When Wallace Bridges was growing up in New Orleans, it was common for him and his five siblings to have someone from the neighborhood staying at their house. Typically, they could expect a pregnant teenager or someone possibly being abused.
His mother was the unofficial social services of the neighborhood. She took people in who needed a safe space. She fed people who were hungry. That community, grassroots care and activism set the example of his politics today.
Years of community service led him to the Fort Worth ISD school board meeting on June 28, when he was sworn in as the District 4 trustee.
“I am moved by how supportive everybody has been,” Bridges, 63, said. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind. But the support of what I’m doing and understanding the big picture as to why I’m doing it. … That’s a big deal to me.”
Board President Tobi Jackson said she is excited to see a deeply rooted member of the Historic Southside joining the school board.
“I appreciate Trustee Bridges’ willingness to serve as a trustee, the students he has served for so many years in the community,” she said. “The board is excited to once again have nine members and are ready to build a better Fort Worth into an optimal Fort Worth. A Fort Worth where students’ post-secondary ‘access’ and ‘success’ is the norm.”
Across state borders
Most of Bridges’ childhood in New Orleans was in a neighborhood that he said was similar to the Historic Southside of Fort Worth. The neighborhood he grew up in was mostly segregated, but he enjoyed living down the street from so many people who worked in the school he attended.
One of his best friends was the son of the vice principal, who lived down the street. He said that sparked his interest in education at a young age.
As he navigated growing up in that neighborhood during the crack epidemic, Bridges said he had to draw on positive role models. He spent a lot of time at his friend’s house with his vice principal. He remembers if he was there at dinnertime, the family would simply tell him to wash his hands and they would feed him, too.
When he later had kids, Bridges said, he replicated that same practice. If his kids had friends over at dinnertime, everyone ate. Again, family and community influenced him.
“We have to continue to tell those stories and say that’s the norm, that’s expected, that’s what community’s supposed to be,” Bridges said. “Even at a time when it’s out of the norm, we make it like it’s a social norm. It’s a set of expectations of how we treat each other. There is an expectation of us to look out for each other.”
About the time he was 20, Bridges was working with a ministry doing housing projects when he met some people from Bethesda Community Church in Fort Worth coming to help in New Orleans. They invited him to come visit Fort Worth.
He came and never looked back.
Serving the Southside
Bridges took some classes at Tarrant County College, but does not have a degree. He worked various jobs in the social services field and used trauma-informed care to help homeless youth through All Church Home, where he was a case manager.
He’s currently retired, but Bridges hopes to use that time to meet with people in the community to find out what they want out of their schools and what he can do on the board to help them.
The first time Bridges ran for a seat on the school board in 2021, he lost. But when he decided to run again, he had the support of his family cheering him on.
In fact, after he lost the first time, his 22-year-old daughter Alessa came to him and said, “When are we going to run again?”
That energy led him to another election, and this time, he won. Bridges said he hopes to get more people to care about schools, even if they do not have children or their children have graduated.
He said it’s important for an entire community to care about schools, because the education of children affects everyone.
While door-knocking during the campaign, he said he met a lot of people who had kids, but not in Fort Worth ISD, because they told him they didn’t think the district had the ability to educate their kids.
“There has to be a better marketing scheme to really get people to see that they’re doing something different from the district perspective,” he said. “Because if not, we’re going to continue to lose students. That’s an elephant in the room that, as a district, we have to address.”
As a trustee, Bridges said he’s going to give power to the people and listen to what they have to say and try to find the best solutions.
“It’s going to require all of us to roll up our sleeves across the board irrelevant to our political persuasions,” Bridges said. “We don’t have time to line up politically when it comes to our kids. Because they don’t care about that. If we really want kids to really believe that we care, show them that we can come together. We’re not going to agree head-to-head on everything, but when it comes to our kids, let’s find what we can work together, so we can move toward doing better.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.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.