Rodger Smith’s sole career aspiration as young boy growing up in North Preston was to have an office job. As the eldest of 8 children, Smith says he appreciated how hard his father worked to support his family as a plasterer in the 50s & 60s, and then a school bus driver until he passed away at the age of 42. Smith also recalls mowing lawns with his grandfather, who was the mailman for the Prestons, to help bring in extra money during the summer.
“Men in my community created their own work. Skills were passed down through the generations, however a lot of employment opportunities were not prevalent for Black men at that time. I knew I wanted a different life for myself,” says Smith.
After high school in 1972, Smith enrolled in a business diploma program at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC)-Akerley Campus. To pay for school, he worked two part-time jobs. The first one, Smith landed unexpectedly, while hitchhiking home after an unsuccessful day of door-to-door job hunting.
“A kind man offered me a ride. I remember talking his ear off about how nobody would hire me because I didn’t have any experience, but how was I supposed to get experience if nobody will hire me? Turns out that man was the manager of a grocery store on Portland Street. He offered me a job on the spot.”
Smith’s other job was a late-night gig, cleaning an office building on Hollis Street in downtown Halifax. He would spend every minute of his breaktime doing assignments for school the next day. Smith’s supervisor took notice.
“She was a Black woman who told me she wanted to see Black men succeed. She bent the rules for me and said as long as I got the cleaning work done to her satisfaction, I could take all the time I needed to do my homework.”
Smith went on to graduate from the program at NSCC at the top of his class in 1974, earning the Highest Educational Achievement Award. Upon graduation he landed a job at the Royal Bank, a career that would last for 35 years. During his tenure at the bank, he worked in different branches and moved his wife and three daughters throughout the province as he received promotions. He was the first African Nova Scotian to become a branch Manager at the Gottingen Street location in 1991, and the Lady Hammond Road location in 1996. Smith recalls one of his fondest memories occurred when at the Gottingen Street branch.
Staff photo of Rodger Smith circa 1987 taken by Royal Bank
“My old supervisor from the office building walked in. She was just so overjoyed that I had become manager of the bank! I eventually went out and bought a beautiful broach and gave it to her the next time she came in, to express my gratitude for all she’d done for me.”
It was a personal goal to retire at age 55, which he did. But retirement was not what Smith expected. In November 2011, he suffered a stroke. He says it took many years to learn how to speak properly again after doing speech therapy. Once he finally regained his health, Smith says he felt compelled to return to the workforce, to connect with people.
“It was through the grace of almighty God that I recovered. As a born-again Christian, I respect people. Not just people from my own race, but everyone. That’s also the way I was raised.”
In 2013, Smith began a second-act career as an Entrepreneurship Engagement Manager for the Black Business Initiative. In this role, he helps people in the Black business community by providing services such as financing, counselling, coaching and networking opportunities. Smith says he is pleased to see that the number of Black business owners has increased in recent years, although there are certain barriers that exist.
“The way to support Black business owners is to seek out their products and services from the many restaurants, retail, and other services. Promote Black businesses to your family and friends.”
Aside from his work at BBI, he is a volunteer member of the board of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission and a board member of 902 ManUp. He has received many accolades over the years and in 2017 was a recipient of both the Halifax Regional Municipality and provincial volunteer awards. He says he lends his skills wherever needed to entice other Black people to get involved in their community. At age 67, he says he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“To stay healthy, I eat well and work out three-four times a week, even at home during COVID. I plan to keep on working as long as I can, until the good Lord calls me.”