“It’s All About the Kids” A Conversation with Quinton “Q” Phillips
Quinton “Q” Phillips is proud to be from Fort Worth.
A product of Stop Six and the East Side, the current Fort Worth Independent School District trustee for District 3 and one of the founders of the non-profit CommUnity Frontline represents what a young person, educated in Fort Worth public schools, can become. It’s not a stretch to say that Stop Six and the East Side molded Phillips into the man he is today.
Granted, Phillips’ path from Stop Six to the school board hasn’t been a particularly straight line. After all, going from probation officer to university professor to school board trustee, all in the space of less than 14 years, is far from “traditional.” When I mentioned this, Phillips threw his head back and roared with laughter, eliciting smiles from the other patrons of Black Coffee. (He’s a regular there.) “It has been anything BUT traditional,” he said. “But it has been completely divinely guided.”
Phillips graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 1999 and is still a loud and proud Dunbar Wildcat, much to the dismay of his wife, who grew up in Forest Hill and graduated from O.D. Wyatt in the same year. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university near Houston. And that’s where Phillips said God first guided him to where he needed to be.
“We had to get internship hours to graduate,” Phillips remembered. “I had left it a little too late and was scrambling to find something, but every internship was filled. My advisor called the supervisor of Tarrant County’s Juvenile Services, who told her, once again, that everything was already filled. But I heard his voice.”
As Phillips talked, his smile kept getting bigger and bigger. “I asked, ‘Is that Bill West? Tell him it’s Q!’ See, Bill West and I had been part of Camp Community through the Multicultural Alliance when he was an advisor, and I was a delegate. Once Bill heard it was me, he found a space for me.”
That internship led to a job after college and a lifelong friendship with West. Coming back to Fort Worth, Phillips became an interventional specialist with the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program at the Lena Pope Home. After five years with the program, he transitioned to being a juvenile probation officer with Tarrant County.
When asked about the stresses that come with a job like juvenile parole officer, Phillips said, “They paid me to do the paperwork. I would have worked with those kids for free.”
“Yes, the job was challenging. Yes, the job was hard. But it was a privilege to work every day with [children] who had been cast away or were on the path to being cast away. I never once went to sleep at night wondering if I had made a difference in someone’s life.”
Phillips held that job for almost ten years. Toward the end of his tenure with the County, Phillips said God intervened again. One day, Bill West called his former protégée. West had become an associate professor at TCU, teaching in the Department of Criminal Justice, but he was nearing retirement. He asked if Phillips had ever considered teaching.
So Phillips became an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at TCU, going from probation officer to university professor. Along the way, he married Diondra (the O.D. Wyatt graduate), and they settled on the East Side to raise their two boys, Quinton II and Austin. Diondra is currently working on her Ph.D. in educational leadership.
“She’s the most educated person I know,” Phillips said. “She has a bachelor’s from UT in electrical engineering, one master’s from SMU in mathematics, and another master’s from UTA in educational leadership. She’s incredible!”
Of course, knowing the crosstown rivalry between O.D. Wyatt and Dunbar, I had to ask where the Phillips’ children would go. Once again, Phillips roared with laughter.
“I’ve brainwashed them really well; they’re Dunbar Wildcats through and through.” Quinton II is an eighth grader at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, while Austin is a second grader at Riverside Applied Learning Academy. Quinton will have to choose between switching to Dunbar or continuing at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy. “We don’t know where Quinton will go [for high school], but we want to allow him to be part of the choice.”
It’s easy to see how important education is to Phillips. He leans his whole body into the conversation, and his face gets serious. It’s not hard to understand why he took the leap from professor to school board trustee. He described running for school board as a “weird kind of crossroad but one that God guided me to.” And, like so much in his life, running for school board has its roots in Stop Six.
“I grew up around the corner from Christene Chadwick Moss. Her son, Frank Jr., was my brother. Growing up in her house, I was able to witness firsthand what she was able to do for education in Fort Worth.”
Christene Chadwick Moss was the District 3 school board trustee for almost 20 years. She served as the president of the Texas Caucus of Black School Board Members, and Christene C. Moss Elementary School is named for her. When, after she decided to step down from the school board, Phillips told her he was going to run to replace her, Moss “gave me her blessing, and then told me not to put my foot in my mouth or screw up.”
Phillips also has been lifelong friends with school board trustee Jacinto Ramos, Jr. “With those two people guiding me, I couldn’t do anything BUT run for school board!” He was elected to represent District 3 in 2019. Less than a year later, the rookie trustee was dropped in the metaphorical deep end.
Spring Break 2020 must hold a record somewhere for being the longest spring break on record. As students left for their break, FWISD was hit with a ransomware attack that crippled the district’s computer system. While the district was frantically trying to rebuild their network, the State of Texas closed schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school board had to figure out how to educate Fort Worth’s students, many of whom did not have access to online learning or even a solid meal every day. When the 2020-2021 school year started, the school board had to decide whether to implement online-only learning or to open the schools. The parents of Fort Worth were divided and vocal in their opinions.
Now the debate has moved from online learning versus in-person learning to educational equity. Fort Worth is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and 89% of the student population of FWISD are people of color. When asked about the debate surrounding educational equity, Phillips said, “What it really boils down to is that we as trustees have to remember who we were elected to serve. We were elected to serve the youth of Fort Worth.”
“All we’re really talking about is getting students what they need. That’s it. We don’t have to take away to give. There is more than enough to go around. There is enough love. There is enough expertise. There are enough resources. There’s more than enough of everything for our young people, regardless of what demographic boxes they check, to be the very best.”
This is Phillips’ guiding passion. He wants Fort Worth’s children to be the best they can possibly be.
“At the heart of the matter, we are ALL here for the children, regardless of where we stand on the issues,” Phillips said. It is this that guides Phillips through to listen to every person who comes to an open school board meeting. He wants to understand each constituent’s concerns. “The bottom line is that I want to hear all people and their concerns. Every person who shows up to share their feelings? Those feelings are valid, and they deserve to be heard…. That doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but every person deserves to be heard by someone who is going to take them seriously.”
“In those moments of passion, you see the speaker’s love for their children. You see their parenthood. You see their humanity. I give them the same rights and privileges I would want. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids, right?”
Phillips’ love for the children of Fort Worth is also evident in his work with CommUnity Frontline. This non-profit organization works to find solutions to community problems. When asked how CommUnity Frontline plays into his work with his decidedly non-traditional path, Phillips paused before answering.
“I love that I grew up in Stop Six. It was the most positive peer pressure a man could ask for with brothers all pushing each other to excellence, pushing each other to rail against the stigma of our neighborhood and being young Black men. We know we’re not the Stop Six stereotype. We wanted to show who we really are.”
Phillips explained that when he was in school, there was a “pipeline” from Stop Six, through Dunbar High School to Prairie View A&M University, to the “outside world.” People who went to college didn’t come back to Fort Worth.
“My Stop Six brothers and I made an intentional mission to come home so another generation wouldn’t have to think you have to leave Fort Worth to make it. We have so much talent here, we shouldn’t be losing our students.”
After college, Phillips and his friends started a Bible study as a way to keep connected as they started careers and families. The Bible study slowly morphed into doing community work.
“It’s about the work. If we were really going to follow what’s in the Bible, we had to take it outside the cover and into the community.” Now CommUnity Frontline works to connect people in Fort Worth who need help with people in Fort Worth who want to help. The members of CommUnity Frontline engage in volunteer work, advocate for policy change, and mentor young people.
Phillips stopped, gathering his thoughts.
“I am so lucky to grow up on the East Side of Fort Worth.”
He paused again.
“When I was growing up in Stop Six, there were killings and gun violence and a lot of the stereotypical things that people think of when they think of ‘The Hood.’ Yes, it was dangerous. But at the same time as I was navigating those waters, I grew up two houses down from Dr. Gwendolyn Morrison who has been on the Tarrant County College District board since 1976. I grew up around the corner from Christene Chadwick Moss and her husband, Franklin Moss, Sr., a city councilperson. I grew up around the corner from former Mayor Pro Tem Bert Williams. I grew up around the corner from L. Clifford Davis, who helped Thurgood Marshall with Brown vs. The Board of Education and was a judge and a city councilperson [and for whom Cifford Davis Elementary School is named]. I was surrounded by education and civic pride.”
“I’m blessed and fortunate to have grown up with both sides of Stop Six because it allowed me to see why I have to make the fight for justice real and see how to make it achievable.”
Many Fort Worthians only associate Stop Six and the East Side with drugs, with crime statistics and school dropouts. But Stop Six is a community with a rich history that instills its residents with a sense of belonging and pride. And Quinton Phillips represents that perfectly.
“Everything that I am – the swag, the intellect, the heart – is all a part of the people I grew up with, of my neighborhood, and my community. I am the return on their investment. I have a sense of responsibility to serve my community and my city to the best of my ability.”
Lee Virden Geurkink is a jack of all trades, master of none. She has been a bank teller, a chef and caterer (both in restaurants and in private service), a bookkeeper, a trainer, a legal assistant, and a writer. She is a graduate of Sewanee with a degree in Early European History. (She planned to be a professor but realized in the nick of time that professors have homework, which she never did when she was a student, so what made her think that she would do it as a professor?) While she has not used her degree in her, er, varied employment history, she is fabulous at cocktail parties. Most importantly, Lee is the proud mother of two amazing children and stepmother to three incredible bonus children.