by Kristen Barton, Fort Worth Report
October 7, 2021
Whitnee Boyd has spent years fighting her way into rooms, jobs and spaces that were not made for people like her. Now, she’s making the path easier for those who come next.
“I often say with my research approach that it is through the lens of a Black woman who has entered spaces that were not being built with me in mind,” Boyd said.
Boyd, 34, is the coordinator of special projects for the Office of the Chancellor at Texas Christian University. She also teaches a course in the John V. Roach Honors College about identity development.
She never planned to work in higher education, Boyd said. She thought she would be a marketing executive at a Fortune 500 company. Her older brother was a marketing major, too.
Boyd started to see the value in mentoring young people. She moved to Fort Worth in 2014 to get her doctorate in education and started working in the chancellor’s office as a graduate assistant in 2015.
By 2018, she was offered her current position. Since then, she has worked on collaborative projects to help the university. Boyd started and created a postdoctoral fellowship program to bring people from all parts of the country, specifically those from underrepresented backgrounds, to teach and do research at TCU.
“For me, it's been great because I get to understand different disciplines,” she said. “I get to work with different faculty members, different colleges, different things, but I also get to help us promote TCU on a broader scale across the U.S.”
The postdoctoral fellowship was Boyd’s brainchild and she worked hard to make it happen, TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said.
“She has a great perspective on things and a different perspective than maybe somebody else might have, and I think that's good,” he said. “And she's also a very strategic thinker. She thinks one or two steps ahead, and I think that helps a lot.”
Boyd has the potential to be an amazing leader in Fort Worth, Boschini said.
“We've been lucky to have her,” he said. “She relates well especially with students, and she works well with faculty and staff, too.”
Boyd is using her position to help people of color access education. She is reaching out beyond the university walls and into the community.
Her community work started when she was part of the Albert Schweitzer fellowship that required her to create a project to challenge disparity in the community. Because she was studying education, Boyd chose to research college access for first-generation college students and the role that race and other identities play in the inequities for first-generation college students.
To do this, she worked with Morningside Children’s Partnership, churches and community centers in the 76104 ZIP code.
“I wanted to partner with the community to figure out how we can support students and families on their pathway to college,” Boyd said. “I had to lean on some people that I met to help me figure out who to connect with.”
One of those people was Andrew Chambers.
Chambers, a retired school administrator at Fort Worth ISD, met Boyd while she was working on her fellowship and helping children and their parents learn about the college application process.
Boyd “just took off” and became involved in every aspect of the community from housing to early childhood education, he said.
“I really haven’t run across very many people in a 30-plus-year career that just had a heart for people, who will just plug in where it's needed, as smart as she is,” Chambers said. “The thing about Whitnee is she's able to relate to you. You can put her in a boardroom, and she can relate. You can put her where what people will call, maybe the roughest part of town, and she can relate there.”
Boyd builds bridges, and she does it in the community in a way that brings different segments of the population together, Chambers said.
Working with students and their families allowed Boyd to connect with people outside of TCU.
“That's something that I feel like I had to be extremely intentional about, was building community that's connected to my culture, too, so finding and building community,” she said. “By understanding the Black community in Fort Worth, and its contributions to the city, I think that was a really good start for me, and from there it's blossomed between the work I can do here and connecting with the community.”
Though the university has a lot to offer to the community, Boyd said, the community also has a lot to offer TCU, and she wants to nurture those relationships.
Her research centers on building stronger systems of education that specifically look at the needs of first-generation college students, she said.
“I realized that students, specifically first-generation college students, come to our campuses with a number of skills and resiliency and just a desire for success,” Boyd said. “But what I also recognized is institutions as a whole, are not always student ready, they don't always have the right things in place.”
Part of helping those students involves having a community in place for them, she said. It helps for students to have a sense of belonging.
One example of how Boyd helps with that community building is a group she was part of starting for other Black women employees called “Breathing Room.” It helps for them to come together to share experiences, network, build relationships, get advice on different applications and just check in on each other, she said.
Working to help those students can create another generation of leaders, like the one Boyd has become for Fort Worth. A good leader acts with intentionality and is combative against issues, she said.
“Leaders have to decide that they're going to combat,” Boyd said. “Like, racism won't just end by us talking or saying it should end, right? You just have to make a decision to help shift it to attack those systems with intentionality. And with that also comes compassion, and the ability to think critically.”
Good leaders create space for dissent so people can critically examine systems and develop equitable solutions, she said.
When Boyd first moved to Fort Worth in 2014 from Fayetteville, Arkansas, she had to really fight to get herself into the community and better understand the city.
“You don't just come to Fort Worth and then just people are like, ‘Oh yeah sure, go do what you got to do, you have good ideas just go to it,’ ” Boyd said. “Yeah, that's not what I experienced. There were a lot of gatekeepers.”
But she sees that changing, especially as more people willing to lead are moving to Fort Worth.
“There’s hope that there's becoming more openness to people who didn't grow up here,” she said. “I haven't been here 30 years; I shouldn't have to be here 30 years before I have an opportunity to have a voice. But, I also value and understand the lived experiences of the people who did grow up here, and my hope is to work alongside them to carry out a vision for a better Fort Worth.”
Along with that hope, Boyd said leadership still needs to be re-imagined.
“It’s not only those with a title,” she said. “Some of the strongest leaders are leading from within. They are leading from within our churches, schools, neighborhoods and community centers. We all should be able to have a voice and a seat at the table.”
Birthplace: Humphrey, Arkansas
Moved to Fort Worth: 2014
Family: Parents Rev. Charles Boyd Sr. and Elfreda Boyd live in Arkansas; brothers, Charles Boyd Jr. and Terrance Boyd; sister-in-law, Cavon Boyd; three nephews; Thomas, Charles III (Trey), Chandler, and a niece, Morgan. “I grew up in a very large family with a lot of cousins, aunts, and uncles. They all contribute to who I am.”
Education: Doctorate of education, TCU; master’s in higher education leadership, LSU; bachelor’s in marketing, University of Arkansas
Work experience: Student development specialist in Student Support Services, a program that supports first-generation college students at the University of Arkansas (2011-2014) and TCU (2014-present). She came to TCU in 2014 for her doctoral program and graduated from the program in 2017, moving to her current role at that point.
Volunteer experience: She serves on the boards of Leadership Fort Worth, Tarrant County Continuum of Care and the Center for Transforming Lives. She is a member of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, she says is an “important part of my identity and way of connecting with Fort Worth.” She also is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., serving as a co-chair for Social Action.
She adds, “I also engage in grassroots efforts with people I trust and believe in that help bring various voices to the table and elevate the voices and lived experiences of Black and brown people. This is where for me true leadership starts. I am a firm believer in collective impact. Through my class I partner with organizations to connect my students to service and to engage with the broader Fort Worth community. I have partnered with organizations like the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce and Visit Fort Worth, CommUnity Frontlines, the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition and others. This semester we are partnering with The Atatiana Project, Southside Community Gardens, the Center for Transforming Lives, and TCU’s HR Department.”
First job: I consider my first job to be my first business I started around 12. I packaged and sold pecans grown from the pecan tree in my backyard. My two brothers, parents, and other family members helped to make the business successful.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Find your voice and give voice to others.
Best advice ever received: My father has always shared that “in order to gain friends, you must first show yourself friendly.” I also believe in what civil rights activist Ella Baker said, “Give light and people will find the way.”
Editor’s note: Whitnee Boyd is a member of the Fort Worth Report reader advisory council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at [email protected].