A bombshell dropped on South Dallas this week when Froswa’ Booker-Drew announced that her last day at the State Fair of Texas would be next Friday, April 15.
Known in the community as “the great connector,” Booker-Drew has helmed the Fair’s community affairs and strategic alliances office for six years. She was “hired to help restore a wounded relationship between the 277-acre city-owned exposition park and nearby residents it disenfranchised.”
Booker-Drew, who told Dallas Free Press she prefers not to speak about the situation at this point, conveyed the news of her departure via email to more than 130 nonprofit organizations and community partners that she works with and convenes on a regular basis. (Editor’s note: Dallas Free Press is one of those nonprofits and received a $5,000 State Fair of Texas grant last fall.) Her email to community partners did not give any details about the reasons she is leaving or what might be next for her.
The dozens of emailed responses to her news were full of loss, shock, anger and distrust.
“We need to raise questions as to why the State Fair of Texas is allowing such a valued employee who has had a tremendous impact on many of our programs in the southern sector to ‘walk away’ so easily,” Pastor Chris Simmons of South Dallas’ Cornerstone Baptist Church emailed in response. Booker-Drew is a member of his congregation. “We are all aware of the State Fair of Texas’ history in the South Dallas community, and it has not been a shining one. As Froswa worked with us, she helped us to regain trust and confidence that the Fair was in the community for our good.”
Appeals to community partners to reach out to State Fair president Mitchell Glieber and board chairwoman Gina Norris came from Simmons and several others, including Sherri Mixon of TR Hoover CDC in South Dallas’ Ideal neighborhood.
“The news of Dr. Booker leaving was heavy,” Mixon wrote. “There is no value we can place on the investment she has made in South Dallas.”
Glieber was named president in 2014 and amended the State Fair’s mission statement to make “community involvement” a new pillar. At a virtual pastors luncheon hosted in October 2020 by Booker-Drew and her team, Glieber noted that when he became president, he “wanted the State Fair’s name to become synonymous with being a community partner” and hired Booker-Drew to achieve that goal.
The neighbors who live in the 75210 and 75215 zip codes surrounding Fair Park are 65% Black and 26% Latino, according to data the United States Census Bureau released in the December 2020 American Community Survey. The State Fair of Texas’ racist history as an organization, as well as the history of racially motivated eminent domain on the part of the City of Dallas, which owns Fair Park, led to neighbors’ present-day distrust.
Booker-Drew joined the team as a director in 2016, and was promoted to vice-president in 2019, becoming part of the State Fair’s senior leadership team. Under her leadership, the State Fair awarded more than $3 million to South Dallas/Fair Park nonprofit partners, using proceeds from the Fair’s annual 24-day-run each fall. Her team established the annual Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards honoring the late South Dallas civil rights activist, co-created curriculum around Craft’s life and work for schoolchildren, and also published an anti-racism guide.
Booker-Drew’s most fervent efforts focused on connecting the organizations and entities serving South Dallas so they could be more effective in improving the lives of neighborhood residents. She created an exhaustive list of community resources that later became the Serve Southern Dallas website, filtering nonprofits by geographic area and types of services. Her most recent effort was the South Dallas Employment Project, a partnership between the State Fair of Texas and Redemption Bridge, with 100-plus nonprofit and for-profit organizations collaborating, including the City of Dallas.
It’s these efforts that have made Booker-Drew synonymous with the Fair in the eyes of South Dallas neighbors and community partners. When they think of the State Fair, they don’t picture Big Tex or the iconic ferris wheel; they picture her.
Glieber was out of town this week but sent an email late Friday afternoon in response to the calls and messages he had received over Booker-Drew’s departure.
“We hear you loud and clear and share your disappointment,” Glieber wrote. “She taught us much about how to be better community partners, and we will continue with the great work that she started.”
“Although Froswa’ is leaving, rest assured, our commitment to the community is unwavering and we will continue to prove that with our actions,” Glieber continued. “We will now focus our efforts on finding the next leader to embrace the responsibility that the Fair has undertaken to continue to improve the lives of our Fair Park neighbors.”
Ten people are part of the State Fair of Texas leadership team, seven of them senior vice presidents. Neither Booker-Drew nor Melanie Linnear, the only two Black members of the leadership team, and two of the four women, have “senior” in their titles.
Because the State Fair is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, its annual tax filings are public and easy to view, thanks to ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. The Fair’s most recent 990 from fiscal year 2019, which was filed April 1, 2021, shows that Booker-Drew and Linnear are the lowest paid members of the senior leadership team, with Booker-Drew earning $133,059 and Linnear $156,556. Linnear, the vice-president of food and beverage, also is the longest tenured member of the State Fair’s leadership team, with 30+ years on staff. Her predecessor, Carey Risinger, retired in 2019 after 12 years at the Fair, earning $283,953 in his final full year as the senior vice president of concessions.
As of 2019, the highest paid State Fair vice-president earned $167,362, and the pay range for senior vice presidents spanned from $180,172 to $570,540, Glieber’s salary.
When we raised questions about the salary structure to the Fair, we were emailed a response from Glieber noting that “due to the pandemic and ongoing, forward-looking reviews of our organizational structure, there have been no promotions on the senior management team since 2019, but that certainly does not mean there wouldn’t have been some on the horizon.”
He noted that the cancellation of the 2020 fair caused the nonprofit organization to lose nearly $20 million, but after the successful 2021 fair, the senior management team is creating a strategic plan for the future, and “Froswa’ was a significant part of those plans,” Glieber says. “She was a highly respected and admired leader in our organization.”
“We did make efforts to keep Froswa’ here as part of our team to continue the work,” Glieber noted in his email to the community, “but she has made the decision to move on and we respect that decision.”