Helen Benjamin

Helen Benjamin

Rev. Larry D. Smith

Rev. Larry D. Smith

SBCC to Host Discussion with Black History Month featured author Helen Benjamin and Rev. Larry D. Smith

In honor of Black History Month, Kindred Murillo, SBCC interim superintendent/president, invites the community to a virtual event, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Feb. 28, when Helen Benjamin and Rev. Larry D. Smith will discuss the new book “How We Got Over: Growing Up in the Segregated South.”

Edited by Benjamin and 23 of her fellow graduates of Peabody High School Class of 1968, the book is a series of vignettes capturing the Black experience of childhood and teen years in mid-20th century Alexandria, Louisiana, and the surrounding areas.

The stories told reflect the different life experiences of the 24 graduates living with the racial, social and economic injustices present in an entrenched Jim Crow society of the 1950s and ’60s. 

Tune in to hear the conversation via Zoom at https://bit.ly/3Hg5WNY. An audience Q&A will follow.

Benjamin and Smith have known each other since third grade. Both graduated from Peabody High School in 1968. Their paths diverged after high school, but they reconnected in 2020 along with 22 of their fellow graduates in the writing of their personal narratives, which appear in “How We Got Over: Growing up in the Segregated South.”

They both credit their parents, a caring community, and excellent teachers for their strong interest in academics and civic affairs.

Benjamin served as interim superintendent/president of SBCC for nine months in 2019 and six weeks in 2021. She currently serves as a community college consultant in board and management development, strategic planning, and governance.

Her distinguished career in education began as a classroom teacher in Dallas, Texas. In 2016, capping off a 44-year career in secondary and higher education, Benjamin retired as chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District.

Benjamin was the first African-American and first woman to serve in a permanent role as chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District, a position she held for over 11 years.

Benjamin served as president of the California Community Colleges CEOs, president of the board of the Community College League of California, and chair of the California Promise Leadership Team.

She holds the distinction of being the first community college representative appointed by Congress to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

She served with distinction as convener of the Presidents’ Round Table of Community College African American CEOs and on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). In April 2019, she received AACC’s Leadership Award.

Benjamin is co-author of “Harvest from the Vineyard: Lessons Learned from the Vineyard Symposiums” (2016), and a co-editor and contributor to “The Chocolate Truth: An Anthology of Perspectives from Community College CEOs” (2012).

She was among 20 community college CEOs from throughout the country to participate in the first White House Summit on community colleges held by President Barack Obama.

Rev. Smith attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master of arts in Black studies (1973). He pursued further specialized study in criminal justice at the University of Miami, Colorado State University and San Diego State University.

He studied public policy at Miami of Ohio and Christian Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Rev. Smith is a retired civil servant, having served the State of Louisiana through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections for 37 years. He was the first and only African American to serve as warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola).

Over his career span, he has received three gubernatorial appointments, numerous awards, and was one of the highest-ranking civil servants in his field.

Always trying to give back to the community, Rev. Smith has been involved in a host of community programs; however, he said he is most proud of his involvement with 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge.

He served as pastor of historic Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church in Alexandria, Louisiana, for 21 years. He retired in 2020, and in 2021 was elevated to the position of pastor emeritus.