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  • Rachel Behrndt

Historically Black community tries to make voices heard on Fort Worth City Council

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

The tight-knit community of Como is tucked into the southwest side of Fort Worth. It’s nestled next to neighborhoods that, despite their proximity, are a world away.

Residents and representatives say it’s not just the demographics that are different; they point to a proud culture of civic participation that defines the neighborhood. A predominantly Black community that traces its origins to segregation, Como residents are fighting to make sure their voices are heard in the city for the next decade.

During redistricting task force meetings and other public meetings, a chorus of Como residents is advocating for one goal: Como needs to be included in a City Council district that gives them the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.

“I don’t get paid for this, I have other stuff to do, but I want to make sure my vote counts,” Leon Reed Jr., a lawyer and longtime Como resident, said.

Como has long been a part of District 3, now represented by Michael Crain. The majority Black neighborhood has been represented by a white council member for decades. Residents are looking to use the redistricting process, which occurs only every 10 years, to move into District 6, currently represented by Jared Williams, a Black man who is one of four council members of color. By moving into Williams’ district, Como would likely have a better chance of being represented by a person of color.

Crain got emotional at the thought of no longer representing Como. He said he thinks he’s been able to understand the unique challenges and needs of the Como community, but not every council member elected in District 3 will prioritize Como as he has.

“I think I’m a better representative because I go to Como,” he said after pausing and looking down to collect his thoughts. “I’d love to keep them in my district, but I also understand their struggles and that they’d like representation that might understand them a little better than me.”

Como’s history

Como is in the unique position of being an island among heavily white and affluent communities on all sides. Its unique geography is a product of its history. Como was created to be a resort destination modeled after the Italian Lake Como. It was home to high-value real estate until The Panic of 1893 knocked down the prices of homes, allowing domestic workers to buy homes close to the wealthy areas they worked in.

Since the 1900s, Como has remained an island of Black residents in a sea of white communities. Texas Christian University humanities professor Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. said the origins of the Como community have profoundly impacted how elected officials prioritized the neighborhood.

Gooding described the stark contrast between resources available in the Como community and the more affluent communities blocks away.

“It was just absolutely amazing as it was alarming to see… I can’t find any apples, you know? In the stores that were nearly half a mile away from a (luxury grocery store),” Gooding said.

The invisible line that divides Como from its neighbors used to be a physical one. A wall built in the 1940s separated Como from neighboring majority-white Ridglea. Kamryn Johnson, secretary of the Como Neighborhood Advisory Committee, said he heard about the wall from elder Como residents growing up, and it affected how he viewed the community and the role he played within it.

“It wasn’t my great grandmother’s fault she didn’t have the means they had across the wall, because she wasn’t afforded those opportunities,” Johnson said. “And we’ve come a long way as African Americans, and I can say that I am more privileged than she was.”

Gooding said the unique challenges Como faces are the result of compounding failures to address the communities’ needs, which stems from their lack of voting power in a district where the majority of other residents are white and wealthy.

“The Como residents are, unfortunately, the latest victim of this pattern, and now they are bringing attention to it by speaking out about it,” Gooding said.

Johnson was asked to create and submit maps to the City Council for the Como community, which he completed with help from Citizens for Independent Redistricting. He said growing up in Como instilled in him the importance of voting.

“We have been in this situation long enough where if we get everybody in Como to vote it would not change the outcome of the election,” Johnson said.

In January, city staff met with members of the neighborhood association, including Johnson, to create a map that connects Como to District 6. City spokesperson Michelle Gutt said Como residents used the map from the meeting for further discussions with elected officials.

Almost every map City Council members brought for consideration at the Feb. 15 redistricting meeting included Como within District 6 by creating a bridge along Chisolm Trail Pkwy.

State redistricting

This isn’t Como’s first brush with redistricting concerns this year. In Austin, Como was represented by state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, for six years and said it has served as a model community for the rest of Fort Worth.

“I’ve always been able to point to Como as the good things that can happen even when you’re surrounded by poverty,” Romero said.

Activist and Attorney Leon Reed Jr. has advocated for Como throughout the redistricting process. Como’s new district, State House District 99 includes Northwest Fort Worth, including parts of Azle. He said observers don’t need to look any further than the demographics of their new district, to see why they’re upset about the change. The district represented by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is all but assured to vote Republican.

“When representatives can totally ignore a segment of that district and still win, the people in those communities don’t have any power,” Reed said.

Romero said Como was collateral damage in a partisan redistricting process that Tarrant County Democrats didn’t have any control over. Romero said he lost Como because Republican lawmakers wanted to move Democratic areas of southeast Fort Worth out of districts held by Republicans to ensure they stay red.

By moving the blue-trending communities of Wedgewood, South Hills and others into state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, and Romero’s districts, they became overpopulated. To equalize the population, Romero lost Alamo Heights, Sunset Heights and Como.

“We had no choice,” Romero said. “When you’ve spent so much time getting to know Como and serving them, it was kind of a heartbreaker I wasn’t able to keep it.”

Romero said that while residents couldn’t impact the state redistricting process, Como residents now have an opportunity to ensure they are a part of a City Council district where their votes could be the difference between one candidate being elected over another, forcing all candidates to take their concerns seriously.

Pastor Kenneth Jones Jr., senior pastor at Como First Missionary Baptist Church, said Como has been one of the most consistent voting blocks in a city known for low turnout in municipal elections. Despite Como being actively engaged in Fort Worth politics for decades, Jones said, they have never been able to make a difference in Fort Worth politics with their votes alone.

“Let’s give this strong, organized, vibrant community their vote,” Jones said. “Because if we don’t vote, we have no juice.”

Gooding said Black residents having the opportunity to affect local elections with their vote goes far beyond prioritizing pothole fixes or repairing stoplights. He described the situation in southwest Fort Worth, where a short drive away from the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding TCU, stands the ZIP code with the lowest life expectancy in Texas.

“This literally is a matter of life and death,” Gooding said. “And locally is where we feel it the most.”

Johnson, who is 23, describes driving two miles down the road from Como to Westover Hills, which seems far removed from the life he knows in Como.

He said he is investing his time and talent into the redistricting process because he understands 8-year-olds living in Como will be eligible to vote in 10 years when the redistricting process begins again. He wants them to have the opportunity to cast a ballot with confidence that their vote will matter.

“They have to know from the get-go that their voice is heard and that their voices matter,” Johnson said.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. 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.

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