| Follow Us:



En Garde! Detroit

1401 Vermont
Detroit, MI

Bobby Smith

By Tunde Wey & Claire Nelson 
March 21, 2012

Bobby Smith’s weapon of choice is his words. He is an enthralling speaker with the sort of confidence that eloquence and self-familiarity breeds. Whether on stage, in a conference room or at an intimate café table, Smith conjures powerful images of a new social entrepreneurial paradigm.
His weapon is sharp and swift, harming only ignorance, as he describes how business can begin to understand social issues in terms of opportunities. Sometimes to further thrust his point, he carries a sword.
At 28, Bobby Smith is CEO of En Garde! Detroit, a for-profit business providing inner-city (as well as suburban) youth access to the sport of fencing. It is the first social entrepreneurial company in the USA dedicated to the sport of fencing. He also started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Sword Dreams.
What he brings to his students is much more than athletic recreation – Smith uses the sport to deliver community outreach, youth development, and mentoring, with special attention to healthy living and financial literacy.
Since its establishment in 2008, En Garde! Detroit has worked in over 15 schools in Wayne and Oakland counties and partnered with community groups, recreation centers and healthcare providers to deliver a message of wellness to youth. Their impressive program reaches around 1,000 youth a year through workshops, demonstrations and extended programing.
With En Garde, Smith is challenging the way education, particularly physical education, is delivered in schools. Fencing, according to Smith, is as much mental sport as it is physical. Oft referred to as “physical chess,” fencing fosters concentration and focus – benefits that translate to academic success.
From Smith’s perspective, the problem is not that kids aren’t smart or inspired enough to learn, but rather that they are not healthy enough to do so. By focusing on the health and physical well-being of youth, Smith says, we can begin to increase school attendance and student participation. This is a unique perspective considering the flow of investment in education has been to bulk up material resources around core curriculum – more books, more teachers, more labs.
Beyond stimulating academic success, Smith describes fencing as a “gateway drug” to other cultural experiences, broadening the vistas of the participating youth. These ancillary benefits motivate Smith’s insistence on fencing as an educational tool. And he should know – for Smith, this is deeply personal.

The inner city of New Jersey, where Smith grew up, stands in stark contrast to the elite world of fencing. Smith considers himself saved by the sport from a life of violence. First introduced at the age of 13, he immediately took interest.
It was his seminal experience at The Peter Westbrook Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit offering fencing to inner-city youth, that put Smith on the path to where he is now. His experience there improved his fencing abilities, enabling him to attend Wayne State University in Detroit on a fencing scholarship.
Today, he is paying that opportunity forward – doing for other youth what was done for him. He recently joined the community of social enterprises at Ponyride, a creative incubator in Corktown, where he can keep his overhead low while focusing on growing his outreach and impact. He presents his work whenever he can, captivating audiences at TEDxDetroit and Model D’s IdeaLab. Earlier this month, he took third place at Detroit Harmonie’s “Get Funded Challenge,” winning $3,000 to teach fencing and life skills to more young Detroiters.
Through these and other engagements, Smith has come to represent not just his own endeavors, but Detroit’s growing social innovation movement at large. When he speaks, he asks all the right questions to inspire others to join him in leading change. “I want to see if deep down inside, am I capable of doing something? Could I then impact the community with this and make a real, significant impact?” Smith is just getting started, but there are early indications he already has.

Portrait by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed

Related Projects

  • Empowerment Plan
    The Empowerment Plan is a humanitarian project to make and deliver a coat that is self-heated, waterproof, and transforms into a sleeping bag at night for people living on the streets.
  • Ponyride
    Ponyride is a creative incubator that provides cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks.

Related Resources

  • Ponyride
    Ponyride is a creative incubator that provides cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks.