More African-American people than ever are moving to the city—but not without apprehension.
By Jamie Thompson
From D Magazine May 2012
April Allen ignored the warning of her first real estate agent and moved to Oak Cliff. Since then, she has found not only friends and a welcoming neighborhood, but a husband as well. photography by Elizabeth Lavin
In a glass skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York, executives offered Onay Payne her dream job. The bosses at her real estate private equity firm wanted Payne to oversee a new $650 million fund, a significant promotion.
One catch: the job was in Dallas. What would it be like, Payne wondered, to live in Dallas as a thirtysomething black woman?
At her Brooklyn apartment, Payne picked up the phone and dialed one of the few people she knew in Dallas, a classmate from Harvard Business School who also was black. Did she like Dallas? Payne asked. Are there many black professionals there? A quiet pause followed, then a string of hesitant utterances.
“Um, well, um—” her friend said. “I suppose if it’s a great professional move—but socially, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
At a time of striking growth among the black population in the Dallas area, the city still suffers from an image problem among black professionals who perceive other cities—Atlanta; Chicago; or Washington, D.C.—as being more friendly to blacks.
“Dallas is a tough sell,” says April Allen, the friend Payne called, and executive director of KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth, a nonprofit charter school organization that has had trouble recruiting education reformers to the area. “There is definitely the perception that Dallas isn’t as progressive as other cities for African-Americans.”
Michael Boone, founding partner of the Dallas law firm Haynes and Boone, says his firm still struggles to recruit African-American attorneys to Dallas and has resorted to sending out letters to the top 100 black student law groups in the country, encouraging members to apply. Young black lawyers often are told that if they want to work in the South, they should go to Atlanta, not Dallas, he says.
“We’ve got to work harder to convince people that Dallas is a good place to be,” Boone says.
It’s a perception that has long troubled city leaders, this idea that the Dallas area isn’t viewed as a place where blacks, particularly high-achieving blacks, would want to live.
Yet, interestingly, this perception is at odds with the data. In one of the more notable demographic shifts of recent decades, blacks have been moving by the thousands to southern cities, including, and especially, Dallas.
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