A true woman of Renton: The story of Benita R. Horn

A staple at community events and a leader in Renton’s Black community, it’s hard to believe that Horn was actually born and raised in Portland, Oregon.

Equity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Renton city goals and planning over the last decade, all thanks to the hard work, dedication and compassion of a woman named Benita Rodriguez Horn.

A staple at community events and a leader in Renton’s Black community, it’s hard to believe that Horn was actually born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Years before becoming a full-fledged Rentonite, Horn attended Reed College, while working part-time for the Pacific Northwest Bell telephone company.

By her junior year, Horn was offered a promotion that took her away from college and set her up at Bell for many years, which led to an early retirement in 1990. For a lot of people, retiring in your 40s is a welcome opportunity and a dream, but not for Horn.

For her, it was a green light, not a yield sign.

“I had to decide all over again, what I was going to do when I grew up,” said Horn, who took a career exploration course at Bellevue College, which ended up giving her more career options than she had anticipated.

“It said, ‘well, you’d be good at customer service, you’d be good at education, you’d be good at marketing’,” she said.

It was around this time that Horn’s friend LueRachelle Brim-Atkins had started her own consulting firm and Horn was brought aboard a big contract as a consultant, which was the kickoff into the next phase of her life.

“I always thought of it as being something like a Sherlock Holmes,” Horn said of her early consulting work. “[Businesses and organizations] tell you what they think they need, which usually isn’t what they actually need. It’s about working with them and learning more about their organization, what they’ve done, what they hope to do, to help them find a path toward achieving their vision.”

As time went on, Horn’s consulting work had her conduct diversity training in Seattle, where she used the three-part documentary “Race: The Power of an Illusion” as content in her work.

“I created a training outline for the facilitators to guide participants through learning activities that help deepen their understanding of what they saw on the video and it turned out to be very successful,” Horn said. “Everybody in human services went through them and ultimately, that became the standard foundational required training for all city of Seattle employees.”

Horn’s team developed workshops, which led to her working with the city of Renton, where she had been living for 20 years.

According to Horn, Renton had added inclusivity to its city business plan in 2008 and by 2014, she was asked to consult on the matter.

“I said, ‘Well, what kinds of things are you doing?’ And so they began to talk about some of the things that they were doing and what I could see was that it was mostly activities, like sponsoring community events. But they really weren’t doing anything systemically,” Horn said. “I said, if this is your goal, it should be reflected, and manifested in all of your systems, whether that’s hiring or employment or promotion, or training for employee development, and it should flow through all the other goals.”

From there, Horn became an equity consultant for the City of Renton and her work in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) proved to be a major success. By investing in community engagement, Horn cemented herself as an important figure in the city. In 2020, Horn and fellow Rentonite John Houston filmed their “Virtual Tour of Renton’s African American Historical Sites” and in 2022, she helped create the Renton Equity Commission. The next year, Horn was honored with a city proclamation, which designated On April 3, 2023 as “Benita R. Horn Day.”

“Benita Horn began our journey to bring awareness to our elected leaders and staff of the importance of recognizing implicit biases, inclusion fundamentals, equitable programs and inclusive access to city services,” said Mayor Armondo Pavone during the proclamation.

After nine years of working with the city, Horn has moved on to the state level, becoming a DEIB consultant for the Association of Washington Cities.

“I’m a person who is best when I’m learning and stretching, you know, which is what I love about consulting,” said Horn of her current work with AWC. “One of the things that I’ve seen in the state of Washington is, despite what’s happening at the national level, is it’s given me hope.”

Though she’s now working with municipalities throughout the state, Horn still lives in and stays connected to Renton where she says her female friendships — her “sister friends” — have been a foundation, especially since her divorce.

“Over the course of my life, it’s always been women who have really supported me and given me a hand up and advocated for me,” Horn said. “And I find that in the city of Renton, there are many, many women that I feel have supported me.”

Though her 77th birthday is coming up this year, there’s no red light in sight that can stop Horn from continuing her work and sharing her warmth and kindness.

“I love what I do. I always tell people, I wake up excited every day, because this is my hard work,” said Horn. “And, you know, my hope is that my endeavors, both professionally and personally, will make an impact and make a difference.”