Diverse perspectives: “What do you hope for Tyler in 2019?”

We're asking a number of Tyler leaders and residents one simple question.

As 2018 winds to a close, we’re asking a number of diverse Tyler leaders and residents about their hopes for our city in the coming year. What do you hope Tyler will achieve or attempt in 2019? What do you hope Tyler will leave behind, or prevent from happening? What signs will you look for to indicate that progress is being made?

Here’s our first installment of this series; conversations have been edited and condensed for length and clarity. If you’d like to send along your own hopes for Tyler in 2019, drop me a line. I’ll read every response, and possibly ask to publish your note in the next installment.

LaShonda Malrey-Horne

Malrey-Horne is a state public health educator and co-leader of the Tyler chapter of GirlTrek, a national black women and girls’ health and empowerment movement.

“I feel we need to deal with our homeless population—not just talk about it. We are sometimes blind to this population, even to the fact that there are homeless children in our community. In our school, I know of at least two families who live in hotels because they are homeless. We need to recognize that even if our children are not facing homelessness, they are likely to be going to school with children who are. That affects all of us, whether we realize it or not.

We need to get people into affordable housing, get them into jobs that pay a living wage, and help people maintain the housing they may already have. We need to understand that a woman with children facing homelessness will also have needs for furniture, food assistance, and household goods. We need to express these needs to our most philanthropic families, and communicate that you might not get your name on a building, but you would make a big difference.

Our schools could also do a better job of identifying kids whose families are dealing with housing insecurity, and maybe help connect those families to resources through the East Texas Human Needs Network. We are a small-enough community that our homelessness problem is containable, and we could fix it. It’s going to take some cross-collaboration, and talking to people we might not normally talk to. I think we could make some real progress in one year.”

Fred Smith

Smith, who says the role for which he would most like to be remembered is that of a Sunday School teacher, is the founder and president of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families, and private foundations giving to Christian ministries.

“I have three words for you: education, integration, and conversation.

I would love to see 25 people—public, private, charter, and higher-education people—come together and say, ‘Is there a way we can actually support each other? How can we take an overview of education in Tyler, and how can we push it forward? How can we get some substantive conversation about how to raise the level of play across the board?’

I would also hope for more ways to integrate new talent moving to Tyler. Historically, it can take a long time for new people to find their place here. I would love to see us be able to integrate the Hispanic talent that is moving to Tyler, and to see growth of the Hispanic Business Alliance and the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler. As for traditional black-white relationships, I would like to see us not give up on it, and not just say, ‘This is the way it’s been for one hundred years, and it’s not going to get better.’

Lastly, I would like to see more conversations between diverse people and communities— civil conversions that don’t end up in a food fight. There is a group that I would love to bring to Tyler called Better Angels, which teaches people how to convene difficult conversations between people who disagree.”

Dr. Juan Mejia

Dr. Mejia, a nationally recognized leader in higher education, is the president for branch locations and district provost of Tyler Junior College.

“I would like to see degree attainment levels increase in Tyler. Data show that there is a direct correlation between degree attainment, social mobility, and regional prosperity. For that to happen, we need to get into an “asset mindset.” We have to almost do an inventory of what our assets are, whether through Tyler Area Partnership 4 Education, whether through the Business Education Council, or some other way. In Spanish they call it ganas, the idea that we have to leverage the strengths that we have.

We have the key ingredient of key leaders that are coming in to our region—whether through the East Texas Human Needs Network, Leadership Tyler, the Innovation Pipeline, The Tyler Loop—and coming together to create this fabric of strength. We’re on our way.

Another thing that is really important to me is that we go beyond Tyler into the greater Tyler area, into East Texas and upper East Texas. There is great residual benefit to our being part of the stronger development of other cities and municipalities of Smith County and other counties we are responsible to serve. I would like to see us take programs that have been known to work here, and take those programs to scale.”

Crystal Bryce

Bryce, who describes herself as a “philanthropic entrepreneur,” is the co-founder of Embark Women, a women’s professional development organization, and co-founder of Doxology, a new coffee business in Tyler.

“For me, the main theme in Tyler in 2019 is ‘the place of opportunity.’ It’s like we have the kindling, and now we need to light the fire. We have the money, the education, the intelligence—but we need to pull the pieces together.

We also need to open up those doors to more people. I meet a lot of women through Embark and Doxology who want to see barriers come down, who want to help build a community that truly starts to come together in action, not just in words. That’s what I try to do with Embark Women. I also believe True Vine is going to be one of these epicenters of change and opportunity in this community, a complex that bridges north and south.

Once we hit that critical mass, I believe you’re going to see more literal interaction and engagement of people from different races and different areas of town. I’m seeing more people who have the confidence to put themselves out there, take the first step, and be part of the change. You’re going to see Embark Women connecting with other groups, and bringing in more people who look differently from us. You’re going to see us asking, ‘What can we do to make everyone more comfortable? What can we do be more accessible to others? How can we support the work of other groups, and not just expect them to come to us?’ I believe we can do a lot more of that across the board in Tyler.”

Want to share your hopes for Tyler in 2019? Email our editor. Your note may be included in the next installment of this series.

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Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two imperious terriers.