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Keller @ Large: Former State Senator Talks Politics, Culture and Diversity

BOSTON (CBS) -- Former State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry joined Jon Keller for an exit interview as she begins life in the private sector after 22 years of working for the public. She discussed politics and had advice for young people of color.

As a voice for the constituents of Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston, Hyde Park, and Milton, over the years, Forry said she loved every minute of it.

"With regard to the struggling segments of your district, has this progressive state done right by them?" asked Keller.

Forry responded that she did her best to improve transportation, housing, and job opportunities in those areas.

"One of the big ones, I would say for me, on the South Boston waterfront, there's a big headquarters hotel that's being built, there is a significant number of businesses that are owned by people of color that are part of that development and that didn't happen by accident. It was intention legislation that I worked on that got done."

There are frustrations that come along with being a state senator, though.

"The frustration is that there are people who call the office when they are losing their homes, or families are being broken apart, where there is issues around domestic violence but really more of a mental health and addiction," Forry said. "How do we really start bringing in and thinking collectively and holistically around helping our young children?"

"We can do more."

While Forry believes there will be a "spirited debate" for her former seat, she said the public and private sectors can do more to promote diversity.

There are organizations that encourage women of color to run but Forry said the bottom line is "you have to be involved in the community. You live there, know your neighbors to your right and your left but also go to meetings. This is how you start building the foundation, in terms of running for office."

A poll conducted by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe last June revealed that 42% of Bostonians thought their city was racist. Keller asked, "do you agree with that?"

She said, "I'm a native Bostonian, born and raised in Dorchester, and I can tell you, we have come a long way. I think a lot of people from outside of Boston still think of us as the 1970's busing era...we have to do better."

"A lot of times we get comfortable in our neighborhoods, whether you live in Charlestown, South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, people get comfortable in not wanting to leave and venture out from their communities. There are great restaurants coming into our communities now, we just need to be able to make it accessible and let people know that this is your Boston."

Both culture and politics are to blame, said Forry, though she credited Mayor Marty Walsh for his focus on diversity.

Forry left Keller on an inspiration note with a piece of advice for any young person of color:

"I tell you, from my parents' experience as a first-generation American, I can walk into a room being the only person of color, I belong in that room. And that's what I say to young people when I talk to them.  It may be a little uncomfortable, but I want people to own their place, where they are in that moment. So if you are the only black person coming into a room, walk in that room, own the room, introduce yourself, because you belong there. So many people came before us through blood, sweat, and tears, that I am able to sit here as the former State Senator for the First Suffolk District."

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