist that we know today, KTN’s James Smart went through a harrowing life in one of Nairobi’s largest and most dangerous slums. This has remained unknown to many until recently.
In a post to popular Facebook page Spirits of Nairobi, Smart opened up about his difficult childhood and how a journalist who visited his neighbourhood inspired him to pursue the career.
He also recounted how his grandparents toiled hard to make ends meet while they were still living in a small shack in Korogocho slums.
Here is his story.
“I was born and brought up in Korogocho slums, in an area called Highridge B. I was raised by my grandparents. We used to live in a ten by ten shanty house. During the rainy season we had to shift the position of our beds because there were so many leaks on the roof. We lived as an extended family together with my grandparents, uncles and aunts hence there was very little space and privacy. But despite all these hurdles, my grandmother inspired in us a spirit of plenty.
One day she got a day job at a construction site. She put me on her back and toiled the whole day under the hot sun for a sh15 pay. My grandfather was an office messenger so he always came home with an assortment of newspapers.
I would diligently pore through the papers which triggered my interest in national issues at a very early age. Then one day Nairobi River, which was close to our house, flooded and washed away some shacks built on the brim of its banks. Several people died. Later I saw a man with a camera and notebook being taken around by village elders. Somebody said he was a journalist. Although the story appeared as a tiny brief the next day, journalism starred my curiosity. The prospect of being at the center of making news just amazed me. At least I would ensure stories from lesser mortals got more attention and space, I thought.
I asked my teacher at Baba Dogo Primary School what one needed to be a journalist. She had no clue besides the fact that one needed to be good in languages. I literary forgot about the whole issue by the time I was joining St. Paul’s High School in Kakamega. I was enlisted in the drama club and despite being an introvert I became one of the best solo performers in the Western region. After high school my family could not afford college fees so I went back to my slum neighbourhood. I whiled my team teaching kids how to play table tennis at St. John Catholic Church, Korogocho. It’s while doing this voluntary work that I landed a scholarship to study journalism at Catholic University. After graduation, I never got work apart from part time engagement in a street children rehabilitation programme. One day as I took some video footage to KBC for consideration I spotted an advert that said they wanted announcers.
I applied and got the job after beating more than 300 applicants in a series of four interviews. After eight months at KBC I switched to Capital FM where I read news and hosted a sports show for two years. After being hesitant about TV for a while I eventually joined NTV as a news anchor. That was around 2009 when social media was becoming a big thing with the youth. So I conceived a show that could attract the youth to TV news by embracing new media. That’s how The Trend was born. It was the first show to bring live social media feeds on the screen. The studios had to be redesigned since this was a completely new concept. It took me a whole year to convince the bosses to approve the show. But the programme became such an instant hit that every topic we dealt with trended. I left the show after one year because I believed I had achieved what I wanted. After all The Trend was not supposed to be an exclusive James Smart project. Any journalist, I believed then as I do now, would succeed in the show. The current host Larry Madowo is a very knowledgeable, passionate and versatile journalist who has taken The Trend to the next level. I strongly believe that where you were born and bred in this city does not define who you are or become. It’s your effort, believe in God and zeal to grind that defines your destiny”