Mickey Smith Jr., award-winning musician and two-time Grammy Music Educator Award finalist, has recently added author and illustrator to his long list of accomplishments with the publication of his book "The Adventures of Little Mickey: Keep on Going."
Smith said writing a book was never on his agenda but the call to write beckoned him much like his call to music.
"I feel like more than anything this is an opportunity to help others, much like the way I do on my instrument," he said. "We make people feel better when we play but when the song's over you don't have anything. This can be something that lasts forever, even when the song is over."
The autobiographical tale was written for mass appeal, Smith said.
"This story is not a music story. This story is not a children's story. This story is powerful to those that are young and young at heart."
"The Adventures of Little Mickey: Keep on Going" is based on a childhood anecdote Smith has been sharing with his students since 2005 when he first began directing band.
"You know, everybody loves band the first week. Then they realize they've got to practice," he joked.
"Kids think when they see somebody, whether it's music, athletics, whatever, they think these people just woke up one morning and did it. They don't realize it took time."
To motivate his students to persevere and "keep on going" with their pursuits, Smith began telling the story of how he first got his start in music.
The story highlight's how Smith's first sounds were "amazingly terrible" and resulted in his mother telling him to "keep on going" all the way to the woods across the street to continue his practice.
"That could've been something bad or sad," he said. "But that isolation was an opportunity for me to exercise elevation."
Smith said the time spent in the woods was where he honed his craft into the sound that ultimately became the springboard for his successful career as a musician and educator.
"Eventually what happened was that the very door that they sent me out of, they opened back up for me to come in. I remember that day vividly when my parents told me to come inside the door and play. That was like a game-changer for me."
The story seemed to stick with students, Smith said, because over the years — long after students had moved past middle school — he would run into young adults who would ask to hear the story again.
"I don't know about you, but I don't remember everything about middle school. It's kind of vague. But when a kid remembers something that vividly, that got my attention."
Armed with knowledge of his story's power, in 2017 Smith began sharing the story at bigger venues, working through the writing process orally, until he was ready to put pen to paper. Initially he planned to hire an illustrator to create the book's art but the cost of doing so changed his plans.
"I had already sketched out in essence what I wanted the illustrator to do. Now, how crazy is that? Sometimes we don't even see our own gifts."
Smith took six months to perfect his illustrations drawing from his lifetime love of visual arts.
"Most folks don't know that, but before music even came in the picture, even from a young child, I could just look at you and draw you. I didn't think much of it because to me it was as natural as talking."
Smith said in high school he had to make a decision between the pursuit of visual art or music and ultimately decided to choose music. The illustrating work of "The Adventures of Little Mickey: Keep on Going" proves that "nothing was ever wasted," Smith said.
"It's fulfilling because there's such an irony, as I am reflecting on who I was as a child, I'm going back to the gifts I utilized as a child to share my story. Had I not had that background (art), I don't know that the story would be as authentic and would connect with people the way that it has because you can feel that this is real. This isn't a story that I made up. This is actually what happened. They told me to keep on going."
Students have questioned Smith as to how he felt about his mother's request that he move his practice to outdoors. He replied, "My mom told me to ‘keep on going.' She never told me to stop."
His mother's powerful lesson provides a framework that directs Smith's personal teaching philosophy, he said.
"Even in her frustration, she was a fantastic ‘teacher.' If we're admonishing or redirecting kids we must do it from a place that leaves them empowered — a place that leaves them understanding where they're trying to go and doesn't cripple them."
Smith's second-time advancement to the Grammy Music Educator Award finals are proof of the effectiveness of his methods. He is one of 10 music teachers nationwide competing for the title, which will announced during Grammy Week 2019.
"The Adventures of Little Mickey: Keep on Going" can be purchased online at www.mickeysmithjr.com or at Ally-Gator BookBites, 1155 Ryan Street, Suite 213