It is untrue, though widely reported, that Smith turned down a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); he never applied to the school, although he was admitted to a "pre-engineering program" there. According to Smith, "My mother, who worked for the School Board of Philadelphia, had a friend who was the admissions officer at MIT. I had pretty high SAT scores and they needed black kids, so I probably could have gotten in. But I had no intention of going to college
Born in West Philadelphia, Smith also lived in Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. His mother, Caroline (née Bright), was a school administrator who worked for the Philadelphia school board, and his father, Willard Christopher Smith, Sr., was a refrigeration engineer. He was raised Baptist.His parents separated when he was thirteen but did not actually divorce until around 2000.