“Harlem Heights” star Jason Smith knows firsthand that fatherhood is a full-time job. On the premiere season of BET’s reality show he lets the camera capture his life as a single dad with his adorable 8-year-old daughter, Natai Destiny. Unlike his fellow cast mates, the lone Harlem native isn’t spending his days and nights partying and hobnobbing. This brother’s starting a nonprofit and making sure his baby girl has everything she needs to succeed. He shares his story of letting go of a life in the streets to help others and the decision to be a stand-up dad.
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on the show and working towards starting your own nonprofit. Your daughter Natai is an honorary cast member. What was it like when you first found out you were having a child?
JASON: It was big! When I first knew I was having a daughter, I was young and in the street and running wild. I tried to calm it down to prepare myself and then she came and I had to handle my business to do whatever I had to do to make sure she was straight. I got a good opportunity to do something positive when this show came and to still do right by her.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely! So many of our fathers aren’t involved at all.
JASON: My whole thing was like, that’s mine. I’m not the type to be in and out. I wanted mine. I am happy to raise my daughter. I got into a situation with her mother and we both felt this situation was better. I was a little more focused. I have had her since she was about 2½ and we never looked back.
ESSENCE.COM: She definitely shines on the show, and we loved seeing her talk about President Obama. What has been one of your greatest moments together?
JASON: She loves the show! That’s my little superstar. She’s the most popular in her school right now and people are stopping her on the train. She has an old soul and has never given me any problems. We play chess. That was a moment, when she beat me in chess officially. She was hyped. She really won with strategy.
ESSENCE.COM: And you are doing your part to help other young people as well with a nonprofit off your own. What was your inspiration and how is the project going?
JASON: The nonprofit wheels are rolling. I am sending off for my tax papers right now and getting my board of directors. I am trying to help young Black men and women who have a parent locked up and who are going through the same things I went through. So I know how to help those kids. My dad got locked up when I was about 16, right when I was going wild. Because he wasn’t around, I drifted into the streets, and I am trying to catch these kids before they drift. I want to show that they can do whatever they want to and don’t have to just be in the streets. The kids can look at me and see I’m official. I ain’t no fake dude.
ESSENCE.COM: So now that you have changed and are on the show, are you treated the same in Harlem?
JASON: They have given me a lot of love on the show. People don’t treat me any different. I was still in the street last year and I have just washed my hands with everything. The show gave me my positive outlook and my break; right before that I was negative. And now I am still respected and I don’t have to walk a different block. My whole outlook now is to attract some kids just like me and change their lives.