Update: Longtime Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber leader Devoyd Jennings dies

Devoyd Jennings courtesy photo

Devoyd “Dee” Jennings

Sept. 10, 1947-July 24, 2021

Longtime Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber leader has died

Devoyd “Dee” Jennings, longtime president and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce died Saturday, July 24.

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His funeral was held July 31 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Arlington with burial at Emerald Hills Memorial Park in Kennedale.

Mr. Jennings was born Sept. 10, 1947, in Los Angeles, California, to William and Margaret Robinson Jennings.

He grew up in Fort Worth, supporting the gold and blue at I.M. Terrell High School, graduating in 1966. He was part of the legendary Coach Robert Hughes 1965 state basketball championship team at I.M. Terrell. He enrolled at Tarrant County College and later attended Texas Wesleyan University, graduating with a degree in marketing in 1971.

 “We all recognize the deep and life-long connection Mr. Jennings had with the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce,” said a message from Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Sultan H. Cole Sr.

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“He will be missed immensely but in the true spirit of who Dee was, he would want us to move forward to maintain, protect and grow the legacy that he spent his life building.”

Accolades and remembrances poured in at the news of Mr. Jennings’ passing spread.

“Dee Jennings was a pillar of the Fort Worth community, a true friend and inspiration to so many, including my own family,” said Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker. “We are sending out love and prayers to the entire Jennings family, the chamber and all of his many friends who love him dearly. Dee leaves behind a remarkable legacy because of his devotion to this community and willingness to continually lead and make all of us better.”

Mr. Jennings helped create two stand-alone organizations that directly benefit minority development – the William Mann Community Development Corp., a financial lending agency; and Southeast Fort Worth Inc., a community development agency that fosters development in east and southeast Fort Worth specifically.

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He also worked with government bodies and others such as the city of Fort Worth, Arlington, JPS Health Network, Tarrant County and the Fort Worth ISD to help establish minority and women-owned business enterprise goals.

When Mr. Jennings was honored with a Minority Leaders in Business Award by the Fort Worth Business Press in 2017, he noted his mentors:

“My most significant mentor is longtime educator, politician and community leader Reby Cary, the first African-American to serve on the Fort Worth school board and one of the first Blacks from Tarrant County to serve in the Texas Legislature. My most significant role model is legendary basketball coach Robert Hughes Sr.,” he said.

In 1973. Mr. Jennings began a 27-year career with TXU as a Community Affairs Specialist and was the first Black lobbyist for Texas Electric.

He served on numerous boards over the years, including: The Texas Association of Business – 1995 to 2014; Texas Wesleyan University – 1989 to 2008; North Texas Commission – 1993 to 2003; and the Texas Association of African American Chambers, He served as chairman of the NTTA’s Business Diversity Advisory Committee, 2009-2013.

In 1992 and again in 2005, the city of Fort Worth honored Jennings with a proclamation for Devoyd Jennings Day. In 1999 he was featured by the Fort Worth Business Press as Who’s Who in Economic Development and received the Deal Maker Award from the Business Press in 1998. In 2016 he was involved in the leadership of the successful effort to reopen I.M. Terrell High School as a STEM & Performing Arts Academy.

“We have lost one of our larger-than-life community leaders in Fort Worth,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. “My sincerest condolences to Gwen Barbee and the family of Devoyd Jennings, President of the Fort Worth Black Chamber of Commerce and proud I.M. Terrell alumni.”

“Devoyd Jennings was not only a very close friend, advisor and confidant he had an unwavering commitment to the City of Fort Worth and particularly the African American community. He chose to spend his life promoting the economic interest of our city,” said Glenn Lewis, chair of the board at Texas Wesleyan University and a past board member and chair of the board of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce. Lewis was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1995 to 2005.

“Dee was a dedicated leader for our community. Our friendship dates back more than 30 years and was founded in mutual respect and partnership. I will miss his counsel. He was a tireless promoter of our city to people from other places, and was instrumental in bringing many meetings and conventions of all sizes to Fort Worth. As these past several years have tested our community in the area of social justice, Dee was a staunch advocate for necessary changes that could help our city be better for all its citizens. Our prayers are for his family in their time of such sadness,” said Robert L. Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Dee Jennings. Dee was a dear friend and confidant throughout my time as Mayor,” former Mayor Betsy Price said in a Facebook post.

“My friend Dee Jennings was a man upon whom the Lord showered many gifts and graces. He was tenacious, an ethos drilled into each graduate of Historic IM Terrell High school. He was passionate, about his family, his friends, and his community where he worked diligently to ensure economic access to all of its residents. He loved Fort Worth, always leading or pushing her to fulfill her potential to become the best place in America to live, to work and to play. Dee was a singularly good man who will be missed by all of us who benefited from his service,” said

Tarrant County Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks.

Officials at other chambers in the city also expressed condolences.

“I’m so saddened to hear of the sudden passing of my dear friend and colleague Dee Jennings,” said Anette Landeros, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Dee was the type of person who welcomed everyone to the table and genuinely wanted everyone to succeed. He was kind but firmly stood by his beliefs. He lived through the most difficult times in our city but also passionately believed that opportunity could be created. He worked diligently to create those opportunities for our Black community until his last day on this earth, and I feel that is how he would have wanted to be remembered.”

“Dee always had a smiling face and a witty comment to make you laugh,” said Brandom Gengelbach, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “He loved Fort Worth with all his heart. We had many a conversation where he would share Fort Worth’s history from his life growing up here and how the lessons of the past are applicable to the challenges of today. I will miss my friend and fellow Chamber associate.”

Leaders around the city also issued statements.

“Saddened,” said Glenn Forbes. “Dee and Gwen welcomed me as an outsider many years ago. In many ways, others gained the spotlight when he carried their burdens and unfortunately his accomplishments may never truly be appreciated. Even in disagreement we never compromised being friends.”

Forbes is an independent diversity advocate and former Black Chamber of Commerce Chairman and the initial CEO for the two ventures Mr. Jennings helped develop – Wm Mann CDC and Southeast Fort Worth Inc.

“Dee was a ‘go to’ in Fort Worth if you wanted to know about relationships, how things work, where to start or even if you just had a question. He was always there to help with a advice a smile and encouragement,” said Andy Taft of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.

“Dee was many things to this community,” said Robert Sturns, Director of Economic Development for the City of Fort Worth. “A mentor to many, an advocate for change, and a leader who pushed for improvement, especially for African American business owners. But above all those things, for me, he was just my friend. I got my first real job at the Black Chamber of Commerce 25 years ago and Dee has been a sounding board ever since. He would often make me smile with stories of his days at TXU with my uncle, but even in those stories, there was always a lesson he was trying to impart. My prayers go out to Gwen Barbee and the rest of the Jennings family. This is a loss that will be felt deeply for quite some time.”

“Dee Jennings has been such a good friend to so many; I am grateful to have been among them. He was a wonderful supporter of Leadership Fort Worth and was always willing to do whatever we needed,” said Harriet B. Harral, former executive director of Leadership Fort Worth.

“We frequently turned to him to get insights on current events. One of the things I so appreciated about him was how he supported the career and professional development of others. He often contacted LFW to tell us about an up and coming professional that he thought should be in one of our classes – and he was a terrific advocate for those people,” Harral said.

Tobi Jackson, president of the Fort Worth ISD Board of Directors recalled how Jennings began to talk about the plan to reconstruct his high school alma mater, I.M. Terrell.

“He and The Honorable Bert Williams were our first call when Dr. T.A. Sims had the great idea to reconstruct I.M. Terrell and the first to walk and talk about the project on the Terrell property,” she said. “In the fall of 2018, Dee spoke to Zoie about the rich history of I.M. Terrell. She was accepted to Terrell and Dee was our first call along with Sir Eddie G. Griffin. This is how important Devoyd’s guiding hand has been in our lives and that of so many within Tarrant County.”

“Devoyd Jennings was a leader with a heart for the people. I came to know Dee as we worked together in 2009 to launch PATHS Forward, a leadership develop program for young Black professionals. As I designed the program and facilitated it for seven years, Dee was the sometimes visible and often invisible support behind the scenes who was getting sponsorships and advocating for the building up of Black emerging leaders. A gentle spirit, a kind soul, my memories of Dee are how he encouraged me to collaborate across the community to ensure we provided the best possible program,” said Paulette Turner, Integrated Leadership Concepts Inc.

“I’m saddened to hear about the passing of my friend Dee Jennings,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. “Dee gave so much to the community. While he will be missed, his legacy lives on in Fort Worth. My prayers are with his family.”

Mr. Jennings was preceded in death by his father; grandson, Gerome DelShawn Jennings and nephew, Desmond Dominique Jennings.

Survivors include his spouse, Gwen; two sons, Col. Charles DelShawn Jennings (Michelle), of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Robert Mark Ezell  (Kim Alexander) of Fort Worth; three daughters, Demeka Jennings-Johnson (Michael) of Toms River, New Jersey, Carla Clark (Robert) and Sharla Sutton-Campbell, both of Fort Worth; mother, Margaret Jennings; two brothers, Melvin Jennings (Carrie Ann) of Point, Texas, and Jerry Jennings (Lynette) of Fort Worth;  grandchildren, Jasmine Jennings-Crenshaw (Craig), Jordan Jennings, Isis Davis, Kyzier Davis, Zion Davis, Anthony Ezell, Dominique Ezell, Lala Ezell, Jared Morgan and Yancy Clark; great-granddaughter, Princess Clar Ezell; nephews, Dedrail Jennings and Christopher Jennings; and many other relatives and friends.