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“I’m not entirely certain why that is so, but I think many thoughtful people are concerned about it.” Despite significant growth in the black population here, the Dallas metro area is still only 15 percent black. Black professionals who have moved to Dallas say they often don’t see other blacks at their corporate headquarters, in their neighborhood grocery stores in Uptown or Lakewood, or at happy hours downtown.
Nationally, it ranks ninth for having the largest black population, behind New York; Atlanta; Chicago; Washington, D. That was Payne’s experience when she first moved to Dallas in the fall of 2006.
In the 1990s, demographers noticed that the numbers had fully turned around, with African-Americans leaving former magnets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and repopulating southern cities such as Dallas. They say the migration has been partly fueled by college-educated blacks, resulting in an overall “brain gain” to certain states, including Texas and Georgia.
Frey believes the Dallas metro area will continue to be a major draw for blacks in coming years.
At her Brooklyn apartment, Payne picked up the phone and dialed one of the few people she knew in Dallas, a classmate from Harvard Business School who also was black. Young black lawyers often are told that if they want to work in the South, they should go to Atlanta, not Dallas, he says.
“We’ve got to work harder to convince people that Dallas is a good place to be,” Boone says.
Despite her social concerns about Dallas, she wasn’t going to let them get in the way of her career path.
She bought a one-way ticket, stopped at a BMW dealership to pick up a car, and drove to her newly purchased condominium in Uptown.
Here, when she went out after work, she often was the only black person in sight.
It’s a perception that has long troubled city leaders, this idea that the Dallas area isn’t viewed as a place where blacks, particularly high-achieving blacks, would want to live.
Yet, interestingly, this perception is at odds with the data.
In a glass skyscraper on Park Avenue in New York, executives offered Onay Payne her dream job. A quiet pause followed, then a string of hesitant utterances. “I suppose if it’s a great professional move—but socially, I wouldn’t recommend it.” At a time of striking growth among the black population in the Dallas area, the city still suffers from an image problem among black professionals who perceive other cities—Atlanta; Chicago; or Washington, D. “Dallas is a tough sell,” says April Allen, the friend Payne called, and executive director of KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth, a nonprofit charter school organization that has had trouble recruiting education reformers to the area.
The bosses at her real estate private equity firm wanted Payne to oversee a new 0 million fund, a significant promotion. What would it be like, Payne wondered, to live in Dallas as a thirtysomething black woman? “There is definitely the perception that Dallas isn’t as progressive as other cities for African-Americans.” Michael Boone, founding partner of the Dallas law firm Haynes and Boone, says his firm still struggles to recruit African-American attorneys to Dallas and has resorted to sending out letters to the top 100 black student law groups in the country, encouraging members to apply.
Like many thirtysomethings on a fast-track career path, Payne was ambitious.