By Sriya Reddy
When Froswa’ Booker-Drew joined the leadership of the State Fair of Texas, her goal was to engage the South Dallas community, which many in the neighborhood had felt had been neglected by the Fair for decades.
Booker-Drew is leaving her position as vice president of community affairs and strategic alliances on April 15, according to an email she sent late last week to many South Dallas organizations. State Fair president Mitchell Glieber said Tuesday a search for a replacement is in the early stages.
Her departure has left some leaders of South Dallas nonprofits shocked and angry, and it’s led a group of women leaders in the community to create a list of demands to the fair, hoping to raise equity and be a part of the conversations that affect their communities.
These community members say the reason for her departure is related to money and a lack of opportunity for promotions. Booker-Drew did not return calls seeking comment.
Sherri Mixon, executive director of the TR Hoover Community Development Center, said that no one has ever matched what Booker-Drew has done for the South Dallas community. She said she wants to fight for Black women to contribute to a workplace without having dignity taken away through inequitable pay.
“‘We are having budget problems?’ Right?” Mixon said. “That will always be the excuse for us.”
At a Tuesday meeting at TR Hoover, a group of leaders, all Black women, committed to speaking to fair officials with demands seeking community input in hiring, equitable pay and analysis of who is awarded money from fundraising efforts.
According to the State Fair’s most recent 990 tax form from 2019, Booker-Drew was the lowest-paid member of senior management at that time. But in 2019, Booker-Drew was promoted to senior leadership, making the information on the tax form outdated, said Glieber.
Glieber said that due to the struggles of the pandemic, no promotions have been made in the last few years.
“The time between 2019 and 2022, about two years of that was COVID,” he said. “So we didn’t have any promotions, pay raises or bonus payments during that time period.”
In 2014, the State Fair added community involvement as a pillar to their mission statement. Booker-Drew was hired shortly after that in 2016.
“Froswa’ taught us a lot about how to be great neighbors during her six years here,” Glieber said. “I think our staff is ready to move forward with that. We will be on the lookout here now for a new leader to replace her and keep the momentum moving.”
Glieber said that the process of hiring a replacement is still in the early stages, but he has been having conversations with community members about the situation. He said that the State Fair plans on investing in and supporting South Dallas.
Some South Dallas leaders say that Booker-Drew was the reason residents began to trust the State Fair, and they are wary of how she will be replaced.
Black residents only had one day to go to the fair every year until the late 1960s. Many attempts to make their presence more known, like building the Hall of Negro Achievement was short-lived. At the same time, the State Fair hosted Ku Klux Klan members and used eminent domain to expand into neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park.
Aelicia “Chocolate” Watson, founder of Redeemed Women, said at Tuesday’s meeting that Booker-Drew is a friend and was there for her, and many others, during their toughest times.
“This lady didn’t just bring us together as nonprofit leaders,” she said. “She cared about us as people.”
Booker-Drew has been involved in South Dallas since her college days at the University of Texas at Arlington. From the Juanita Craft House to St. Philip’s School and Community Center, Booker-Drew worked alongside South Dallas residents and developed strong relationships.
“Her name has weight,” Watson said through tears. “When I think about how this will matter to South Dallas, I’m scared. I’m scared that we don’t have a seat at the table no more.”
Numerous leaders were moved to tears speaking about the impact of Booker-Drew. They said they admire her leadership and are frustrated that she is leaving. Many noted that Booker-Drew was one of the few people that everyone in South Dallas respected and trusted.
Thana Hickman-Simmons, founder of Viola’s House, is another South Dallas leader greatly impacted by Booker-Drew. She said that when she started her nonprofit, she wasn’t ready for what Booker-Drew would pour into her.
“As we talk about the organizations she impacted, her impact has been incredible,” she said. “You could never put a price on it.”