My mother, Juanita Murray Smith, was one of a kind. Born to a humble family, she literally came up from nothing. She lived in a shotgun shack with an outhouse attached and learned to save, be industrious, and build a better life. She married my father, Johnny Will Smith, and moved to Los Angeles to create better opportunities for her children. I was born soon after their move.

In Los Angeles, my parents faced many challenges, especially financial ones. My dad could make money but couldn’t keep it, while my mother knew how to save, grow, invest, and build wealth. Unfortunately, my father never sought her help, and we lost everything. Despite these setbacks, my mother continued working hourly jobs, and though my dad died effectively broke, my mother died a millionaire, having worked jobs that paid $15-$18 an hour and doing handicrafts part-time.

She bought and sold seven homes, provided down payments for my brother and sister to buy their first homes, and helped me when I needed it. The most important thing she did for me was telling me she loved me every day of my life. There’s nothing more important than a child being told they are loved. She taught me to love myself and gave me self-esteem, even though she wasn’t always cared for or given the support she deserved.

Despite not having a high school equivalency, she always strove to better herself. At 62, she marched with 18-year-olds to earn her high school equivalency. From a lineage of resilience—my grandmother owned a shotgun shack, and my great-grandmother was a slave—my mother rose to buy and sell seven homes. Inspired by her, I went on to own 700 homes and founded the largest financial literacy organization in the country. Her determination and wisdom have left a lasting impact on my life and many others.

My mother passed away on September 10, 2023, just before her 89th birthday. We were planning a big celebration for her 90th, which we will now hold in her memory, honoring her incredible life through the Juanita Smith Fund and the work we continue in her name. She left this world with an 854 credit score, a testament to her financial acumen. I know she continues her work from a better place.

I love you, Mommy. Your legacy lives on through me and all who were blessed to know you. Thank you for the calm and confidence you instilled in me, gifts that I cherish every day. You were an incredible woman, mother, lover, and friend. Your impact will be felt for generations to come.

What a woman. What a mother. What a lover. What a friend.

Happy Mother’s Day and you’ll be in my heart forever.

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