In his nearly 40 years in Fort Worth, Community Frontline founder Dante Williams has yet to see change in the city’s Black communities — his community — and he points to “The Fort Worth Way” as one of the many obstacles toward equity.
“When I look at my city, when I look at my communities in which I grew up, they feel and look the same,” Williams said. “The Black community in this city — you look at economics, you look at education, you look at police encounters; when we talk about equity, we talk about inclusion — Black people are dead last.”
Williams was part of a panel speaking to a packed ballroom Feb. 16 at Texas Wesleyan University to discuss “The Fort Worth Way” as part of a “Candid Conversations” series sponsored by the Fort Worth Report.
Fort Worth is a big city with a small-town feel that has the potential to become the next big place if its leaders at the table represent all aspects of the community, panelists and some in attendance said. However, for some communities, an old system has prevented some marginalized groups from making their voices heard in this process.
“The Fort Worth Way” holds different meanings for different people. For some, it reflects the small-town spirit that makes a big city like Fort Worth hospitable. But for others, it refers to a long history of excluding certain people from having a seat at the table for Fort Worth’s important conversations.
“It’s often a way of doing business and making decisions for communities without always including the perspectives of those that our decisions are going to be affecting,” Leadership Fort Worth Executive Director Jennifer Treviño, another panelist, said.
Longtime Fort Worth journalist Bob Ray Sanders moderated the discussion. Along with Williams and Treviño, the panel featured Betsy Price, former Fort Worth Mayor, and Alex Jimenez, former vice-president of TXU and board member of Rocketship Public Schools in Texas.
For many communities of color, Jimenez said, the term holds a negative connotation, one that excludes diverse voices from being seated at the table and avoids public conflict, instead opting for closed-door dealings and a lack of transparency.
“Maybe that worked at one time when we were 400,000 people (in the city),” Jimenez said. “Now we’re almost a million, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. And the problem is there’s no diversity in those closed doors, where they’re making decisions. I think we’re afraid of people who disagree with them.”
Former Mayor Price also acknowledged the perspective certain communities have of “The Fort Worth Way” but noted that this idea has been changing over the past few years, pointing to her time in City Hall and her efforts to move away from the term.
“Are we perfect? No, we’re far from it. We have a long way to get there, but most people and most communities do have a long way,” she said.
Price also encouraged people to get involved in leadership positions, on boards and in organizations to make sure those missing diverse voices are heard.
“There are far too many people who want to complain, but they don’t want to be at the table, answering and doing the hard work,” Price said. “If you ever want to see a change, you have to step up and help us.”
While serving on boards is important, Treviño said, there are barriers to certain communities being able to serve and be a voice for some, whether it’s pay, time off or just juggling too many responsibilities. She also emphasized not having the same people constantly speaking for an entire group, thus preventing a transactional approach to fixing “The Fort Worth Way.”
“Recognize everybody has an agenda. Whether it’s churches, neighborhood groups, elected officials, we all are trying to do things for our organizations but trying to do it in a way that is hopefully collaborative and is inviting other people to the table,” she said. “Turnover can be good because we bring those new ideas and perspectives and networks to the table.”
Victoria Puente-Peters, a consultant and 2020 graduate from Leadership Fort Worth who attended the event, has had personal experience with “The Fort Worth Way” and described this conversation as the first step in dismantling that issue.
“We need to say keep having uncomfortable conversations until leadership starts to admit that there is an issue with racial and gender inequalities in Fort Worth,” she said.
John Davila, another attendee, said he appreciated the panelists’ honesty in addressing this topic.
“The more you have panels that are very frank about issues and concerns, the better the conversation is. It’s gonna definitely open some ears, open some eyes,” Davila said. “Someone needs to continue these conversations about all these different issues continually so that people make sure they start seeing your mind or start being active or start getting more involved.”
As Fort Worth continues to diversify in age, race and gender, its leadership must be reflective of those underserved communities by digging beyond the surface and pushing back against the status quo, Williams said.
“I’m not doing this for you to see me. I’m doing this for change. I’m doing this for my people,” Williams said. “That’s what we have to really get to as a city, as a community is actually, not just looking at those of us in this room who could be the establishment or connected to the establishment, but push back on the establishment.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 20 to update Alex Jimenez’s name spelling.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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