This is a guest post by Terrill North:
Knocking on doors in District 20 will introduce you to national-level union bosses, campaigners for Nepal, law professors, and hundreds of professionals committed to social justice. Our community is lucky to have so many people who care, but unfortunately, they are not always people who know. They may not know D20 is home to the largest concentration of poverty in Montgomery County, or that the majority of children in public school qualify for free and reduced-price meals. They may know we’re diverse, but cannot name 10 Black or Brown people whose families form the majority of the population.
I can’t knock any of the names under consideration for our soon to be vacant Senate seat, I know most of them well and can say they legitimately care. Will Smith, however, has demonstrated the deepest connections to every corner of District 20. I first met Will while volunteering for IMPACT Silver Spring, where he worked with AmeriCorps connecting our most vulnerable neighbors with social services. He and I later chaired Montgomery County’s Community Development Advisory Committee, which decides how to allocate several million dollars of federal funding to organizations serving marginalized communities. Will has planted strong roots across populations that don’t always show up at the voting booth through long-term work with Gapbusters Learning Center and Gandhi Brigade.
And I don’t just mean to say that Will knows African-Americans, he started a scholarship fund for immigrant youth who did not qualify for most grants and scholarships because of their status. He is a natural problem solver who has taken his commitment to people at the margins from this community to the state legislature.
Will has already established himself as a leader in Annapolis. In fact, Delegate Smith passed more pieces of legislation last year than any other freshman legislator and was a strong supporter and leader in getting the Second Chance Act passed. He sponsored legislation creating tax incentives for employers who hire returning citizens (ex-offenders) and worked to create a reporting system for SWAT team deployments in communities of color.
As important, Will was appointed by the House Speaker to serve on two important working groups on justice reinvestment (think: reducing mass incarceration) and reforming the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (think: establishing civilian review of police misconduct). Will already has the confidence of leaders in Annapolis to represent the interests of people at the edge. Jamie Raskin always claimed the mantle of the effective progressive – he didn’t just talk a good game, he got things done for people that need advocates to get things done. Will has made building the necessary relationships to be effective a priority and will be the effective leader D20 needs in the State Senate.
It would be a big deal to send an African-American to the Senate from Montgomery because we have never done it before. But Will represents much more than that. I think people need to understand that Will is the first member of his family to graduate from college, a dream shared by many of the young D20 residents eating free lunch each day. His service as a Naval Officer and journey to Obama appointee and civil rights attorney is relatively unique, even in Montgomery County (where only half of high school grads attend college).
Half of arrests in MoCo are of black men, despite blacks making up roughly 19% of the population (34% in D20). Quite frankly, the American dream is at risk here as much as anywhere else. Will is unquestionably progressive and unquestionably qualified, but also brings a set of experiences that are unlike any other Senator from Montgomery. We need his voice at the table in the Senate and that is why I enthusiastically support Will Smith for Senate!