His fingers may be studded with NFL Championship rings now, but Darrin Smith’s journey to stardom wasn’t an easy one.
It started with a man who volunteered his time to change a young boy’s life.
“I was one of those little kids looking out the window,” said Smith. “Is he here yet? Is he here yet? And I heard his car roll up, and I was like, oh man! I was nervous. I remember peeking out the window. He couldn’t see me, but I could see him.”
Smith was three years old. He had just lost his father to violence. His widowed mother, desperate to improve her family’s situation, enrolled Smith and his four siblings in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program.
Seymour Parksman, originally from the West Indies, had just arrived in South Florida from New York. He was matched as a “Big Brother,” or mentor, for Smith.
“I grew up with a lot of kids in my home, and I had to help out with a lot of the younger ones,” said Parksman, who had signed up as a volunteer with the organization. “I believe I was chosen by God to do this, and that’s what I have done throughout my life, is to be there for another person, or a child when needed.”
Parksman made the trip to Smith’s home to meet him for the first time.
“When I walked in the room for the first time, everyone was in the Florida room watching cartoons, minutes after 3:00,” Parksman recalls. “I said to his mother, ‘That is not going to work.’”
Parksman put young, shy Smith to work right away, doing housework and planting a garden as a tribute to Marksman’s wife, who had not yet arrived in South Florida.
Marksman also gave Smith structure, with a focus on his studies.
“It was a big part of what made me want to be a hard worker, be the best, give my best effort in everything,” said Smith. “That’s just how he is. Whatever it is, he gives it his all. And he’s been here for me in so many different ways.”
It wasn’t long before Smith started to come out of his shell, excelling in school and sports with Parksman continuing to support and nurture the rising star.
“He’s always just had that type of heart,” said Smith about Parksman. “That’s why I love being around him.”
Smith’s reflection brought Parksman to tears.
“I’ve learned compassion because of him,” Smith continued. “I’ve learned what compassion really is, and humility — what that really is. He’s taught me just being there makes a difference. It’s not necessarily having the right answers, always doing the right thing, but just being there. He probably couldn’t coach me in football. He never did coach me in football, but he was there. And that makes all the difference in the world.”
Parksman said he never missed a practice or a game.
Smith went on to finish high school, graduate college, earn an MBA and continue to shine in a 12-year NFL career where he earned two Superbowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys. He has since returned to South Florida, started a reading foundation for children and is now in charge of the men’s ministry at Parksman’s church. Smith is married, and now coaches his own children in sports, raising them with the values he learned from Parksman.
“I never really saw a husband-and-wife relationship in the home, and I never saw a father — how he relates to his children in the home. But I saw it here and I learned it here,” said Smith. “He was my role model as far as not just becoming a man, but also how you relate to your wife.”
Smith is now himself a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and said he feels it is important to give back to the community because of all the encouragement and support Parksman has given him over the years.
“I was happy to be there with him, to see him excel, just keep going,” said Parksman about watching Smith grow up and thrive. “It’s like when you teach a child to ride, and you put him on a bike, and then you just push the bike, push the bike. And then you pull away and let the bike go. It was like that with him.”
Today, the two men rely on each other for guidance. The garden still grows outside the house where a young child planted a seed more than three decades ago — a symbol of a relationship that continues to flourish.