Linda Dorcena Forry, BC ’96, got her start in politics as a legislative aide to former state representative Charlotte Golar Richie, after graduating from the Carroll School of Management (CSOM) with a bachelor of arts in operations management. She never thought that job would inevitably lead her to one day run and be elected as a state representative and then a state senator.
The Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics hosted Forry on Tuesday at its weekly Lunch with a Leader series. Forry discussed her journey from her parents’ Dorchester home to representing over 160,000 constituents as a state senator.
After three and a half years as an aide, Forry followed Richie to the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development, a city office that provides services and programs to neighborhoods throughout Boston. She worked there as an executive assistant for six years, doing a lot of what she called “behind-the-scenes work.”
Forry credits her parents, who both immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, for instilling in her a desire to help others. She recalled how her parents used to invite a number of neighborhood kids to their home each night for dinner. Forry and her siblings were very involved in community groups including the local Boys and Girls Club. Her parents still own the Dorchester duplex that the family grew up in.
Forry brought her community-centered values with her to BC.
“Even though I was here living on an awesome campus, I was always going back to my community,” Forry said. “The Boys and Girls Club would have a college fair, so we would go down to [it]. We would bring [high school] students up here for them to get a feel of what it is to go on to college and to live on campus.”
In 1996, the same year Forry graduated from CSOM, Richie was first elected to represent the constituents of Forry’s home district. Forry jumped at the opportunity to work in Richie’s office as a constituent services aide, helping the same people she worked with at the Boys and Girls Club and other community groups. She often attended community meetings, met with constituents, and learned the inner workings of the legislature.
“I loved meeting people, I loved working with people, and so that job was just a perfect fit for me,” she said.
When Forry first starting working for Richie she had no political aspirations of her own, until then-state representative Martin J. Walsh—now the Mayor of Boston—a Forry family friend and WCAS ’09, called on her to run for the 12th Suffolk seat vacated by retiring representative Thomas Finneran. Forry, who beat out five other candidates, was sworn in as the district’s first representative of color in 2005.
Initially, Forry was hesitant about running for the seat, but after months of thinking it through she jumped into the campaign, and then relied on doing what she always loved to do—meeting people. In a district of about 40,000, Forry said she “out door-knocked everyone,” including going into some of the district’s tougher neighborhoods in South Boston in knee-high snow. Some days she spent six hours walking up and down streets introducing herself to voters.
Before being elected to the Senate in a special election last year, she served for eight years as a state representative. She was appointed in 2009 the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, where she and other members toured the commonwealth to learn about the needs of small businesses.
To an audience of about 25 students Tuesday afternoon, Forry stressed that good leaders listen to others, find common ground, and compromise on the ideas or policies where they differ. For her, being immersed in her community throughout her life had helped shape her successful political career.
“As you leave [BC] and go into your communities, please remember that you live in communities, you live with neighbors on the left and right of you, and it’s important to get to know what’s going on on your street and in your neighborhood,” Forry said.
Forry, the only Haitian American elected official in the state, just last year completed her master’s in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She currently serves as chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government and she represents areas of Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and South Boston. Forry is running for reelection in November.
Featured Image: Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff