February is Black History Month – a month dedicated to the education and celebration of Black excellence in America. Black History Month brings generations together to remember and honor past and present individuals of African American descent that played significant roles in contributing to today’s American history.
As I reflected on the significance of Black History month, I also revisited the hardships my forebearers endured in the ’50s and ’60s, as they were only allowed to visit the State Fair of Texas on the one day assigned to African Americans. Though segregation caused delays, change, thankfully, occurred. The Fair opened its gates to all, allowing me to be where I am today, gifting me the opportunity to start my career 35 years ago as the Fair embraced diversity.
In 1989, the Fair made strides to diversify the staff, recruiting me to join the team as the first African American female. When I was first contacted about the position, I did not view working at the Fair as a career. To this day, many people are still unaware that the State Fair of Texas is a year-round business, with 60-plus full-time employees overseeing the operation of the most attended Fair in North America. I started my journey with the Concessions Department and have remained with this organization for the past 34 years.
During my 34 years, I have had the opportunity to serve as a representative for the State Fair in organizations that have historically never had an African American representative. I am currently serving my third year on the board for the Texas Association of Fairs and Events (TAFE). In January of 2023, I was elected as the Secretary/Assistant Treasurer and will continue rising through the ranks each year, eventually becoming Board President. I use my voice as a board member to be a spokesperson for change within the organization and industry of Texas fairs. Additionally, gaining the respect of my peers has allowed me to continue teaching and serving as I represent the State Fair of Texas. Though I am sometimes the only African American at these conventions, I choose to focus on why I serve and the significance of my representation.
In addition to TAFE, I currently serve on the Commercial Exhibits and Concessions Committee for International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE), having chaired the committee in 2021. Chairing the committee allowed me to work with other committee members from fairs all over North America. I conducted monthly meetings and worked with IAFE staff to create educational programming for the convention. I also serve as a Fair Liaison on the Advisory Board for the National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA).
Though the Fair industry tends to lack African American representation, I am devoted to serving this industry, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). I am currently awaiting the approval of my submission for my Certified Fair Executive (CFE) certification. This certification is the reward for years of service and work well done in the fair industry. Within the last 10 years, the State Fair of Texas improved its efforts by assembling a well-diverse staff. In my role as senior vice president of concessions, I strive to invite more minority food and beverage vendors to participate in the Fair each year to continue the expansion of a diverse Fair family.
In 2017 The State Fair of Texas created the Cohort for Fairs, Festivals, and Events (CFFE) to increase minority vendor and supplier participation and to educate minority vendors on fair operations. Though the dynamic educational series was renamed the Big Tex Business Master Class in 2022, the program continues its mission by working with vendors in the southern sector of the community. The Master Class provides participants with business skills and valuable resources to prepare them to compete with other experienced vendors at fairs, festivals, and events. Several participants that completed the program have joined the food and beverage roster for the Fair.
This year will mark another milestone in my career – my 35th State Fair of Texas. Leading up to my promotion to senior vice president of concessions, the journey was far from easy. There were days when I contemplated walking away from this job because sometimes, change was slow, and recognition was not always equal. There were even times when I wondered whom to trust. I remember having the following conversation with my supervisor during one of my annual evaluations:
“You can stop fighting and having to prove yourself to people. You have done great things and are on your way up,” said my supervisor.
I replied, “I am an African American female working in an industry where people do not look like me. My fight to get to where I am has been longer and harder than others in my position have had to experience. I will always have to fight to prove myself. First, I am African American, and second, I am female. Those are two distinct markers that people see when they look at me.”
I aim to make concessions at the State Fair of Texas the premier food and beverage program in the fair industry. Though we are already well known for our fried foods, creative fair concoctions, and Big Tex Choice Awards, many small goals remain to keep the vision clear and strong. When I pass the baton to the next person, I hope to leave a legacy not only as the woman that changed the game for food and beverage at the State Fair of Texas and the entire fair industry but as the first African American woman to join the State Fair of Texas full-time team 34 years ago, paving the way for our organization’s future.