Derrick Walker believes in keeping his head down, working hard and putting money back into his business, Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, where he is the owner and pit master. He is helping feed his community, but some in that community need help.

To address the need, United Way Tarrant County began partnering in November with the nonprofit BRAVE/R Together to bring solutions to racial inequalities resulting in the lowest life expectancy rate in Texas to the 76104 area code. As part of helping find these solutions, BRAVE/R Together awarded nearly $110,000 to 13 organizations.

“Once we read that research report, we came together and said, ‘OK, we have to find a way to work together and to do something about it,’” United Way Tarrant County CEO Leah King said.

Organizations awarded grants

Akachi Ranch

CoAct North Texas

Community Frontline

Community Healing and Mental Health Project

Create + Collaborate

KEEN Group Inc. (Kids Environmental Education Network)

Maroon 9 Community Enrichment Organization

Morningside Middle School

N2C Youth & Community Services 

Pragmatic Prodigies

Southside Community Garden

Talking Drum Network

The BRAVE/R Together’s public phase started in July 2021. Founder Shawn Lassiter said the organization started as an idea about four or five years ago when she started looking at inequities in education. From there, she said, she engaged her community to address the issues in schools. The organization expanded from there and was developed to think about doing community work differently, not using a top-down approach.

The group works with grassroots organizations already in communities and helps provide them with resources to do their work bigger and better, Lassiter said.

“Hopefully, we can begin to chip away at some of those racial inequities that were caused in 76104 primarily by the highway that was put right in between the community,” Lassiter said. “And you can see the stark differences between one side of the highway and the other. The Black and brown side have the lowest life expectancy in Texas and the other side has the hospital district in it.”

About a year ago, Lassiter and King connected at a training and talked about a recent article that said the 76104 area code had the lowest life-expectancy in Texas. They decided to find a way to partner together to address the issue.

“We just looked at all of the surrounding things that impacted that, which was education, health care, housing, employment, and wealth inside of 76104,” Lassiter said. “BRAVE/R Together really goes into the community, builds trust with community members who are already doing work around those issues, and brings them together and helps them to align their resources to have a greater impact.”

A five-year plan has been created to address these issues. It is split into three phases; the first is gathering information and building trust in the community. The next is funding innovative solutions, and the third will be putting them into place while BRAVE/R Together monitors the process.

Census info for 76104 area code

Population: 18,344

Median Age: 30.4

Sex: 53% female, 47% male

Median Household Income: $31,450

Poverty: 33.9% below the poverty line

Race and Ethnicity: 16% white, 36% Black, 1% Asian, 1% two or more races, 45% Hispanic

Data from censusreporter.org 

Over time, there will be a need for about $3 million, King said. For the first year, the initiative needs $900,000, and half of that is secured. United Way is working with partners to secure more funding. Additionally, the community can donate.

King said the $3 million budget will be used on three different areas: community investment and events, program and infrastructure, and a BRAVE/R team. The first includes the community grants, stipends for community ambassadors and community events like roundtables and workshops. Under program and infrastructure, funds will be spent on technical assistance, coaching and training for community organizations and conducting a data dashboard and an equity audit and research. The remaining money will be used on a program director, administrative assistant and a program coordinator.

“We recognize that not only from the leaders that are investors, but some of the smaller organizations, smaller nonprofits that are highly effective and very well trusted within the community, but they’re under-resourced,” King said. “And so a good portion of the initial funding will be used to provide grants to these organizations to help them to scale the services that they provide.”

How to donate

Anyone who wants to donate to United Way of Tarrant County for the BRAVE/R Together partnership can do so online at: https://www.unitedwaytarrant.org/donate/ 

The program has 15 ambassadors, and 10 of them are from 76104. They go out in the community and have conversations with people, Lassiter said. They’re divided up into four groups: health care, housing, education, and employment or businesses

Walker, 44, said he attended a meeting BRAVE/R hosted to engage the community. It included business owners, city representatives and nonprofit representatives. The meeting discussed issues in the community and how they can be addressed.

“I’m not going to say that I’ve had a lot of barriers or a lot of hurdles for the simple fact that I kind of keep my head down and I just grind. I’m just one of those people,” Walker said. “I haven’t really reached out for any help. I hadn’t tried to get any grants or any funding. I hadn’t tried to sign up for anything special.”

But during the meeting, Walker learned about ways business owners can get grants or other help to grow their business. He said the campaign shared a lot of information he and others there were not aware of, such as how to become a government-certified African American business.

The campaign will help business owners with filling out the necessary paperwork for certifications and qualify for grants.

One of the biggest issues Walker sees in his community he wants addressed is a lack of grocery stores. The area is a food desert, meaning the poverty rate is 20% or higher, or the median household income is 80% less than the median income for the region, and at least 33% of the households live more than a half-mile from a large grocery store or supermarket.

One idea Walker has is to purchase a piece of property in the community and start a small grocery store, he said. He wants to be able to deliver groceries to older people in the community.

“Not like Wal-Mart, older people over here don’t know how to get online and order groceries,” he said. “I’d like to see where they could call into the grocery store like they used to do years ago and actually talk to a person, place an order and then those groceries be delivered to their home. I think that would be great.”

A pillar of BRAVE/R Together’s work is health care, Lassitar said. That means looking at both mental and physical health, and food plays a large part in both.

The group has been working with Southside Community Garden and other local organizations doing similar work, she said. They are doing a lot of listening sessions and roundtables with community members to see what they want addressed and find innovative solutions.

“We know that we have to do some things in the short term to help support communities right now in real time,” Lassiter said. “But we also have to work on some of those longer-term solutions like policy changes to work on these issues systemically.”

One issue they found in the community was related to Morningside Middle School, where children did not have anywhere to go after school and were hanging out around the campus, Lassiter said. There was not an after-school program for the kids or resources for one.

There is the Southside Community Center, but it charged entry fees. BRAVE/R Together and Community Frontline paid fees, Lassiter said, but they also took the issue to the City Council and the mayor. The city changed the policy at the Nov. 30 City Council meeting so that children do not have to pay to use community centers starting Jan. 1, 2022.

These are the kind of solutions Lassiter said her organization aims to bring to the community. When presented with questions of how to get kids off the street or more active in school, ambassadors sought and found immediate solutions that can have long-term impacts.

Another issue was helping business owners get a minority-owned business designation, which can help with getting city contracts, she said. BRAVE/R Together helped connect businesses with resources.

“But that’s just something small. We’ve got to do something bigger, right?” Lassiter said. “We have to figure out what the barriers are between those businesses being able to have access to those resources.”

The hope is BRAVE/R Together can work with community partners to achieve long-term goals like longer life expectancy, Lassiter said.

King said access to health care, despite the medical district being so close, is an issue for the area. Aside from a lack of health insurance among residents, mobility is a problem.

“If you have some type of mobility challenge, or even just lack of access to transportation, getting to the facilities can be a challenge,” King said. “And then let’s say you get there, but it’s difficult to continue to take time off of work to go for your follow-up checkups. So, the ability of a patient even to comply with the prescriptions, if you will, that come out of the doctor visit. All of those things create these growing gaps in not only accessing health care services but also within getting the prescriptions and taking them forward and actually putting them into action.”

They also want to highlight the history of the area, King said. That will include a video and audio podcast with walking history tours of 76104 with locals. She said it is important to not lose the history of the area.

For business owner Walker, “it’s huge” a group wants to come in and help his community.

“It just meant to me more resources and resources are always good,” he said. “Somebody was listening, or there was somebody there with the willingness to help, which is also great.”

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 education 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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