Deep Ellum Entrepreneurs Talk Diversity and Inclusion

On any given weekend in Deep Ellum, you're met with the sights and sounds of people having a good time.

If you look and listen closely, you'll also hear ongoing conversations and persistent questions about inclusiveness.

What is Deep Ellum becoming? More importantly, who is welcomed there during the transition?

Stephanie Keller Hudiburg is executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation. She's been a part of several conversations about diversity and inclusion.

"There's a lot of debate and conversation about that because people feel so intensely about this neighborhood and about its culture and about its history," Keller Hudiburg said.

She said change sometimes creates tension. It's why the history and maintaining cultural influences in Deep Ellum are important.

"Deep Ellum was founded as a commercial center for the African American and immigrant communities here in Dallas. It was both literally and figuratively a crossroads, or intersection, if you will, for both commerce and culture," she said.

It's also why entrepreneurs Sean Smith and Antonio Everette, two African American men, said their establishments were vital.

"If Dallas becomes more diverse, the businesses need to become more diverse. Because if the businesses don't become more diverse, they can't cater to a diverse clientele," Everette said.

Their existing business, Sandaga 813, and the one soon to open on Exposition Avenue called Whiskeys, are on the southern edge of Deep Ellum.

They decided to become members of the Deep Ellum Foundation. It was a purposeful decision.

"When you have ownership, when you're vested in the area, you can create a better synergy because you have some control," Everette said.

Everette and Smith said they wanted to create spaces where people from different backgrounds felt accepted and valued.

"I've been in that position plenty of times, to where I walked up to a venue and said 'You know what? I don't know if he's going to allow me in. Do I look alright?'" Smith said. "Now we can make people feel comfortable because we are part of the neighborhood."

The owners of Vogue Hair, Myer Johnson and Tameka Davis, said their location in Deep Ellum on Commerce Street was the best option.

"It was important for us to be in an area where it actually is diverse because we're not just in it for one market," Davis said.

They are members of the Deep Ellum Foundation as well. They said setting up shop there gave them a voice as the area evolved. Davis said she foresees growth, and wanted to be a part of it.

"That's a big part of what I like about this area, is that it's thriving, and I think it's only going to grow," Davis said.

Keller Hudiburg said discussion and debate about diversity and inclusion would continue in Deep Ellum.

She said she welcomed it.

"You know what, you're going to find tension. Sometimes there's collision at cross sections and intersections, but there's also that healthy mix and I think that's what will continue to make Deep Ellum thrive."

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