Before she carried the torch to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, Opal Lee was a teacher and counselor in Fort Worth and a longtime civil rights activist.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger is not only the first woman mayor of Fort Worth, but in 1997 she became the first Texas Republican woman elected to the U.S. House, where she remains a staunch supporter of the Panther Island Project.
While both women are still making their presence felt in Fort Worth and beyond, there also are plenty of other women who play vital roles — even if behind the scenes — in the city.
Lorena Marin is mentoring medical students. Tamara Albury is teaching young women to fight for a seat at the table. Jeanette Frank is building community around the Trinity River. Sara Herrera is teaching the next generation of artists. And the work of women helps shape city policy through the diversity and inclusion department.
For International Women’s Day, which celebrates the achievements of women around the world while still raising awareness for gender inequity, the Fort Worth Report highlights some of the women making Fort Worth the city it is today – and brightening its future.
Fort Worth native returns home to mentor the next generation of artists
Sara Herrera started her job as the education director at Artes Academy in January 2020.
The Fort Worth native had been away for about 23 years, living in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., but felt called to come back to her hometown.
As the education director for Artes Academy, she works to make sure that kids today have the opportunity to see and learn from instructors they can relate to in a variety of disciplines.
Artes Academy is an after-school and summer arts program that serves third- through 12th-graders, giving them the opportunity to explore dance, theater, creative writing, animation and 3D printing.
But, she didn’t have very much time to settle into her new role before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and she would have to determine how to set up the program’s summer session in a way that kept both students and staff safe.
“It was a very stressful time. I earned a lot of beautiful gray hairs, I will tell you,” she said.
Herrera remembers being the only brown girl in many of her dance classes growing up and wanted to make sure that other students like her know that they belong.
“I really wanted to work with Latinx youth … showing them that no matter the color of your skin you belong in these spaces and pursuing a career in the performing arts is attainable,” she said.
When they walk out of her class, Herrera wants students to know that they are cared for, which is why she encourages students to believe in themselves and not fear failure.
“You’re going to fail and that’s going to be OK because you’re going to learn from that failure,” she said. “Hold that chin up high.”
— Marcheta Fornoff, arts and culture editor
How one principal is uplifting the next generation of ‘sisters of the plaid’
Tamara Albury studied sociology in college and didn’t anticipate going into education. She studied in Africa and Brazil, learning about women and oppression.
While abroad, she learned about the struggle some women have in accessing education, part of a journey that led her to take the reins at Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Fort Worth ISD.
“Every day, I get to level the playing field for my students in my building,” Albury said. “They’re going to be marginalized in society. We give them the tools so that they’re able to take seats in the room that they traditionally have not been allowed to be a part of. But not only that, taking it a step further so they have seats at the table, but they’re also able to lead the table.”
Her philosophy is not just to teach her students academics, which can get them an interview, but Albury said it’s the soft skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, that get them jobs.
If students at Young Women’s Leadership Academy want to start a club the campus doesn’t already have, they can find 10 people and a sponsor and present a proposal to Albury. The club proposals are a practical way to teach leadership and other soft skills.
The next generation of women cheers each other on, and they see the light in their sisters next to them, Albury said of her students. Young women from across the city attend her school, but they’re all united by the plaid skirt they put on every morning.
“They have fire and they’re ready to take on the world,” Albury said.
— Kristen Barton, education reporter
Running club founder connects residents to the river that runs through Fort Worth
Jeanette Frank grew up in Fort Worth, but her love for the outdoors didn’t blossom until she moved to California. When she returned to the city in 2013, Frank wanted to tap into that passion within her hometown.
“As soon as I landed, I tried to join other running clubs and get connected with people who are active along the Trinity Trails,” Frank said. “I wanted to talk and connect with people, but people were already done by the time I finished. They were just there to get their run in.”
After signing up for a half-marathon, Frank invited friends to run with her. Before she knew it, dozens of people began showing up at the WestBend retail center on University Drive each week.
Frank’s efforts soon turned into Social Running Club, which welcomes people of all abilities to a free four-mile run or walk every Wednesday. The group will celebrate its 10th anniversary April 12.
Organizing the runs brought Frank into contact with the nonprofit Streams & Valleys, which works to expand access to the Trinity River. In early 2022, she went from being a “super fan” of the organization to launching its Friends of the Trinity River membership program.
“They are wanting to grow a community behind them with a grassroots feel, like the way we did with Social Running,” Frank said.
Membership has grown to just under 200, with donors enjoying recreational activities and a new educational series, T*RiverTalks.
As a Fort Worth native, Frank feels a sense of responsibility to the Trinity River – and to ensure newcomers and longtime residents feel the same.
“It’s very humbling to see that we still have a lot of work to do. People are still getting connected to the river,” she said. “It’s changed so much within the last 10 years, and I’m so excited about the growth of where we’re going to be.”
— Haley Samsel, environmental reporter
Women-led department focuses on diversity and inclusion, promotes female leadership
It takes intention and focus to ensure that women are represented as leaders in every industry, including government. Christina Brooks and Angela Rush, with Fort Worth’s diversity and inclusion department, are purposeful about developing women for leadership positions.
There are several women in the city manager’s office, but just a few who hold department head positions. Last week, the city named another female department head, Lauren Prieur, to lead the city’s transportation and public works department.
Women make up 72% of staff working for the Diversity and Inclusion Department, and 33% of those employees are leaders in the department. Key to cultivating female leadership is allowing women to bring their whole selves to work, Rush said.
“I think if you want to have a happy, healthy, productive workforce, you have to embrace that,” Rush said. “You can’t divorce one part of yourself when you get here.”
The department is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws, cultivating awareness of Fort Worth’s diverse cultures and ensuring city policy is free from racial, ethnic and gender disparities.
“I feel a huge responsibility to our residents, in that I feel like this entire department touches the most basic needs, their housing, their employment, their access,” Rush said.
Work dominated by women — such as nursing and teaching — has a history of being undervalued both in compensation and prestige.
Those biases affect diversity and inclusion efforts too, Brooks said.
Several Texas Universities recently rolled back diversity equity and inclusion efforts in their hiring processes. Efforts to advance diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace have also started to meet broad resistance, according to the World Economic Forum.
“Even though diversity, equity, inclusion may be undervalued, it’s typically because there’s a misunderstanding of what we do,” Brooks said. “It’s for the good of the whole community, there isn’t a person that exists that doesn’t have a complex identity.”
Both Brooks and Rush are focused on ensuring that the next generation of passionate leaders will pick up where they left off.
“My hope is that every young woman within the sound of voice is never put in a position where they feel bullied into being less of who they are, to diminishing who they are because they think that is what people want them to do,” Brooks said. “Don’t ever shrink to make someone else feel tall.”
— Rachel Behrndt, government accountability reporter
Med school admissions director is a ‘cheerleader for student doctors’
Lorena Marin grasped her own fortitude in grad school, poring over studies about the barriers Latino candidates face when applying to medical school.
She’d never wanted to be a doctor, but she knew those barriers in her own way: A middle child of six, Marin was the first in her family to earn a college degree, then a master’s.
“I was doing my homework in the office, and I just started crying,” she said. “It made me realize, yeah, I’ve had so many barriers. But look at where I am now.”
Marin is the assistant director of admissions at the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. But her vision — to help medical students, especially those underrepresented in medicine, become doctors — requires a multitude of hats.
For one, Marin mentors dozens of students. She writes them birthday cards, takes them to lunch, checks in on their studies and spirits. She’s also an interpreter and cultural liaison; later this week, she’s accompanying a group of medical students for a mission trip near the Rio Grande. She monitors students in the JAMP program and those at-risk of dropping out.
And, she’s the architect of a series of kids camps and teen programs to help young people learn about medicine. Latinos en Medicina, a camp for children, debuted last summer.
Her philosophy, in part, is to always say yes — a consequence of the challenges she navigated growing up. They gave her grit, she said. They allowed her to “be visionary.”
“I think that makes me even a better mentor for students,” she said. “Because I can say, I understand. I’ve been there.”
Her empathy gives way to reassurance. To the many children and young adults who’ve crossed her path, her message is simple and weighty: “Hey, I care about you. I see you,” she said. “I know who you are.”
— Alexis Allison, health reporter
Community advocate strives to make life better for the ‘next person’s child’
Elaine Klos refuses to slow down.
She’s long been involved in improving mental health, child homelessness and neglect, adolescent pregnancy, pay equity, HIV/AIDS and public education across Fort Worth.
“You have to realize that if you want the community to be the place that you want your children and grandchildren to grow into and live, then it’s up to you to make the difference,” Klos said. “Not because of your children, but because of the next person’s child.”
As the daughter of a clothing factory worker who led a local union chapter and an education advocate, the idea of giving back, serving and championing change came naturally to her.
The Philadelphia native has always been vocal while serving on boards and throughout the Fort Worth community. Since moving here in 1969, she has dedicated her years to advocating for issues that mattered to her – and the community as a whole.
“When I ran for public office the first time, one of the questions that was asked was, ‘You’re just a mom, just a housewife.’ ‘No, I’m not just a housewife. I make an impact,’” she said.
From 1996 to 2004, she served on the Fort Worth ISD board of trustees where she led efforts to establish after-school meals for elementary schools and bring family resource centers to campuses. Klos led the City of Fort Worth’s pay equity study in the 1990s and successfully helped get legislation passed for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, to include dental and vision coverage in Texas in 1999.
As the next generation of advocates prepares to take her place someday, Klos encourages women to support something they are passionate about, no matter how small they start.
“It’s important for women to be at the forefront. It’s always been important for women to be at the forefront,” Klos said. “You need to get out there and you need to raise your voice.”
— Sandra Sadek, growth reporter
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Berhrndt is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.
Haley Samsel is an environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcheta Fornoff is the arts and culture editor at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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