tasha smith

By T. R. Causay

The daughter of a single mother who gave birth at 15 to her and her twin sister Sidra, actress Tasha Smith grew up around gangs, drugs and poverty in Camden, N.J., a city that one time was named the murder capital of the nation. “I’ve been to the worst place I could ever be,” she says to PEOPLE, “but I always had a dream—I knew I was going to go to Hollywood and be legit.” She’s telling her story now, she explains, to help encourage others. “Your dream,” she says, “is the best thing you’ve got.”

The Tasha Smith many of us know now is the beautiful, never-holding-anything-back woman who usually steals most scenes she is in. Usually playing no-nonsene character that tell it “like it is” is something that Tasha had learned first hand.

tasha smith and sisterThere wasn’t much else for her in 1970s Camden. Smith’s mother was addicted to drugs throughout much of Tasha’s childhood; while braiding neighbors’ hair for pocket money, young Tasha would imagine she was Chaka Khan. By 14 she was “going to the bar with my boyfriend, smoking cigarettes and ordering Hennessy. But I knew I wasn’t going to sell drugs and have five kids with five different men.”

Smith escaped to the west coast with the help of some friends who sent her a plane ticket. The high school dropout stayed with friends, estranged family members–anyone who would take her in. She only had been in L.A. for just about a year when she saw comedian Martin Lawrence at the Comedy Act Theater. Hooked, she developed her own “angry, X-rated” stand up routine and started landing gigs, eventually appearing on stage with comics like Dave Chappelle.

“I loved the performing,” she says. But it wasn’t making ends meet, so she started secretly stripping to add extra money to her pocket. Then one morning in 1997 she faced the truth.

“I was sick of myself. I was doing weed every day and drinking. I hated the way cocaine made me feel, trying to go to sleep after being up for days.” Frightened and depressed, she found help in religion, becoming a Christian. Quitting stripping and the club scene got her head clear; classes with drama teacher Ivana Chubbuck helped convince her “I wasn’t as ugly as I thought inside,” says Smith, who now teaches classes for her mentor. Acting jobs followed in the shows Boston Common and HBO’s The Corner. Filmmaker Tyler Perry, who met Smith through mutual friend Tyra Banks, cast her in his comedy Daddy’s Little Girls, released earlier this year. “Tasha brings all her pain to her roles,” says Perry. “She has taken her rough past and made it her art.”

And the rest is history as they say.

Smith’s mom now has 25 years of sobriety her sister is a successful mom. “This is the American Dream,” says Smith. “It’s all possible.”

Post courtesy of BlackDoctor.org.