West Hartford Town Councilor Adrienne Billings-Smith was surprised with the news Tuesday morning that she had been named the state’s ‘Remarkable Woman of the Year’ for 2022.
By Ronni Newton
Adrienne Billings-Smith is rarely surprised, but Tuesday morning she was was shocked, and then elated.
“I knew I had been nominated, I knew we had the four finalists, but I had no clue,” she told We-Ha.com a few hours later.
Billings-Smith got home late Monday night from her job as a flight attendant (she’s also an attorney, plus holds many unpaid leadership positions in the West Hartford community), and drove down to New Haven early Tuesday morning for an interview on WTNH’s “Good Morning Connecticut” program. She was sitting with anchors Keith Kountz and Alyssa Taglia, watching the synopses about the other three finalists for the statewide award, and thinking each one should be the winner.
It came as a complete shock when she was told she was named Connecticut’s 2022 Remarkable Woman of the Year. “It was a wonderful surprise, and I’m honored to be recognized,” Billings-Smith said.
It also surprised Billings-Smith when she learned just a few weeks ago that her wife, Susie Billings-Smith, had nominated her for the contest run by WTNH’s parent company, Nexstar. Nominations were made from Nov. 29 through Dec. 31, 2021. Criteria included community contribution, self-achievement, and family impact.
“What determines if someone is remarkable? Is it the amount of time and energy they contribute to their community, career, and family? Or is it how their extraordinary efforts have impacted themselves and the people around them? If those are the metrics used to determine if Adrienne Billings-Smith is a remarkable woman, she exceeds all those expectations,” wrote Kate Hamilton in the nomination essay submitted by Susie Billings-Smith.
The Billings-Smith family has only lived in Connecticut for eight years, moving from Florida to West Hartford with their young son, Russell, who will turn 9 on Sunday and is currently a third-grader at Aiken Elementary School. In the past two years in particular, Adrienne Billings-Smith’s impact on the West Hartford community has indeed been remarkable.
She founded and led Concerned Parents of Color, which has the mission: to advocate, propose and produce effective change in education, legislation, and representation in West Hartford.
Billings-Smith collected coats and handed out backpacks and school supplies to needy children, and soon she was involved in other community organizations: the town’s Human Rights Commission, the Noah Webster House & Historical Society Board of Trustees, the Civilian Police Review Board.
She led the efforts to rename West Hartford’s town green – which formerly honored a man who was a slaveholder. The triangle of land on South Main Street in West Hartford Center was the site of the town’s first Juneteenth celebration – which Billings-Smith spearheaded in 2020 – and in 2021, “Unity Green” was officially renamed, with the celebration serving as one of the cornerstones of a weekend of Juneteenth celebration that included the unveiling of a striking racial justice mural honoring local and national civil rights leaders.
The MLK39 mural, a Connecticut Murals project of RiseUp for the Arts, was created by renowned local artist Corey Pane, but Billings-Smith played an integral role in inspiring its design. “I’m super excited about it, because when we did the renaming of Unity Green we wanted it to be bigger than a piece of land,” she said last year, noting that it was part of a movement and a learning process to truly understand the town’s history and commitment to equality and justice.
“Adrienne’s uncommon love of learning and desire for continuous self-improvement led her to create a genealogical project focusing on the roots of early Black American families in the area. These efforts resulted in a current West Hartford resident learning about and connecting with his unknown history and lost heritage. So impressive are the results that the University of Hartford awarded her a grant to continue this research,” Hamilton wrote as part of the nomination essay.
In November 2021, Adrienne Billings-Smith won election to the West Hartford Town Council.
“I care about our future, and how we can do better,” she said. She wants to ensure that everyone, including her son, feels welcome and safe.
When she was interviewed as a finalist, Billings-Smith said she was asked what it meant to be a remarkable woman.
“I said, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the people who are around me … the shoulders I have to stand on.'”
Billings-Smith, 40, a self-described “Air Force brat,” was born in North Dakota and raised in Florida by her mother and grandfather. She was a basketball star in high school as well as in college at the University of Central Florida. (She said she wore her jersey when her former team played UConn last week, but has also been a “huge UConn fan” since the days of Rebecca Lobo.)
“I grew up in a very supportive family. … They made sure I saw everyone as equally as possible,” she told WTNH. “West Hartford is a wonderful community. We do have diversity. We are becoming more inclusive of folks, we’re doing the work,” she said.
Her contributions thus far are just the start the impact she is making on her adopted hometown, wrote Dawn Ennis in an article about Billings-Smith published by Forbes in June 2021.
Billings-Smith now moves on to the national version of the contest, and that winner will receive $5,000 to be donated to a charity of their choice.
Billings-Smith said she’d like to have a celebratory dinner and glass of wine – but not until after the next two nights of budget workshops with the Town Council. “I’m just happy being a proud wife and mother,” she said.
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