Like most of the country, Fort Worth’s history is marked with moments that segregated, hurt or even killed people of color.

To address the remnants of racism, the Rainwater Charitable Foundation has brought a group called Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation to Fort Worth to help come up with and provide solutions for racial equity in the city.

Rainwater Charitable Foundation President Jeremy Smith said the foundation has funded multiple organizations that have worked with Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation and all have spoken highly of the experience.

Smith said the foundation is spending $275,000 for the Dallas nonprofit “to provide a dozen organizations with training, including information sharing, case study presentations, policy review and development, ongoing coaching, and support with developing tangible outcomes.” 

The group’s goal is to create a “radically inclusive city,” said Marta Torres, 30, manager for the Dallas nonprofit’s Partnerships and Transformation.

The group works to achieve those goals by addressing racism through enacting change, building relationships and establishing policies, Torres said. In Fort Worth, the group started with community visioning sessions. Next, it will collect data and then present solutions.

Racism and its history in Fort Worth

People from the community are invited to attend a series of meetings to share stories about how racism affects the city. There have been nine meetings so far, dating back to June 14, attracting about 55 attendees. 

Upcoming meetings

6-7:30 p.m., Sept. 29, Central Meeting room at the Central Library, 500 W 3rd St.

6-7:30 p.m., Oct. 5, Artes de la Rosa, Rose Marine Theater, 1440 N Main St.

6-7:30 p.m., Oct. 12, East Regional Library’s meeting room, 6301 Bridge St.

6-7:30 p.m., Oct. 26, Artes de la Rosa, Rose Marine Theater, 1440 N Main St.

You may RSVP online at racialequitynowtx.org 

During the sessions, members of the transformation group give a brief presentation on racism and racial equity, then ask questions to foster discussion.

Jesse Herrera, executive director of the Fort Worth nonprofit CoAct, has been participating in the visioning sessions.

“A lot of it was really just being comfortable with talking about race and racial equity,” Herrera said. “One of the solutions I could see that could become immediate is trying to create spaces where these conversations are more common.”

Herrera and Torres said the Fort Worth Way has been a recurring topic in community meetings.

“There’s a culture in Fort Worth that’s kind of been solidified that we have become comfortable with, and we have to figure out how do we, I guess, break that,” Herrera said. “We often hear that the Fort Worth Way is the way that we do business in Fort Worth, that’s just how things are. A part of that really stems into the relationships, the value that relationships play.

“At times, it seems like there are pivotal players within the city, they can make it difficult for new thoughts to be appreciated, new leadership to be appreciated, and can make it difficult sometimes to get some of the things that we want to get done that lead to more equitable future,” he said. “Because it often feels like we’re having to go back to the same usual suspects in order to get approval.”

While there are drawbacks to the Fort Worth Way, he said, there also are benefits to a relationship-based city. It’s easy to strike up conversations, but it can create hurdles to finding solutions.

Aside from the Fort Worth Way, there is a history of racism that needs to be addressed, Texas Christian University professor Max Krochmal said.

Krochmal is an associate professor of history and founded the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. He has attended the visioning sessions as part of the community for the project.

As in the rest of the country, Krochmal said, the history of racism in the city starts with the takeover of indigenous lands for colonists.

“Settler colonists came to Fort Worth and claimed land as their own and built farms, including plantations where they enslaved African descended people,” he said. “And they did it by violently displacing indigenous peoples in the area, so that’s the beginning — conquest, genocide and enslavement.”

Even the name of the city comes back to that history of colonialism, Krochmal said. 

“Fort Worth was created as a fort, a military encampment, designed to keep native groups at bay and make the land safe for Anglo settlement and extraction,” he said. “So, it was born out of that moment of violence and of conquest.”

TCU is working on addressing its own racism in its history with a Race & Reconciliation Initiative. Professor of African American Studies Frederick Gooding Jr. is the chair of the project.

Fort Worth residents gather for a meeting with Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. The group is working to address issues of racial equity in Fort Worth. (Courtesy of Marta Torres, Dallas TRHT | Fort Worth Report)

Chancellor Victor Boschini charged the group with studying TCU’s relationship with slavery, racism and the Confederacy. The initiative is looking closer at history to tell a fuller story.

“Right now, I think many complaints are valid about how it may be unbalanced,” Gooding said. “What we want to do is take stock of our archives and records, secondary sources, and see whether we can paint more complete pictures to know how we arrived to where we are.”

The group will collect the information and figure out a way to present it to the campus and alumni communities, he said. What happens next with that information is an ongoing discussion.

Although Gooding applauds the Dallas group for its work, which he said is very difficult, he wonders why a Fort Worth organization is not leading this charge.

“I think the intentions are great,” he said. “It’s just a matter of recognizing the impact on what it means to find the right voices — because it does take time to find voices and to build those relationships and to cultivate that trust.”

Smith said Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation was not chosen over a local group and it is not an either/or competition.

“We have and will continue to fund similar work from organizations based in Fort Worth and other communities,” Smith said. This past year, Rainwater Charitable Foundation has funded more than 200 grants totaling more than $25 million to organizations based in the Fort Worth community, not including grants to other parts of the country.”

Collecting the data

As the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation listens to these concerns and the history of race in Fort Worth, another TCU department is taking notes and compiling data.

Gabriel Huddleston, associate professor of Education and Director for the Center of Public Education and Community Engagement, said the center was hired by the transformation group to do program evaluation.

A team of graduate students attends the visioning sessions and collects data on observations in the meetings.

The TCU center will use the data to see how the visioning sessions are working, how they can be improved, and how the transformation group can improve its mission, Huddleston said. TCU also hosted a visioning session.

The center is collecting qualitative data, which isn’t number-based, but instead records the questions the Dallas group asks and how the community answers, Huddleston said.

“The reason that we’re doing that is because they’re very much concerned with really getting at the heart of what Fort Worth community members are wanting to do in terms of talking about racial healing and ways that Fort Worth can be transformed,” Huddleston said. “Our hope is by attending these visioning sessions and recording it through note taking and trying to pay attention to some really powerful moments and quotes that community members are giving them that then will help the Dallas Group in terms of trying to think about next steps in terms of what they want to do within Fort Worth.”

The center is involved only in the collection of data. Its role does not include preparing solutions, he said.

“We hope that we can continue the partnership so that we can help them do the type of work that I think, personally, is really important for the area,” Huddleston said.

Solutions for racial equity

There are several areas the group will work to transform, Torres said. Those include law, racial wealth gap, education, housing and racial equity.

Fort Worth residents gather for a meeting with Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. The group is working to address issues of racial equity in Fort Worth. (Courtesy of Marta Torres, Dallas TRHT | Fort Worth Report)

The organization plans to share a larger and more expansive community racial history and the results of the visioning sessions. This will lead to a shared new community vision for Fort Worth, Torres said.

Once the sessions are complete — the last one is scheduled for Oct. 26 — the evaluators with TCU will present a report and data, Torres said. That will lead the group to begin a new Racial Equity cohort in Fort Worth after the beginning of the new year. Dates and an application for the cohort will be available online.

Since the effort is still in the visioning stage, Torres said, the program does not yet have the solutions it will present lined out.

Smith said the hope for the initiative is “a community where no divisions exist because of race, and that all children have equal access to a great education and the opportunities education provides.”

“TRHT contributes to this by helping organizations address race and racism forthrightly, and by combating racism’s lingering effects in their respective organizations and our greater society,” he said.

Krochmal said transformation in the city would require just that: total transformation.

“It would have to be a complete overhaul of the existing patterns of governance and economics in Fort Worth,” he said. “Going back a long way, Fort Worth has been governed by a small clique of white elites. They used to be on 7th Street at the Fort Worth Club and they had called them the Seventh Street Gang, and they made decisions behind closed doors and in smoky back rooms and came out and told the city what was going to happen.”

He said that has not changed much, and the group is just somewhat larger. Krochmal said the political system does not represent communities in Fort Worth.

“What this initiative needs to do, first I think centering the stories of African Americans and of other people of color, indigenous peoples and telling a truthful, accurate history of the region is vital in terms of being able to make sense of why we have the persistent inequalities that we have today in Fort Worth, why we have these structures of government and industry that are not responsive to the needs of the many in the city,” he said. “And then, we really will need transformative structures that make the systems intentionally more small, democratic, more inclusive, more representative.”

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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