Megan Henderson said being called a leader is an honor, but it makes her feel squirrely. She thinks leadership is a group effort.
Henderson, 40, is the events and communications director at Near Southside, Inc., a nonprofit that is dedicated to supporting and revitalizing the Near Southside community. For her, that means organizing events like Arts Goggle – which stretches two miles and features more than a thousand artists, and Open Streets – a four-hour event that opens up Magnolia Avenue to activities like face painting and yoga classes.
The growth of the neighborhood was not the result of one person’s good idea. It’s more like a big game of Red Rover, she said.
“The people who have stayed, who have invested, who have a house here, who live here, and work here, they’re the home team,” Henderson said. “Then slowly, very thoughtfully, we’re going to add people one by one by one.”
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Henderson has seen the growth with her own eyes. Growing up in Cleburne, she used to visit Magnolia Avenue to hear live music as a teenager. It terrified her parents, she said. There weren’t as many all-ages clubs in the area at the time, so she would stand outside the door and listen to the music filter through the walls of the historic buildings. The area was grittier, and rebellious. Her go-to place was the Chat Room Pub.
“The spirit of the Near Southside, of people who were just kind of fighting to make their own way, to have their own voice,” Henderson said. “This counterculture vibe … I loved it so much because I’m like that’s right, I’m sick of cowboys too. And I’m sick of cow culture … it just felt like a neighborhood that had a spirit that was uniquely its own.”
Understanding the role of small businesses
At an early age, Henderson was taught the importance of supporting small business. Her parents were aviation pilots and owned their own small businesses, and she spent a lot of time at the airport. When she was 10 years old, her parents went through what she called a catastrophic bankruptcy that left her family with little money. Her parents kept trying to rebuild the business for the next 20 years, and into her adulthood.
What stuck with her, she said, is that no matter how much money they had, her father would go out of the way to support small businesses. He would buy a hamburger from a local restaurant instead of a chain. He bought tires at a local tire shop because he knew the owner.
“For me that idea of always, no matter how destitute you are, still having something to give even if it wasn’t always money, and a kind of an evergreen faith in true entrepreneurial efforts … really meant something to me, and I still keep that with me,” Henderson said.
Tracy Cliburn, a community engagement and public relations director with KWC Performing Arts, got to know Henderson through volunteering at events like Arts Goggle. Henderson has an “unwavering optimism” that is contagious and helps the community grow, she said.
“Her belief that the way that we all move forward together is by community building and supporting the people that live in those communities, it’s just, it’s very powerful,” Cliburn said. “You can just see in everything that she does that she is effecting positive change, not only across Nears Southside, but across the entire city of Fort Worth.”
Over time, community has matured and adapted
She is a good leader because she leads by example, Cliburn said. For example, she is the first one to arrive at Arts Goggle, and the last to leave.
Will Northern, partner and broker at Northern Crain, also noted Henderson’s positive attitude. Another thing that stands out about Henderson, he said, is that she goes out of her way to make sure everyone is heard. She equally highlights the efforts of large and small businesses.
“I think Fort Worth sometimes gets described as a good ol’ boy network and she works day in and day out to break that mold,” Northern said. “I think that’s how she’s going to leave (Fort Worth) a better place, ensuring that those who might not always get the opportunity to succeed or have a path to success, she works hard to help them find that path.”
The countercultural spirit of the Near Southside is still there from Henderson’s younger years, but it gets complicated every year, she said. It is no longer the gritty counterculture she grew up with, but she said the community has matured and adapted over the years. Ultimately, she said, it’s still a place where people can be themselves.
Henderson’s work often means long hours. When Arts Goggle comes around, Henderson admits that organizing the event alongside Natalie Chapa, requires many sleepless nights. But she said that that’s what she signed up for.
“We work like maniacs, but that’s part of the commitment we’ve made,” Henderson said. “There are other ways to do this job where you probably get to sleep. But the truth is, you’d have to care less. You’d have to say no more often.”
Megan Henderson’s bio:
Birthplace: Denton, Texas – the daughter of two small aircraft pilots
Moved to Fort Worth: “This is a porous idea. I began coming to Fort Worth when growing up in Cleburne during high school. In the years that followed afterward I lived in many other cities but always considered Fort Worth home after my young years paling around the streets of Fort Worth.”
Family: “My partner Tatara Siegel is a glass and ceramics artist working at SiNaCa Studios on Magnolia Avenue. Our daughter, Esme, is 12 years old and soon to navigate the tricky years of middle school. We are fortunate to live near my mom and Tatara’s parents and are surrounded by a large group of friends that we call family.”
Education: “Didn’t go as I had planned. After three years of college in two states, I finally decided I couldn’t cut it as a journalist and felt lost for what was next. My education has come from boots on the ground mentorship throughout my career and I am grateful for those who took the time to teach me at every turn of the journey.”
Work experience: “It’s been a varied career which I have greatly enjoyed. I’ve been fortunate to work in community development for more than fifteen years between my roles at Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. and Near Southside, Inc.”
Volunteer experience: “I currently serve as a volunteer for Arts Fort Worth and One Safe Place. My dream is to volunteer regularly at The Welman Project and to one day help Shasta with the Art Tooth Party Bus on Gallery Night.”
First job: “I worked at JC Penney in the men’s department selling Gold Toe Socks. I only slightly blame this job for now being a lesbian.”
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Wear a name tag. It’s amazing how knowing someone’s name makes it easier to make an introduction or start a casual conversation. Find the networking groups that feel right for you and go regularly. I found some of the most important contacts in my career at The Chat Room Pub and remain faithful friends today.”
Best advice ever received: “I have two quotes that really stick with me. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak ou t— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller. And “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.” – Rabbi Joachim Prinz.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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