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'A Friend To Everyone In The Community': Fort Worth Black Chamber Of Commerce Leader Dies At 73

Dee Jennings.
Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce
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The late Devoyd “Dee” Jennings, a champion of Black businesses and longtime president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, was remembered at a funeral service on Saturday.

He died at his home on July 24 at the age of 73. The cause was a heart attack, according to his wife, Gwen Barbee Jennings.

Dee Jennings grew up in Fort Worth at the Butler Place public housing development. In a short documentary from the housing authority, he reminisced about Butler community, with its outdoor movie nights and the summer jobs that built his work ethic: Cutting the grass and painting apartments.

“I was able to have a nice little wardrobe because I saved up all the money during the summer months,” Jennings remembered.

He graduated from I.M. Terrell High School, a Black high school in segregated Fort Worth. There, he was a member of the 1965 state basketball championship team coached by the legendary Robert Hughes. Jennings called Hughes, the winningest coach in boys’ high school basketball history, his “most significant role model.”

From there, he went to Tarrant County College and Texas Wesleyan University. He spent decades working in the electric industry and was involved in a wide range of community organizations and programs, including Texas Wesleyan’s board. Just last week, he was at the groundbreaking for a new student apartment building at Texas Wesleyan, the Fort Worth Business Press reported.

Jennings spent his career focused on making the Fort Worth area's business scene more equitable. He worked to get cities to give more contracts to Black and brown businesses. In February, he went on NBC DFW to talk about the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses through the pandemic.

"The color of freedom is green,” he said. “As long as we can create some green opportunities for all that want to be involved, we make that difference.”

Jennings also helped start the William Mann Jr. Community Development Corporation, a small business lender, as well as Southeast Fort Worth Inc., an economic redevelopment agency.

Glenn S. Forbes was a longtime friend of Jennings and the first leader of both organizations. He remembered Jennings as a person who could take ideas and turn them into reality.

"Wherever there was something to advocate for — development, or education, particularly impacting individuals of Black and brown communities — Dee seldom was standing on the outside," Forbes said.

Forbes moved to the city in 1983 as one of the few minority bankers, he said. Jennings sought him out, becoming a mentor who never hesitated to guide Forbes in a city that can be insular and closed-off against transplants.

Forbes remembered Friday nights with Jennings and a small group of friends, telling funny stories, debating and brainstorming about the future. He and Jennings shared a love of basketball, and in addition to hearing stories about Jennings' days at I.M. Terrell, they'd often get together for pickup games.

“We'd go up and down the floor to the extent we can breathe long enough,” Forbes joked.

Dee Jennings and his wife, Gwen Barbee Jennings, were married for 41 years. Gwen was also deeply involved in the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, where she launched the Women’s Division and was a founding director of the Film Institute.

In an interview, she looked back on their lives and work together, and called Dee her best friend.

“He was always the same person. He played jokes, and that was just him,” Gwen said. “He always had a smile. He was always positive.”

She said her husband will be remembered for his extensive involvement across different boards and organizations.

“He was a friend to everyone in the community,” she said. “He wanted to make a difference, which he did.”

Funeral Information:

Time: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 31

Place: St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 5819 W. Pleasant Ridge Road, Arlington, TX 76016

The burial will take place at Emerald Hills Memorial Park.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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