Dottie Smith: The First Black Woman Trustee for State Center Community College District

Everyone in Fresno should know the name Dorothy “Dottie” Smith. As the first Black woman to be elected as a Trustee to the State Center Community College District (SCCCD) Board, she is an essential piece of Fresno.

Trustee Smith served on the board for 33 years, from 1981-2015, longer than anyone else to date. Approximately 1.7 million people and 38 unified and high school districts are served by the SCCCD Board in more than 5,743 square miles of urban and rural territory. This includes most of Fresno and Madera counties and portions of Kings and Tulare counties.

I had the privilege of speaking with Trustee Smith on the phone, and I think she should be a role model to everyone. We conversed about her accomplishments and childhood. Throughout our phone call, I felt the warmth of her kind words. She encouraged me to continue driving towards success in school and told me in a stern but loving voice that I would absolutely go to college. Even in the brief time that we spoke, Trustee Smith did not doubt my ability to excel in education and life, which was part of the reason I enjoyed talking with her so much.

With strong opinions, Trustee Smith talked about her election to the board and our communities’ education. She served on a small county school district board before running for the State Center Community College District Board. Having worked previously as a teacher, principal, counselor, and program manager in K-12 schools, Trustee Smith knew exactly what students were prepared for when they entered college and how to better their education. Trustee Smith said that she was reading the paper in the morning with her mom when she decided that she would run. Being a principal while she was sitting on the board, Trustee Smith said she “was able to better help [her] teachers and students prepare for that next level.” 

Constantly keeping in mind what was best for the students, the staff of our district, and our community, Trustee Smith has always said that she was elected “to do the people’s business.” The “people’s business,” as she says, is our community and our students, and ensuring that they are supported, uplifted, and given every opportunity to succeed. When young people are successful in education and life, our communities flourish. Trustee Smith has been quoted saying, “Every student deserves the opportunity to succeed,” and I believe that she has genuinely kept that in mind her entire life, whether she was working as a teacher or sitting on the SCCCD board. 

“I want you to know that it does take a village; it takes a community. We all have to be interested in our community and our young people.” This is what she knows to be true about education, and if anyone in Fresno knows this, it’s Dorothy “Dottie” Smith.

Kiera Kaiser (any pronouns)

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