On May 2nd, the Henry Louis Smith Funeral Home will host their official grand opening. City officials and leaders will be on hand to welcome this new enterprise into our community. Along with the ribbon cutting and refreshments, however will be something different. The community will see firsthand the interest this business takes in investing in our young people.
As a part of their immersion into our community, these gentlemen have established a fund to support youth organizations that serve at-risk young people. Having seen first-hand the tragic results of misdirected youth in their salons, they take particular interest in efforts that redirect focus and determination of young people into positive and progressive channels.
Henry Smith of Henry Louis Smith Funeral Home, LLC expalins it this way: “In my forty-plus years as a successful Nashville funeral director, I can’t recall a time when we have overseen the funerals of so many young people.Most of these young people are under the age of 20, mainly boys, mostly fatherless, members of increasingly violent street gangs. Over the past six months our Nashville Funeral home has buried over 20 young people. “It is always a sad occasion to say good bye to a loved one, but for a parent and even a community to have to say goodbye to so many young people, children really – it’s tragic, there is no other way to put it,” he says sadly.”
Last September, Smith and his business partner, Steve Ganaway,opened a funeral home in the heart of North Nashville on Buchanan Street. This is a neighborhood that both men recall as a nice area for middle class African Americans of the 50’s and 60’s in segregated Nashville. Buchanan was the street that everyone shopped. There were dry cleaners, nice restaurants, and clothing stores. Sadly now the area is blighted, still Smith and Ganaway opened their funeral home in that location to help revive the area and be a positive influence on the community.
A few months ago while in the prep room of the funeral home, Smith and Ganaway noted that there were four remains being readied for burial. One of the remains was a 96 year old woman, the other three were young men, all under the age of 25 and all victims of gang related gunshot wounds. “The ages of the three young men combined still did not add up to the age of that 96 year old woman, in fact she had 30 something years on them,” remarked Ganaway. “This was senseless and we decided right then to look for organizations that are focused on prevention and give to them.”
Since their new Clarksville Funeral Home opened on April 1st of this year, the business partners have established a fund to support Clarksville youth organizations. As with their Nashville operations, a percentage of all the funerals they conduct are going to help give young people organized activities. They are especially interested in organizations that offer young people spiritual guidance.
“We don’t like burying young people,” says Ganaway, “it’s very difficult. The parents of these gangs are young themselves, often single, and usually don’t have money for a funeral. We help them as much as we can and try to steer them to organizations that will help the other children in the family.”
Clarksville’s Faith Outreach Associate Pastor Tommy Vallejos was one of the first people in Clarksville to welcome the pair. Mr. Ganaway calls their first meeting divine. “We talked for three hours and found that we shared common goals with regard to young people,” says Ganaway. Vallejos, it turned out was actively working with groups to prevent gang violence and in fact had given over 1,000 speeches in three years throughout the country about gang violence and prevention.
“In all my years of working in this area, I have never seen a funeral home take such an active interest in prevention,” says Vallejos. “It appears that this is not just about business, Henry Smith and Steve Ganaway genuinely care about the community and the futures of young people.”
Vallejos organization, HOPE and the Clarksville Police Departments Explorer program are beneficiaries of the Clarksville fund. Checks for those organizations will be presented at the Henry Smith Funeral Home Open House and ribbon cutting, Saturday May 2nd at 3pm. On hand will be Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper and Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers, State Representative Joe Pitts, State Sen Tim Barnes and other public officials. The public is invited to the presentation and ribbon cutting.