San Antonio’s Will Smith Foundation clears confusion amid Oscars backlash

SA nonprofit is not affiliated with actor Will Smith, continues to support local children’s organizations

San Antonio's Will Smith Foundation has received backlash even though they're not affiliated with the Hollywood actor.

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio nonprofit organization has been caught in the middle of an Oscars awards controversy because of the name of its foundation.

The Will Smith Foundation started in San Antonio in 2007 to honor the life of a child lost too soon.

Susan Naylor Sellers is the organization’s founder and mother of William Smith. Her son died in a car accident in 2007 in Hawaii.

She was unaware of some of the backlash her nonprofit was receiving until early Monday morning.

“I really don’t watch TV and I certainly I didn’t watch the Oscars,” Naylor said. “I started getting some really odd grant requests -- people that wanted to fight me or fight Will Smith.”

Naylor said she’s received messages in the past confusing her foundation with the actor, but the tone of these messages were “very derogatory” and “childish comments about the actor.”

The foundation has no affiliation with the actor Will Smith. Naylor said for the past 15 years, the foundation’s “mission statement is to provide positive life experiences for children.”

Many of those experiences include supporting organizations who provide outdoor activities for children because her son loved to play outside.

“He got to be outdoors, be around animals and fish, and do things that you know a lot of kids in South Texas get to do, but a lot of kids don’t get to do,” said Naylor.

A major part of the foundation’s legacy is the Will Smith Zoo School. It’s new campus was named after William in 2018. It is a nature-based preschool with hundreds of children enrolled.

“Will could walk through the zoo and name every animal there, even the really odd, exotic ones. We loved going there and we participated in the zoo a lot,” said Naylor. “I am proud that they honored Will that way and carried forward that mission of getting outside, loving each other, loving animals. That was Will.”

To date, the foundation has supported dozens of local nonprofits for children and will continue its mission despite the recent mix-up involving the Academy Awards.

“It lets Will live on through these other children and it heals my heart,” said Naylor. “It is important I think that the San Antonio area know that this is their own son. Will was born here. This Will Smith has a kind, benevolent heart.”

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.