The Tyler Loop interview: incumbent Shirley McKellar is running for Tyler City Council District 3

Born and raised in Tyler, Texas, District 3 incumbent Dr. Shirley McKellar maintains she has the knowledge and experience necessary to continue to hold her current position as District 3 Tyler City Council member. On May 1, the ticket will include McKellar’s opponent, Dalila Reynoso.

The Tyler Loop contributor Jess Hale sat down with both McKellar and Reynoso for in-depth interviews. You can read Hale’s interview with Reynoso here.

📷 All photos courtesy Shirley McKellar

Dr. McKellar says her dedication to the growth of Tyler, as well as continuous advocacy for homeless veterans can be shown through the organizing and aid she has brought to Tyler’s homeless community.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up right here in Tyler, Texas, born and bred here. I went away to the military and returned back home in 2009 when I retired out of the military. I’ve been here working with the community ever since. 

I actually grew up there in and out of district three. My family is in agriculture. We have a large farm right outside of the city limits. We farm watermelons, roses and potatoes. 

Shirley McKellar poses at District 3’s Emmett J. Scott city park on Confederate Ave.

I lived sometimes on the farm and then inside of the city limits in District 3, where I presently serve right now. 

What are the unique needs and aspects of District 3?

That’s a beautiful question. I love District 3; the reason being District 3 is historic Tyler. Tyler actually began in District 3, and a lot of people don’t realize the history there. 

What makes it so important for me and so amazing that I get the opportunity to serve in District 3 is that my ancestors, the African-American communities, the Black leaders way back in the day — thought that African Americans would have a voice in downtown Tyler. 

District 2 and 3 were opened up so that Black people would be able to run for city council and have their voices heard. In District 3, we have something that we don’t have in any other parts of the city. 

Number one, we have Caldwell Zoo. Anybody who wants to go to Tyler’s zoo, they have to come to north Tyler. It sits right here in the heart of my district. The other key thing that you don’t see in any other parts of Tyler: we have a six lane thoroughfare called Gentry Parkway.

At one time the only way you could get off of I-20 and come into Tyler was by coming straight into District 3 through north Tyler, straight through the African-American community. 

Are there any new issues that have emerged since you first ran for Council? 

McKellar and others honor the life of John Lewis at Tyler’s downtown square.

The one thing I want to share with everyone is that I don’t want north Tyler to be considered or looked at as a “low income district” even though affordable housing is very crucial, very important. The city has worked really hard to make sure we get affordable homes. 

I’d much rather see a person living in an affordable home rather than giving their money away, renting properties forever and ever. What an affordable home would be considered as according to the standards of the federal government is 1,600 square footage and below, as well as $170,000 and below. But, there are some people in District 3 who actually want more than that. 

Some people want up to 3,000 square footage homes, and there are people in District 3 who can actually afford that. That’s one of the things that I want to see happen: that we can have from affordable to mid to as high as people need and want to go.

I think about the medical school that’s coming into Tyler. I think about the interns, the physicians, the nurses that will be doing clinicals and internships here in Tyler, Texas. There’s a big hospital, as everybody knows, on Highway 271. 

People may want to build over on the north side. They may not want to travel all the way across town, out into Bullard, south Tyler and Flint areas. Everybody wants to be close to their workplace, so they don’t have to travel so far. That’s why I want to see subdivisions built in north Tyler to accommodate all aspects of people.

If you could speak directly to the residents of District 3, what would you say about the importance of this upcoming election?

McKellar stands with Dr. Michael Tidwell at an event honoring nurses during the coronavirus pandemic. 

I’ve said this for years during my work as an activist in our community. Your voice is your power. Your voice is very important. If you allow someone else to take that voice away from you, then you’ve lost your voice. You’ve lost all the power that you have, because it’s your community just like it is in everyone else’s community.

I encourage them to register to vote and then get out to vote. Vote your conscious, vote your voice, vote what you would like to see happen in your district. 

I also tell them to come to city council meetings so that you will know the work that is being done within the city. Many people don’t have a clue what is happening in the city of Tyler in city government. Sometimes they don’t even know what all is involved in city government. So, the way you keep up with what’s going on in your city is just come to the city council. We meet on the second and third Wednesday of each month. 

Even if you can’t come, because we have council during the daytime, we have a channel that you can watch in the evening time, Channel 3. That’s our local government channel, so that you can watch the city council meetings and you can know what is being discussed.

You may want to write a letter to say, ‘This is what I want to see happen within my district.’ 

What promises did you fulfill to your constituents since your last run?

One of the things I’ve already mentioned is the growth and development of north Tyler, very important. Council is working really closely with me to develop and help grow north Tyler.

We need so many houses in north Tyler in order to get businesses brought there. I grew up in this district, and let me just share with you that we never went past Front St., because every business that we ever had that anybody ever needed, it was all right there in north Tyler.

McKellar stands with her sorority sisters at the Selma Women’s Rights March in Selma, Alabama.

We had our physicians, pharmacists, business people, supermarkets, we had our restaurants. We had every single thing that you need in any community in north Tyler. 

So when I hear, ‘It’s a flood zone,’ when I hear, ‘We need more houses,’ when I hear those things, it’s not acceptable for me. I know we need houses, but the housetops that we already have in that district are important. 

I promised to people that I will continue to work for the growth and development of this city, so that when people come into Tyler, Texas, they see this is a beautiful city — north, south, east and west. But not just in one area of the city, because guess what? It is a reflection of the mothers and fathers of the city.

When people come into the city, it looks one way and it looks another way in another area. [There are] the homeless under the bridge, which I worked with prior to COVID every single week. There are veterans under the bridge who are homeless.

As someone who has retired from the military, it is troubling for me to see people who have served this country asking and begging for help. They’re sleeping in tents on the ground in our city and they served this country. No one should be homeless. Veterans certainly should not be homeless. We live in the wealthiest country in the world, it’s called America. I vow to continue to work to rid homelessness, to help veterans with their benefits. 

Prior to COVID, I volunteered my services two times every single week in Dallas at the VA hospital, working with veterans and helping them to get their benefits.

I will make sure that continues to happen and that we expand ourselves here in Tyler, Texas and East Texas, to make sure no veteran is left behind and no regular citizen sleeps on the ground. 

How is your district uniquely impacted by current events such as the coronavirus pandemic, the presidential election, and the February winter storm outages?

McKellar at the funeral of veteran and former County Commissioner Andrew Melontree with with Melontree’s son, Lester.

Thank you for that amazing question. My husband and I actually lost power for 65 hours. Dr. Nancy Nichols here in Tyler, she advocates for growth and development in the city. [She] recognized that it was so important for me to stay connected to the community, to the citizens, to try to aid them as best as I possibly could. She bought a battery pack and she brought food to my home. There were people that were calling me continuously.

I said, “We need to set up warming centers,” and we did. We were able to raise money to help those people who were struggling to get them into either the Super Eight hotel or to any other hotels. 

We were able to get blankets and snacks. There were people driving around on ice in the community that had four-wheel drive. Persons like Dr. Nancy Nichols and Pastor John Walton — to make sure that people got at least a shower once a week and a hot meal.

Those are some of the things that we were doing, and those are the things that we continue to do to get them off the streets because you know how cold it was here. We never have that kind of weather here, and we’ve never had a power outage last that length of time here. It was an ongoing task.  

Many of us were out of power for some time, and some people were never out of power. We always heard that it was supposed to be a rolling outage, but it was a continuous outage.

We want to make sure that never ever happens again. I had my water distribution there at Fun Forest Park. I had an entire pallet of water that lasted 38 minutes. That’s how crucial it is. 

What sets you apart from your opponent? 

McKellar at Tyler Metro Chamber of Commerce in support of Black businesses.

That’s a superb question and I want to make it very known that I have absolutely no issues with the lovely Delilah Reynoso. Let me just share with you that Delilah Reynoso worked hand in hand with me on my campaign when I ran for United States Congress.

Not only did she work with me and knock on doors, I know her family very well, every single one of them. When a family member of hers became very ill, they reached out to me, and I attended their funeral. 

What sets me apart from Dalila Reynoso is I have the skills. I have the ability and experience. Of course I should have more than what she has, because she’s much younger than I am. I’m not saying that she does not have some skills and she does not have some experience, but she does not have the experience I have.

I went back to school to get my degree in Political Science. I know this community; I was born and bred in it and been in it for a long time. So I know the community much better than she does. I know the people, because many of these people are longtime residents of District 3. 

She worked with me on my campaign. We knocked on doors, we’ve been out there on the battlefield and we’ve registered people and tried to get people more involved. 

I appreciate her work of trying to work with the veterans who are in Smith County Jail. There was one veteran there and I said to her, ‘Reach out to the veterans.’ You need the veterans voices to speak on behalf of veterans. 

Obviously, we’re going to work to make sure that veterans are taken care of. Veterans listen to veterans, veterans care about veterans. I’m not saying that other citizens do not. There’s special camaraderie that veterans have for one another. Why? Because we’ve been there, we serve, and we have veterans and brothers and sisters in arms. 

That’s what I have that Ms. Reynoso does not have.

Is there anything else important for you to tell us?

This is a new day. I understand history, but that history is gone. 

McKellar receives her COVID-19 vaccine at Harvey Convention Center.

We have to make sure that Black and brown people stop dying due to COVID. I have had seven family members die due to COVID-19.

We are encouraging those who want to take that vaccine to sign up for it so that we can help to mitigate this dreadful pandemic that we are in.

Jess Hale is a lifelong East Texan born in Nacogdoches and graduated from Waskom High School in 2016. She is also an alumnus of Kilgore College and currently a senior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. In the past, Jess has been involved with community events such as Longview LGBT Pride Festival, UNSCENE Shreveport, and efforts to organize community involvement around pro-choice issues. Jess hopes to share reproductive health options and access to people in East Texas, as well as the importance of sex education.

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