Elevating excellence: Panel showcases victories, vision of Black community in Fort Worth

When Quinton “Q” Phillips was a college student at Prairie View A&M University, he and his friends made a pact: Return to Fort Worth, their hometown, and help others in the Black community thrive. 

“We knew people that had made it from our hood before, but we couldn’t touch them anymore. They made it in another space, which is beautiful. Kudos,” he said. “But, we want to make sure that we broke that cycle, that people can see that you can make it where we’re from.”

Phillips co-founded Community Frontline, a nonprofit that mobilizes men to work toward racial justice. He shared part of his origin story before a crowd of educators, health care professionals and community members at the “Elevating Power and Black Excellence” panel on Feb. 20. 

The event served as a recognition of work done within, by and for the Black community in Fort Worth. Simeon Henderson, a Fort Worth entrepreneur and the panel’s moderator, wanted to focus on solutions, rather than problems, he told the Report. 

For attendees, the sentiment held. Stacy Burrell, director of grants compliance and monitoring at Fort Worth ISD, left the panel feeling “very highly encouraged.”

“Because you see a group of leaders representing various aspects of the work who have empowered voices,” she said. “They recognized the obstacles … but they’re creating spaces to empower themselves, but also to continue to do the work.”

The panelists comprised Phillips, who also serves as the vice president of the Fort Worth ISD school board; Brandi Waller-Pace, director of Decolonizing the Music Room; Kenny Mosley Jr., director of the Renaissance Heights Foundation; and Misty Wilder, director of The University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Healthy Start program

Each outlined Black victories across disciplines: education, arts, housing and health. 

Wilder, for example, founded Celebrate Shi in 2015 to inspire, educate and celebrate women and girls. The nonprofit prioritizes wellness, specifically for Black women. A few weeks back, Wilder said, Celebrate Shi organized a line dancing and HIV testing event. Black women make up less than 15% of women in the U.S. but account for about 60% of new HIV infections among women.

“We take the education to the community in unique, out-of-the-box ways,” Wilder said. 

Through Decolonizing the Music Room, Waller-Pace works to elevate Black, brown, indigenous and Asian voices in music education. Part of that work, she said, is “reclaiming history.” Take the banjo, she said.

“A lot of people don’t know the banjo was created by enslaved Africans in the Americas, all up and down the Americas,” she said. “And that Blackness is all up and through these music forms that are typically presented as white Appalachian.”

The third iteration of her brainchild, the Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival, takes place in March

As for Mosley, with Renaissance Heights Foundation, he works to end generational poverty through community development. He and partners across Tarrant County are in the process of enhancing a public park and creating nearly 250 homeownership opportunities in Renaissance Heights.

“A lot of our work and strategy is about shifting the power, shifting the work, the processes and structures that we are helping put together along with the neighbors,” he said. “Shifting it all over to them so that they actually have all of the power and agency and ownership for their neighborhood.”

The panelists’ work is a testament to the strength of the Black community in Tarrant County, Wilder said. 

“We are rising up in many different spaces,” she said. “And we’ve come together in a lot of ways to service our own communities — no longer waiting on somebody else to service them.”

Phillips, with Community Frontline, emphasized the ongoing need to help each other. 

“It is so enticing, particularly as a husband, as a father, to be like, ‘Is my wife good? Are my kids good?’ We’re going to huddle over here and do our thing, and my neighbor is suffering,” he said. “(With that mindset), I’m not willing to do what it takes to make sure they have what I have, or help them to get where I am.”

Instead, he called on people to adopt a posture of serving others. Thanking people who’ve done the same for them. Taking up the mantle held by Black leaders who’ve since passed on. 

He and his friends who founded Community Frontline understood this last responsibility as something vital:

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not raising from the dead. As much as we love Malcolm X, he’s gone and not coming back,” he said. “So as we’re sitting around looking for the next great leader, and who’s going to do something to fix a problem, we understood that that had to be us.”

Toward the end of the event, an audience member asked the panelists how they keep from becoming discouraged as they work to combat racial disparities. 

She does get discouraged, Wilder said. Music is a balm, she said. Friends are a balm. 

“Black people rest,” Waller-Pace added. “Our ancestors didn’t get to rest. We get to be whole humans. We get to rest, and we get to play, and we get to laugh.”

Throughout the panel, Phillips emphasized a similar wholeness amid trial.

“All that oppression, all that suffering, all the things that we know that occurred along the way, you still see exuberance, talent, intellect, joy, and beauty show up every day,” he said.

“As much as Black excellence is a catchphrase,” he said, “what it really boils down to, is Black is excellence. Black is excellence.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at alexis.allison@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. 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.

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