This is part of a series of profiles of candidates in Laurel’s mayoral race.

Brencis Smith, 34, president of the Laurel City Council (Ward 2) and candidate for mayor, grew up steeped in church and government. 

Brencis Smith
Courtesy of Brencis Smith

His parents, both Jamaican immigrants, held government posts in his hometown of Hartford, Conn. His mother worked in the state comptroller’s office; his father was the city’s assistant town clerk. Smith was frequently at city hall with his father, meeting politicians and observing public service in action.

His father also served as the minister of music for their 1,500-member Seventh Day Adventist congregation. Church “was where I spent my weekends growing up,” Smith said.“Friday was choir rehearsal, Saturday was church, Saturday evening was evening program and social, and Sunday was Pathfinders,” he added. (Pathfinders is a church program similar to Scouts.)

Smith was musically gifted. As a young teen, he helped form an a capella group and was its lead singer. “We sang all over Connecticut,” he said. He also played drums in high school so ably that he was recruited to accompany the University of Connecticut Gospel Choir.

After high school, Smith attended Oakwood College in Alabama for a year but decided to stay home the following fall because of his father’s failing health. He worked at accounting jobs through a temporary staffing agency. After three years, “my father passed in February 2012,” he said. “It rocked my world.”

The grieving Smith decided to seek a change of scene. He came to the Washington area, enrolling in an evening online program at Washington Adventist University and working full-time in accounting jobs. He moved to Laurel in 2015. “My friend bought a condo [in Laurel] and said, ‘Why don’t you move out here?’” Smith liked the location. “I felt I could take a job anywhere living between two major cities,” he said.

In 2016, Smith added another job to his work and school commitments: directing the youth choir at his church in the District.

He graduated from college in 2017 with a major in organizational management. Soon after, at the age of 28, he decided to run for the state delegate seat being vacated by Barbara Frush (District 21), who had held the seat for 24 years. Smith lost the election but in the process met Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and City Councilmember Keith Sydnor (Ward 2). Moe appointed Smith to the city’s homelessness task force, where he became co-vice chair. Sydnor urged Smith to run for city council. (Sydnor is one of Smith’s opponents in the mayoral race.)

In 2019, Smith secured his current job as a financial analyst for a D.C.-based engineering firm. That same year he won a city council seat;. he is now serving his second year as council president. He sees himself as a consensus-builder. “I haven’t voted no on anything since I was elected,” he said.

Smith sees his support of community events as a hallmark of his public service. In 2021, he led an expansion of the city’s formerly indoor Juneteenth celebration. He paid $2,400 out of his own pocket to rent a park and arranged for a DJ to play music, a food truck to sell Caribbean fare, black-owned businesses to set up vendor tables, a sorority to run games and a Black Jeep-owners group to display vehicles. “It was pretty much like a big picnic,” he said. The celebration is now an annual event  run by the city’s Juneteenth committee.

Also in 2021, Smith solicited partners for a back-to-school supply drive to benefit local kids, a turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving and a holiday toy drive for children in nearby hospitals. 

Then came the granddaddy of his events, an outdoor Afro-Caribbean festival in August 2022, inspired by his Jamaican roots, and the West Indian Day celebrations in his native Hartford. He teamed with a promoter, Carifesta, found sponsors and vendors, and helped raise $20,000 to cover expenses. Performers included Serani, a well-known Jamaican singer, and Ricardo Drue, an Antigua artist. “It was dancing, music and food,” Smith said. He estimated attendance at 5,000. Smith wants to make the festival an annual affair. And he has lots of other ideas: an interfaith gospel fest involving local churches, a jazz festival, an American music festival — “whether it be country, rock or R & B” — around July 4. “Music is one language everyone can understand,” he said.

He thinks such events are not only fun, but allow residents and local police officers to get to know each other in a positive atmosphere. “I want to make this city the most uncomfortable place for criminals, and I think we do that by bringing the community together,” he said.

As for economic development, “I envision our Main Street as a little King Street of Alexandria or Main Street in Annapolis,” he said. Smith also said he wants to see shopping areas, including the Laurel Shopping Center, updated, and he’s keen on attracting more diverse restaurants to the city 

“Laurel has so much potential,” he said. “Everything is blowing up [with development] around us, and I don’t want us to be left out.”