"If you give your time, that's the only way we can change," he said.
Smith spoke through tears Wednesday night after deciding for the first time to protest during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before New York played the Miami Marlins. It was a last-minute decision, spurred by reports he'd seen moments earlier about athletes boycotting games across the country.
While the Mets were at Citi Field, three Major League Baseball games were postponed, along with games in the NBA, Major League Soccer and the WNBA. The athlete-driven protests are a reaction to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times as he attempted to enter the driver's side door of his vehicle with three of his children inside. Video of the shooting was distributed on social media.
By the time Smith recognized the gravity of actions being taken by other professional athletes, the Mets and Marlins were deep into their warm-ups, first pitch moments away.
"To kind of see those things happen very fast, it wasn't really a thought over here," Smith said. "But that's why I decided to take a knee tonight.
"I've been very emotional. Just to kind of see this continuously happen, I mean, it was a long day for me. Kind of wasn't there mentally.
"I think the most difficult part is to see people still don't care. For this to just continuously happen, it just shows the hate in people's heart. That just sucks, you know? Black men in America, it's not easy. Like I said, I just wasn't there today, but I'll bounce back, I'll be fine."
Smith is a 25-year-old Black man from Los Angeles who was a first-round draft pick by the Mets after participating in MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) youth program. Following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Blake and others, Smith has been vocal about the injustices he has faced, both as a citizen and in a predominantly white sport.
"His world is much different than mine," teammate Michael Conforto said Wednesday. "So it's definitely helped me to listen and understand where he's coming from and where a ton of people are coming from here."
Smith didn't tell teammates he planned to kneel Wednesday, and Conforto wasn't even on the field when the anthem was played. Conforto said he wished he had been there to support Smith but also said he wouldn't kneel.
"It's the same as his decision to kneel," Conforto said. "Everybody has their decision. It's what I've always done. I think it's as simple as that. I don't look at Dom any differently because he kneels. I think it's as simple as that."
Smith said he doesn't care if white teammates kneel with them -- "it's not for them," he said. He's happy teammates are listening, but he also delivered an emotional plea while speaking with reporters about the needs of Black children -- particularly the ones in inner cities, growing up just the way Smith did.
"Money is just material things," said Smith, who works with the BaseballGenerations Foundation to provide an outlet for kids in South Los Angeles.
"I didn't grow up with money," adding that "doesn't mean nothing to me."
"If you can give your time, that's the thing that matters," Smith said. "That's why I feel so emotional about it, because people give their money, they leave. Can't do that. You have to be there for the children that are coming up after."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.