“This is a story of a little black girl who was told, ‘You can’t do this,’ and God said, ‘Yes you can,’ and yes I did,” said Councilwoman of District 2 and Mayor pro tem, DeAndra Chenault. DeAndra’s parents were told by a principal at Austin Elementary School when she was a child that she “would need special education” because of a learning disability. She was also told that she should choose a trade because she would never go to college.
“Yes, I had trouble passing the standardized test. I had issues with the STARR test. However, with a strong support system, you can make it through anything. God found a way,” she shared. There were also people at the school that were very supportive and helped her on her journey. “Mrs. Ethel Travis was a teacher at Austin Elementary that supported me. Mrs. Airosha Brown was one of the assistant principals that supported the mentor program called the PIE program,” DeAndra added.
DeAndra was also assigned a volunteer mentor who made a big difference in her life, and, in fact, they are still in contact with each other even though her mentor lives in San Antonio. “Captain Jeane Koval Smith came into my life. She worked in the general’s office at the base [Sheppard Air Force Base], and she came to visit me every week. We would go out to eat, and she would come to my house and pick me up. She took me to black plays and different things. She took me everywhere, so she was like my second mom. They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said DeAndra. As she grew, she began to receive private tutoring thanks to her parents.
“My parents planted a seed in me at an early age that I would go to college in spite of my learning issues and learning disability,” she explained. “And once again, God made a way. I received a scholarship from the Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast. I was in a work program at old high (Wichita Falls High School), and El Chico restaurant was one of my sponsors and I received a scholarship from them. I was a debutant in the Progressive Club, and I received another scholarship from them. Then DARS helped pay for some of my stuff because of my disability. Everything worked out.”
She attended Jarvis Christian College in east Texas, which is a historically black college and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Criminal Justice. Upon returning home, she began to seek a job in her field but was unsuccessful. She was working at Downtown Pharmacy where she had worked on and off since high school. After going to multiple interviews, “I told the Lord if I don’t get this job, I was going to do something different. I had thought about running for city council, and I started going to the meetings just to kind of see how it operated and what they talked about. I did that for about six months. I decided to run even though I knew it took money that
I didn’t have. I had $100 saved for a rainy day, my last $100, so I went ahead and filed the paperwork to run. I told the Lord, ‘If you will bless me with a good job in my field or if city council is what you think I should do, then however you bless me, I will be okay,’” she said.
“So, I stepped out on faith, and people began to pour financially into my campaign. I didn’t realize how expensive it is to run a campaign, especially since I had an opponent, but I was able to do everything I needed to do with the donations I received. I got 65 percent of the vote my first time, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. However, it has been a learning process,” she said with a smile. That was in 2015 and she has retained her position on the council and is planning to run again this year. DeAndra is proud of the fact that her 92 year old great grandmother voted for her. “She lived in a time when (women) were not allowed to vote,” she said.
Her biggest challenge was two days after she took office when the flood of 2015 took place. Her district is located on the east side of Wichita Falls, and the flood “took out the whole east side. I went without sleep for a whole week. I was trying to open shelters and was staying up until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and visiting shelters every day and trying to go to meetings,” she recalled.
Her biggest success in office was getting the Family Dollar open on the east side. “It was a huge project of mine. When I first came to office, I wanted a business on the east side. I had a few meetings with the city and everything I asked for they said, ‘No, no, no.’ I took a friend and walked around 701 Martin Luther King Boulevard seven times” praying for God to do his will. Not long after that, she was contacted by the owner of the business. “I started the process with the city for them. Planning is not my degree, but I worked with the city and got the project going. It has been open for about two years. It has been sixty years since there has been a new business of this size on the east side,” DeAndra said. “The Family Dollar was needed on this side of town. The east side was a food desert. Family Dollar is 50 percent food and it helps a lot, especially if you don’t have transportation to get to the grocery store. I like to go down MLK and see people with their strollers and their kids being able to get the necessities that they need. Every time I see them, I just say, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” she said with gratitude.
Another thing that DeAndra wanted to work towards is revitalizing the downtown area, so she is also on the board of the Downtown Development, as well as several other boards. “Downtown was so dead back in 2015. Now there are restaurants, bars, stores and the After Hours Art Walks, and I love it all. It is amazing to me, and I know we still have some issues, but the cracked sidewalks haven’t stopped people from coming downtown. I am happy, and I am really excited that downtown is thriving. I love the crosswalk that was painted with the piano keys,” she said with a grin. The crosswalk is at the corner of 7th and Ohio.
She graduated from the Leadership Wichita Falls organization in 2017. “Everyone should go through that program, because you learn about Wichita Falls and the different organizations here and what they do. With me being on the council, I serve an underprivileged area, and I have people call that need things. Now I can direct them to organizations that can help them,” DeAndra said.
Her challenge to the citizens of Wichita Falls is to go to an elementary school, start to read to a child and become a mentor. “If we get involved in children’s lives, we can change that child’s life,” DeAndra said passionately. And she should know.