Residents from across Fort Worth gathered Jan. 13 at TCU’s Dee Kelly Alumni and Visitors Center to discuss their community’s most pressing issues — and who gets to be heard when they bring up concerns.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve all of our community’s problems in an hour?” Jacqueline Lambiase, moderator and professor of strategic communications at TCU, asked those assembled.
Laughter echoed in the room as Lambiase admitted the impossibility of such a task.
Nevertheless, residents put their minds together to get as much done in 90 minutes as possible. Across more than 20 tables, groups of eight discussed a variety of topics, including education, sustainability, childcare, transportation, housing, public safety and mental health.
Rogue Water CEO Stephanie Corso, who participated in a table focused on sustainability and environmental issues, said she was processing the conversation and looked forward to seeing next steps.
“Let’s synthesize this information we gathered, and then do a ‘Now what?’” she said.
Lambiase and her research partner, Ashley English, plan on doing just that by analyzing the results of the listening sessions and distributing them to organizations working to address issues in Fort Worth. The Fort Worth Report will continue to cover the issues as well.
The Fort Worth Report is scheduling six more community listening sessions during 2023. These sessions will be in traditionally underserved communities. The next one is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. March 11 in the Lenora Butler Rolla Museum. The sessions will be posted on the events page of FortWorthReport.org and advertised through the Report’s newsletter and in the neighborhoods. If you would like to suggest a location for a session, please contact Marketing and Events Coordinator Jamese Branch at email@example.com.
When it comes to increasing sustainability in Fort Worth, Corso said, it’s vital that subject matter experts engage with the public in a way they can understand. To develop solutions, the effort needs professionals who can translate technical information into something easily digestible, she said.
Moderators who attended a training session with TCU researchers helped lead each table through a series of questions around their topic. Among those trained for the position: District 6 council member Jared Williams.
“We’re trying to model something for the community that we think would work really well (in other meetings),” Lambiase said. The killing of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019, she said, forced her and other academics at TCU to ask if they were doing enough to listen as a community.
Across the tables, residents answered questions trying to get to the heart of issues that mattered most to them. Conversations started with a simple query: Who gets listened to in Fort Worth?
Several attendees pointed out that often only those with institutional knowledge and power end up having their voices heard by elected officials. People with economic advantages also tend to bend the ear of those in control more often, they said.
Participants also discussed the best venues for productive listening. At a table focused on mental health, a participant pointed to the importance of officials keeping an eye on conversations happening on social media. At one of the education tables, someone pointed to the need to schedule school meetings around parent needs.
At the end of the individual table discussions, the groups nominated an individual to present their takeaways to all conveners.
“Affordable housing needs a sexier name,” one group leader quipped during their presentation.
“We build it, but they don’t come. Well, then build it around their needs,” another leader said of engaging parents through education support networks.
Estrus Tucker, cofounder of DEI Consultants, ended the event with a call to action.
“What happens after listening is the most powerful factor in the room,” Tucker said.
Resident Juan Galindo participated in the education discussion. He found it helpful to hear all of the perspectives from fellow residents and wished the event had been longer so that he could hear more from the other tables, he said.
The most important thing is getting these conversations in front of decision-makers and pushing them to take action, local investor Stephen Chacko said. Chacko participated in the table discussing economic development.
“We have to bring quality actors here,” he said. “I don’t see Robert Sturns (head of Fort Worth economic development) here. I don’t see the head of Tarrant County Economic Development here. The format is good, we just need to get into actionables.”
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. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.