Devan Allen wasn’t initially interested in running for a Tarrant County commissioner seat in 2018, although colleagues often asked her about becoming a candidate.
She was fine with being behind the scenes, she said.
“I didn’t want to see myself doing it,” Allen, 40, said. “Not because I didn’t think I was capable, but just at that point I’d already then worked for three elected officials, city level to state level. I did government relations for UTA, and I just knew what it required.”
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As people asked her to run for City Council, she started thinking about which elected position would allow her to make the most impact. After thinking and talking with the community, she landed on running for county commissioner.
Allen made Tarrant County history in 2018 as the third woman to serve on commissioners court, and the first African American and Democrat to be elected as county commissioner in Precinct 2. She was also the youngest commissioner elected to the county at 36. The precinct she represents is the second most diverse of the four precincts and had been held by Republicans since 1985 until she was elected, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
Allen’s career extends to about 17 years in politics, to working as an EMT and running her own real estate firm. Now, having chosen not to run for re-election, Allen’s commissioner term will end this year.
Although Allen is an Arlington resident, she has strong Fort Worth roots.
Every summer, she spent time with her grandparents, who owned a house in the Morningside neighborhood in east Fort Worth. They provided stability in an otherwise tumultuous childhood. As evidence of this, she relayed that her grandparents’ address and phone number were the only ones she memorized. At her grandparents’ home, the phone was never shut off, and there was always air conditioning and heat, food and water.
“Most importantly, there was always unconditional love,” Allen said.
Allen was the youngest child of two incarcerated parents. Her father was out of the picture, she said. She lived in three different states and four different cities, constantly shifting schools until she entered high school. Her mother followed where the work was and where they could live long enough before they got evicted. Sometimes, they lived in motels or couch-hopped, Allen said.
Allen volunteered a lot growing up, and her mother and other family members influenced her, she said. Her mother didn’t have a lot of money, so they went to community meetings and became familiar with nonprofit organizations while living in Houston.
In high school, when she decided she wanted to be a doctor, she volunteered at a local hospital, cleaning sheets and rooms. That led to volunteer opportunities when she attended college at University of Texas at Arlington, going on alternative spring breaks.
“I don’t know if I ever really had a chance not to be a community volunteer, so I don’t really know any different,” Allen said. “It’s always been really important to me.”
During college and working as an EMT, she decided she wasn’t as excited as her colleagues to become a doctor. She chose a different path when she began working for former Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks and began a career in politics. She also served as a district director for state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, and worked in government relations at UT-Arlington.
Emily Amps, director of politics and policy at The Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, worked with Allen in Turner’s office. Allen went the extra mile by speaking with the community and through programs that help young women who may not have been afforded a lot of opportunities. She makes Tarrant County a better place, Amps said, because she is mindful of the community she represents.
“She’s a voice for a lot of people who haven’t had a voice at that level of government and has really done an incredible job ensuring that people who don’t normally have access to information from their government leaders have somebody that they can reach out to if they need help or have a problem,” Amps said.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a Republican, said he tried to convince Allen several times to stay on the court. Whitley hoped to have Allen on the court for many years to come.
“I think she brought some new ideas and challenged us to think in different ways,” Whitley said.
Allen hosted many town halls on issues impacting the community at the time, Whitley said. She went on to chair the IT committee and was involved in the National Association of Counties.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Roy Brooks, the other Democrat serving on the court with her, described Allen as extremely bright. She asks good questions, and is always well prepared. Allen goes through every agenda with a fine-tooth comb, taking notes and thinking through which questions she could ask during meetings, he said.
“If she doesn’t get an answer at that meeting, then she asks the question available at the next meeting so that she can ask again,” Brooks said. “She never lets anything slide by without an answer.”
Allen’s concern for those she represents about being fully informed and being able to weigh in on what’s going on at commissioners court is unparalleled, he said.
Allen said she spent most of her term focusing on equity and access. Part of that was translating information into the primary languages of the communities she represented: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic.
At first, Allen said, she automatically thought she would run again. Most commissioners and elected officials choose to run for another term, unless something particularly negative happens during office or a huge life change happens, she said. Allen thought she would do the same. Then she began to put the same amount of thought into a second term as she did when she originally ran for the seat.
“I ultimately came to the decision that even though I trusted that I was effective, and even though the community, most of the feedback that I received was positive, it came down to it was no longer the right time,” she said.
In previous Fort Worth Report coverage, Allen declined to comment on why she was not running for the commissioner seat again. In a letter announcing her intention to leave office, she wrote about the reason why she served.
“I was sent to serve the people. To show up and speak truths even when bullied, even when disrespected, even while openly and behind closed doors, enduring discrimination in various forms,” Allen wrote. “And while I don’t condone the actions of any of those who so regularly and pridefully enacted such willful ignorance, immaturity, or hatred, I can acknowledge that through the pain, the work you sent me here to do was reaffirmed.”
The “bullying” mentioned in the letter isn’t a factor as to why she’s not running again, Allen said. She gained tough skin and got into a fair number of fights growing up, she said.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the people who became unhappy with me for calling out some of the issues were at times my own colleagues, or even others within the county … but I always had to remember my purpose for being there,” Allen said.
Allen knows what she will be doing after her commissioner term ends Dec. 31, but did not want to share her exact plans, she said. She did confirm with the Fort Worth Report that it would not be any sort of political office.
“I’m not going to go as far to say that I would never serve in elected office again,” Allen said. “But I was meant to serve on this court for this time until Dec. 31 of this year. And so I’m choosing to make that time the most impactful that I can.”
Devan Allen bio:
Moved to Fort Worth: Arlington resident with Fort Worth roots
Family: Proud aunt and godmother of eight
Education: University of Colorado at Denver – Ethnic relations, Tarrant County College – Emergency Medical Technology and UT-Arlington – Bachelors in pre-medicine biology
Work experience: Former EMT, council aide to a Fort Worth mayor pro tem, district director in both the Texas Senate and House, senior director of external affairs at UT-Arlington, founder and principal of Allen Realty Advisors, Tarrant County commissioner for Precinct 2.
Current – Texas Right to Vote Statewide Advisory Board, Salvation Army Arlington Mansfield Council, LBJ Campaign School for Women Mentor
Immediate past — DRC Community Solutions to End Homelessness, Chair of the Arlington Community Relations Commission, inspirED Advisory Committee, New Leaders Council Advisory Board, Women Inspiring Philanthropy, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition and a founding member of BRIDGE Young Professionals
First job: Part-time tutoring job when she was 12 years old for a summer bridge program to help pre-k students transition to kindergarten. Her next job was at 14, selling funnel cakes at Six Flags.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Leadership is about service, not about titles. Let your actions as a leader speak louder than your words. True leadership is taught by doing which means sometimes making mistakes. Learn from those mistakes by allowing them to humble you as well as encourage you to learn to be better for those whom you serve.”
Best advice ever received: On the importance, value and power of love from 1 Cor. 13:4-8
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.