“People need to see it to be it,” said Loretta Smith, speaking on the importance of representation and how people don’t think of pursuing pathways where they can’t find faces to identify with.
Smith, a former Multnomah County commissioner, recalled a five-hour-long town hall meeting that was pivotal to her career, where she met with a full house of Black and Brown men from the Portland area to learn more about their wants and needs. Understanding the people Smith is representing is important to her.
“Representation matters, different voices have different backgrounds.”
Smith was on the LBCC campus on Feb. 1 for the first day of Black History Month.
“Happy Black History Month everybody,” Jason Dorsette said as he introduced Smith, “Thanks for joining us here today.” Dorsette is the executive director of LBCC’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (Forum 220), which is hosting on the college’s Black History Month presentations.
Smith, also greeted the crowd, making brief eye contact with everyone in the room. Smith, the first woman of color to hold a county commissioner position in the state of Oregon, gave listeners a quick history of how she started her career in politics.
Local government is not a role for everyone, she said, “You have to deal with the neediest and the naughtiest.”
However, she added, “If you want to effect change quickly, that’s where it’s at.”
A point of pride in Smith’s career is that she was able to pass 105 ordinances during the eight years (2011-2019) she served as commissioner. With a vision of representing the under-represented and a passion for lifting up and focusing on the under-served BIPOC communities in the Portland area, Smith was able to provide more resources, such as summer jobs to BIPOC youth and mental health services, just to name a few.
Smith focused her time as commissioner on building more resources for kids and families of color, “most people have the same basic concerns,” Smith said, reflecting back on all the people she has talked to in her career.
Albany City Councilor and LBCC instructor Ramycia McGhee has been coordinating Black History Month celebrations since she started at LBCC five years ago.
“I came up with this idea more than a year in advance,” she said. McGhee and Smith’s paths crossed more than once in the last year, having been introduced to one another by the mayor of Albany, Alexander D. Johnson II. After getting to know Smith, McGhee knew she wanted to invite Smith to campus to speak.
Smith has an education in communications. Smith’s first job out of college was working as a staffer for Senator Ron Wyden, who at the time was still a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where she stayed for 21 years.
In 2022, Smith lost her election for a spot in Congress and is no longer working as a county commissioner. In 2019 she opened Dream Big Communications, a business that offers communication consultancy services. After three decades in local government, Smith is still working on bringing people together and improving Oregon communities.
If you’d like to attend a future African-Americans in Government event, the EDI office is also hosting presentations on Feb. 15 and Feb. 22.
At a Glance:
What: African Americans in Government presentation
When: Wednesday, Feb. 1
Where: Forum, Room 220, LBCC Albany Campus, 6500 Pacific Blvd. SW
What’s Next: Mayor’s Panel, Feb. 15, noon, EDI office Forum 220
For More Information: Institutional Equity, Diversity & Inclusion | LBCC (linnbenton.edu)