Joshua Smith-Benson considers himself a renaissance man. He freestyle raps, performs spoken word, is teaching himself how to play the guitar (when he has the time) and is embarking on the “365 Project,” which involves chronicling each day of his life with a photo for a year, after discovering a natural knack for photography.
But, there is one thing in particular that he does so well people don’t even know that he’s doing it: mentoring.
“You be mentoring folks, cuz,” is the number one question that friends ask Joshua Smith-Benson after they hear about his growing popularity. This time it’s coming out of the mouth of his fellow coworker as they file papers side-by-side in their small office, room 323 of Gibbs Hall.
Benson, a 22-year old resident assistant of three years, has earned a stellar reputation as the “mentor of Gibbs Hall,” although nobody can quite explain why. Not even Benson.
“I don’t understand why people are calling me a mentor,” said Benson. “I just love talking to people.”
The modest pharmacy student became an RA in his second year at FAMU, and originally took the job for financial reasons. RAs receive a $1,000 stipend per semester and free housing when living with a roommate, bonuses which Benson says he couldn’t ignore. However, he soon learned that being an RA also allowed him the chance to exercise his love for communication and helping others.
“I like talking with the guys because they have so much potential and some of them just don’t know how to cope with being away from home or maneuvering through FAMU,” he said. “I can identify with them because I had to come here and learn everything on my own.”
Benson says that he has given advice to his residents on everything from girls to majors. He prides himself on listening to others and watching his residents go on to do great things within the university.
“Seeing incoming students progress through school and become senate president or something like that, is amazing,” he says. “Fred Johnson (Mr. FAMU elect) was one of my residents and it’s good to see everyone grow. I remember when they came in all scared and now they are furthering their potential.”
Benson has also received recognition from the FAMU Office of Housing and Residence Life. He was named Programmer of the Year in 2008 for his successful event, “Open Mic Night at Gibbs Hall.” The event was so popular that it now occurs every Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
“People from FSU and TCC come as well. One time, we had 112 people show up,” he said. “You might see me up on stage because I freestyle and write rhymes.”
Devante Jefferson, 19, a first year business administration, met Benson while free styling at an “Open Mic Night.”
“He has given me musical advice,” said Jefferson, who will be releasing a mixtape this month called Fruit Punch and Ramen Noodles. “Josh is a rapper, and since I rap we interact musically. I let him listen to my beats to see if they sound dumb and crappy.”
Adam McNeal, 18, is also proof of Benson’s mentoring power. McNeal is not even a resident of Gibbs Hall, but he still has established a friendship with the RA.
“I sleep in phase III, but I ‘live’ in Gibbs Hall,” McNeal joked. “My brother is an RA in Gibbs, so that’s why I’m always here. I just started chillin with the guys and now Benson is like a big brother.”
The mentoring RA even saved McNeal’s spring break plans, a big deal especially to a college freshman.
“I was supposed to go to Panama City with a friend of mine and he ended up backing out,” said McNeal. “I was scrambling until I hit up Josh on Facebook and asked him if they had anymore room and he said that they did.”
So, what’s next for the mentor, friend, and pseudo big brother?
“I’m teaching myself to play the guitar,” said Benson. His guitar’s name is Roxanne and it is black, with sparkles everywhere.
He also has a love for photography.
“The last months of my life have been filled with photography. I’m doing the 365 project where you document your life every day with a photo,” said Benson. “People call me a renaissance man.”