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A servant leader: Family, community leaders shape Fort Worth City Council District 6 director

A servant leader: Family, community leaders shape Fort Worth City Council District 6 director

Ruby Washington regularly served the United Riverside neighborhood, taking food to a sick neighbor, cooking for a church event or helping someone who just lost a loved one — and great-grandson Kendyll Locke was with her.

It’s where the 19-year-old learned servant leadership and the importance of community.

“She exposed me, along with the rest of my family, to what true service and leadership looks like,” Locke said. “And it wasn't necessarily all about reaping the benefit all the time, but it was just being out there and giving yourself up for service.”

After she died in 2014, he carried those lessons with him, and now he helps serve a much larger part of Fort Worth as the District 6 director for Councilman Jared Williams.

Kendyll Locke and his great-grandmother Ruby Washington. Locke said Washington taught him about servant leadership and the importance of helping others. (Courtesy photo | Fort Worth Report)

Locke, a senior at the University of North Texas, was 18 when Williams was elected. Locke started working on campaigns in 2013 when his aunt, Kelly Allen Gray, was running for the District 8 City Council seat. In that time, he met Williams and in 2020 he started working on his campaign.

He and Williams shared a connection in their shared alma mater: Both went to Crowley ISD schools. But Williams kept running into Locke at community events before he even ran for office, he said.

“He's passionate about District 6,” Williams said. “He's passionate about the schools and districts; he's a product of the public schools there. He's passionate about the city.”

On the night Williams was elected, Locke was at his house. At 11 p.m., the numbers started to flip in Williams’ favor, and he turned to Locke and said, “I hope you’re ready. You’re going to be my district director.”

“And I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m not doing that,’” Locke said. “And, at that time, it was more so a lot of fear going through my mind.”

Some of that fear stemmed from the fact that he was still in school; even though he was nearing the end of his degree after graduating high school with an associate degree, he still had concerns. After a few days of reflecting on it, he decided to take the job.

Locke took time to pray on the decision and talk to his family, Williams said, but he had faith in Locke.

“What was special for me was that I really believe that the sign of an amazing leader is your ability to be transformational in our leadership,” Williams said. “That transformation is indicative of the people that you surround yourself with and your ability to pour into the next generation of leaders and make room for them to shine and lead itself. I felt like I owed it to the district to really do something bold.”

“A product of the public schools”

The schools in Fort Worth shaped Locke as a leader at a young age.

His education started when he was 3 years old in preschool at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School. He went to kindergarten and part of first grade at Riverside Applied Learning Center, but when he and his mother moved to District 6, he started school at Jackie Carden Elementary. He then went to Marry Harris Intermediate School, now elementary school. Locke graduated high school from the Crowley Collegiate Academy, which is what allowed him to take college courses for free and graduate with an associate degree.

His educational experience is marked by teachers who invested in him and brought out his leadership and intelligence. Locke can recall many of his teachers and conversations he had with them that shaped him into the leader he is today.

Third grade was a memorable experience, Locke said, because his teacher, Becky Barton, was like a mother away from home.

One day, Locke brought a book to school his mother had given him about things a young gentleman should know. Upon noticing the book, Barton felt he should mentor other young boys on the campus with it.

That experience allowed him to start developing leadership skills at a young age. In middle school he led the student council. He was part of a group of students who were sent to elementary schools to recruit kids to his campus.

In seventh and eighth grades, Locke said, he started competing in University Interscholastic League modern oratory contests after his teacher told him to do so.

“There were teachers, and there were people all across my journey, who always challenged me to do the next big thing,” Locke said. “So, there was never a dull moment in my life.”

Locke never planned on attending the early college high school because he played football and wanted to keep doing so, which was not an option at the new campus. But his counselor in eighth grade told him the school was opening and he needed to apply to attend.

He applied without thinking he would be accepted.

“At that point, it was a big shift, because I was like, ‘OK, now I don't have sports. I can't play sports. So what else am I going to do?’” he said. “Moving into that was another set of leadership skills that were unlocked.”

Throughout his education, Locke was given different assignments by teachers so he was challenged, which he said at first felt like a punishment, but looking back now he sees it was encouragement to grow.

“When I look back, it was always a challenge,” he said.

Locke plans to graduate in December with a degree in political science with a minor in criminal justice and is working on a legal study certificate. He plans to one day attend law school and run for office, though he is not sure which one yet.

“But she’s smiling down from heaven”

Along with his teachers, his family has made a huge impact on him, he said. He spent a lot of his time in the summers with his great-grandmother in United Riverside. He can drive down those 15 streets that make up that community and point out several residents because it’s a neighborhood where everyone knows each other, he said.

Locke had the best of both worlds because he and his mom lived in District 6, but he still got to be part of the United Riverside community, he said.

“My family has always been super supportive of just my dreams, my goals and embracing leadership at a younger age,” he said.

His family also challenged him. When was a kid, if he heard a word he didn’t understand and asked his mother what it meant, she would tell him to look it up in a dictionary and learn how to use it in a sentence.

She also used to make him call and make restaurant reservations at nice places so he learned etiquette. She taught him about respecting women and how to be a gentleman at a young age, he said.

Now he is using those skills and following the example his aunt set for him by getting involved in city government.

Allen Gray, now the executive director of the AIDS Outreach Center, said Locke has been involved in her campaigns since 2013 and she was not surprised to see him get involved in civic service.

“This is what he has always wanted to do,” Allen Gray said. “I am thankful that we started this process together so that he could decide who he wanted to support as a candidate and who he didn't want to lend his support to as a candidate. I am just elated that you know he is walking in his truth and in his purpose and it is what he has always wanted to do and he is getting to live it day by day.”

Allen Gray said she simply can’t say enough positive things about her nephew. He is an old soul, honest, kind, wise and walks to the beat of his own drum, she said.

“That's how he was raised, and that's what he stands on,” Allen Gray said. “And in this day and age, when we have young people and older people who, say, don't have that foundation of integrity and my word is my bond and I want to treat people the way that I want to be treated — It is refreshing. It does my heart good.”

His family is proud of him, and Allen Gray said she knows his great-grandmother, Washington, is looking down on him and is proud, too. Washington wanted him to have the best life possible.

“It is really truly just awesome to see Kendyll, and to just know that this is the part that she's missing,” Allen Gray said. “But she's smiling down from heaven, saying, ‘Yeah, he's doing it. He's doing every single thing that he said he was going to do.’”

“Our city has a bright future”

Being so young in the position he is in and working with a young council member means having to overcome stigma to prove he can serve the people of District 6 well. Locke knows there were concerns among residents and city staff when he started his position at 18.

“But needless to say, we've been rolling,” Locke said. “We've been rocking and rolling with taking care of not only constituent caseload, but also making sure that we're honing in on those priorities that (Williams) talked about during his campaign that we're now able to deliver on.”

Managing the constituent caseload is something Locke is particularly proud of, he said. As people in the district emailed him about issues, he said, he picked up on comments and a stigma that only people who live in certain parts of the district get responses and action from the district office. Locke and Williams are working to change that stigma, he said.

“Whenever I decide to step away from this position, the biggest thing I will always be proud of is how transparent and how efficient we've made our office,” Locke said. “We really strive on having great customer service.”

There are several other issues Locke is proud of working on with Williams, like the listening circles they do once a month, the egret problem in the area and a Homegrown Heroes initiative they are working on to create a pipeline for students to jobs in police and fire.

“It may sound cliche, but I think overall, the main thing has been just the transparency, the accessibility and the efficiency of our office and letting people know that there's real energy in our district,” Locke said.

Williams sees Locke’s youth as an advantage and something that will help the future of the city.

“Generation Z has a seat at some of the most important tables and influencing where we go as a city — and our city has a bright future,” Williams said. “That’s a story that should be replicated, that our youth should have a say in the future of our society. Kendyll is a shining example and story of the power of what happens when we create room at the table for perspectives that haven't been there and create room for them to really grow and thrive.”

Locke still has some of his education left but for now, he just wants to keep finding ways to serve people, just as his great-grandmother taught him.

“Whether that means upon graduation, me going into law school and being able to serve people, whether that's me moving into the political realm and consulting for elected officials or for candidates, whether that's me stepping into a higher position as a political staffer,” Locke said. “Whatever that looks like, my thing is always how can I insert myself into serving people and serving people at a greater level.”

Kendyll Locke bio

Birthplace: Born Fort Worth and lived all his life in the city.

Family: Qiosha Dickson, mother; Donald Locke, father

Education: High school diploma, North Crowley High School (Crowley Collegiate Academy - Early College High School); associate degree in humanities (earned while in high school), Tarrant County College; now a senior at the University of North Texas majoring in political science

Work experience: He worked on his first campaign in 2017 (ninth grade) which was his aunt Kelly Allen Gray’s District 8 city council race. He continued to work with other elected officials and candidates on the local, state and federal levels and has worked with other small businesses, political action committees, and non-profit organizations.
He is now the district director for Fort Worth City Councilman Jared Williams

Volunteer experience: He volunteers with numerous organizations across the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex while serving as an active member of Corinth Baptist Church. The organizations in which he includes a leadership position includes:

First job: AMC Theatres

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Take notes from the person who is where you want to be, share notes with the person who is where you are, and pass your notes to the person who is trying to get where you are! I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes about leadership; ‘Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself … but when you become a leader, success is about growing others.’ from Jack Welch.”

Best advice ever received: “Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself!”

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.