Guest blogger Elizabeth Wattley writes about dismantling the effects of systemic racism through neighborhood development

Forest Forward is amplifying the history of the community and restoring the historic Forest Theater in the South Dallas/Fair Park neighborhood

By Elizabeth Wattley, August 13, 2020

Note: Elizabeth Wattley is the first guest to submit to the Wright Connatser blog. She is Executive Director of Forest Forward, an organization fighting the effects of systemic racism in Dallas through neighborhood revitalization. Elizabeth is dedicated to driving economic development while maintaining the history, culture, and pride of the community. Elizabeth has led innovative social entrepreneurship projects for more than 12 years, including contributing to the work of small homes for the chronically homeless at CitySquare and leading the effort to transform Paul Quinn College’s unused football field into a nationally recognized organic farm. A Black woman and a Dallas native with rich ties to Southern Dallas, she graduated from Spelman College, a historically Black college in Atlanta, and then earned an MBA from the SMU Cox School of Business.

“I got 99 problems, but a mission ain’t one.”    

My name is Elizabeth Wattley and I have been asked to write a blog. This is my first time writing a blog, so if it does not fit within the traditional constructs of most blogs, my bad.

I am the Executive Director of Forest Forward, a newly formed nonprofit organization that has been incubated at CitySquare for the past three years. The mission of this work is to combat the causes and effects of systemic racism through neighborhood revitalization that centers on the advancement and achievements of Black people.

I often get the side-eye when I promote the centering of Black lives, but specifically in this work, centering Black lives is what matters. Forest Forward is designed to reverse years of deliberate demobilization of an entire community and people. Once a Jewish community, South Dallas thrived, but due to segregation, white flight, redlining, and the construction of two major highways, the neighborhood has succumbed to the deliberate policies and efforts that were intended to strangle upward mobility, advancement, and economic security of Black people. This is history; this was intentional; and now, it is everyone’s responsibility to demand, evoke, and implement change.

The cycle of intergenerational poverty that has been caused by systemic and institutional racism in this neighborhood can be disrupted. With a detailed neighborhood revitalization plan to restore the historic Forest Theater, assemble a quality arts-focused cradle-to-college education pipeline, and erect hundreds of units of mixed-income housing, we can bring real change to the community. Although guided by a different sentiment, this revitalization effort must be implemented with the same intention, deliberateness, and commitment of public and private dollars to reverse the years of disinvestment. The Forest Forward revitalization effort is guided by hope and prosperity, not fear and hate. Can you imagine the amount of hate it requires to assemble the “powers that be” to sit in a room and literally draw crippling lines around communities because of the color of their skin?

Rendering of the revitalized Forest Theater

That is what we are up against. We are up against the hate that permeates American history. Yet, I remain hopeful. I remain hopeful because we sit on the edge of glory and the cusp of change. White people have joined the fight. And not in the “white savior” weird platitude kind of way, but the way in which it is clear: enough is enough — Black Lives Matter.

This universal fight against racism has been sparked by the death of another one of our black men at the hands of a white police officer. Quite frankly, it’s nothing new, so I wonder what made this time different. I will be honest and say it was different for me; I had become almost desensitized by the deliberate killings of our Black brothers and sisters. Emmett Till, Terence Crutcher, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. This list goes on and on. However, why was George Floyd’s death so different? Why the outrage, now? I don’t think anyone will ever really know, but here is my guess. The video.

The video was clear. There was no tussle. There was no weapon. There was no perceived threat. Every excuse that traditionally gives people something to hang onto for justification is stripped away. The only thing that is left for cause of death is that he was a Black man, and a white officer was asserting his dominance and white superiority despite the pleas and cries of George Floyd and the onlookers. There is a moment in the video when the officer stares straight into the camera with his knee firmly on the neck of George Floyd, and life leaves Mr. Floyd’s body. Everyone got a glimpse of the pure evil that is too familiar to Black people and a part of Black history. I will never forget that footage. The video cannot be ignored, no matter your race – if you have a general respect and love for humanity, you understand now is the time for real change and it requires EVERYONE. Everyone versus racism. And that means combating racism in every form that it may rear its ugly head.

That is why I may have 99 problems, but my mission ain’t one. My mission is to get everyone and anyone to join in the fight against the systemic racism that plagues South Dallas. This cannot be done alone and cannot be done in a silo. Crippling the Black race was the driving motivation behind the suffocation of South Dallas and its residents; however, equity, change, equality, diversity, inclusion, and love for Black people drive the mission of Forest Forward. And if we can get this right as a collective, if we can bring true positive healthy change to South Dallas, then I firmly believe we have contributed to making progress in the fight against racism in the city of Dallas and this nation as a whole.


For more information about Forest Forward, send an email to