According to demographic projections, Austin will continue to see a critical, decreasing number of African-Americans. It is likely that many of the thorny social issues facing the community will go unresolved. This line of reasoning might suggest that there is a lack of African-American leadership, but that notion is far from the truth. Here are three rising notables who are shaping the city and embracing challenges.
Joi Harden is a Policy Aide for Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, where she advises on issues such as zoning, housing and transportation. She most recently served as a senior planner for the City of Austin in the Planning and Development Review Department.
Jetté Momant has been featured as one of Austin’s “in the know” females in Cosmopolitan magazine. A Texas A&M-Corpus Christi grad (B.A. in Psychology), she is the owner of Jetté Momant PR and Event Productions.
Roxanne Wilson is a television host, popular radio personality, fitness professional, appellate attorney, author, well-traveled speaker and a former contestant of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” She clerked for two justices on the Supreme Court of Texas after studying at Baylor University and University of Michigan Law School.
TODO Austin: What path did you take in life to arrive at your profession?
Harden: My family instilled in me the importance of community service and giving back, and because of their values and guidance, I always knew I wanted to work in public service. My family also placed a high premium on the importance of pursuing higher education. In regard to community service and education, my family led by example. Both of my parents earned master’s degrees and were very active in supporting the community. In addition, my aunt was one of the first African-Americans to get accepted into a Ph.D. program at The University of Texas, and she later went on to run for the Austin Independent School Board. After earning my bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, I began working for State Representative Dawnna Dukes with a primary focus on the environment and housing policy. Working for a progressive African-American leader at the state level was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, and further solidified my commitment to serve the public.
Following my years working at the State Capitol, I earned my master’s degree from U.T. in Community and Regional Planning. I had a mentor at Texas A&M who introduced me to urban planning. I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to shift my focus from state government to municipal government so I could directly serve the city in which I was born and raised. While I always knew I wanted to work in public service, I was open to different opportunities. With a strong desire to give back to Austin and multifaceted interest, I’ve been able to work in a wide variety of areas that all allowed me to provide a meaningful contribution to my community.
Momant: My career definitely didn’t “just happen,” rather, it was born out of necessity. I could not afford to complete my last semester of college and not graduating was NOT an option. Therefore, I took an inventory of my skills and realized that my favorite thing to do was plan, promote and decorate events in college. I started an event planning and decorating business called Décor Jette and my first client was the Hideout Café in downtown Austin. The owner paid me to decorate his café space and window for the holidays. I also reached out to different event and wedding planners in town and was able to find gigs assisting them with their décor set up and “day of” event run of show. After a season of doing this, I earned enough to pay for my last semester.
Soon after graduation, I was referred to a few Austin area restaurant owners that needed help planning and promoting events to market their new restaurant grand openings or their new chef launches or seasonal menus. I found that I had a knack for not just planning events, but also promoting them and getting “booties in seats” for my clients. My event planning/decorating business quickly evolved into a lifestyle PR firm that focused on Austin’s hospitality industry.
Wilson: Since I was four years old, I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice and follow Sandra Day O’Connor’s footsteps. It wasn’t until I actually was a few years into practicing law that I realized it wasn’t for me. Everything after that just happened or rather was written in the stars. I grew in faith and shrunk my desire for control. The ride has been amazing. I don’t believe in coincidences. Everything you do in life prepares you for something you will do in the future.
TODO Austin: What do you consider the most important cultural value for you?
Harden: Community service was instilled in me through my family and has been a passion of mine demonstrated through my work and volunteer efforts. I grew up participating in community organizations that focused on service projects including Jack and Jill of America, Top Teens, and Del Teens. As an African-American, I believe it’s critical for our community to work on initiatives that bind us together and honor our rich history.
During my service with Representative Dukes, I initiated the first annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard Clean-Up more than 15 years ago. I also established the African American Heritage Festival at Huston-Tillotson University, which has grown into a huge community celebration during Black History Month. As part of my volunteer work, I have served as an appointee to the African American Resource Advisory Commission. I have also served in various leadership roles in Black Austin Democrats, and I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. These efforts have connected me with lifelong friends who are equally committed to serving our community. I hope to continue my efforts to recruit and inspire others to join us in fostering a culture of service in the city of Austin.
Momant: My values are rooted in my Christian upbringing. I strive to serve clients with honesty and excellence, treat my team and vendors members with care and respect and also have a desire to add value to my community. As I get older and loved ones pass away, I’ve finally come to realize that life is very short. It is wise to consider your legacy and also who you surround yourself with. I’d prefer to spend the bulk of the time I have on this earth with people that respect others, have joy, are positive, and add to my life rather than taking away from it. I do take inventory of my actions and evaluate often if I’m doing the same for them and for their lives.
Wilson: Love. Love your God, family, friends and community.
TODO Austin: Little has changed since the City of Austin’s African American Quality of Life Initiative revealed in 2005 that black Austinites lack several opportunities enjoyed by others. Can you see Austin actively creating an inclusive climate?
Harden: African-Americans have a long history of significant achievements in every important professional, educational, and cultural arena in Austin. We have many successes in leadership positions with our African-American City Manager, former City of Austin Attorney, former AISD Superintendent and many elected officials who have made meaningful contributions to our city. We have a responsibility to support our strong leaders and also pave the way for our youth to grow personally and professionally. By encouraging young people and showing them open doors to leadership positions, we benefit our community as a whole.
Momant: Every person wants the same thing, no matter what their race and/or culture: a steady source of income, a safe environment for their family, and a good quality of life. That being said, if Austin can continue to work to provide that for all of their residents, than all cultures can better fit into the larger Austin culture.
Wilson: At the end of the day if we remember that a) intrinsically, we like people like ourselves and b) everyone has a story, we can use it to our advantage as Austinites as a whole. It really is about getting to know your neighbor … listening, not prejudging. It’s amazing to me how simple it can be if we just try. Because Austin has hippies, politicians and entrepreneurs in it’s DNA, I believe we can a trailblazer in making our city inclusive to all.