The Dallas Examiner
In this presidential election year, there are many issues that affect local communities, as well as communities statewide and nationally. To discuss these issues and how politics has changed through the years, Saint Luke Community United Methodist Church hosted “In Conversation – An Evening with Dr. Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. and Ambassador Ron Kirk.”
The event was held on Feb. 12 and moderated by Bob Ray Sanders, a journalist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Proceeds from the evening benefited the Zan Holmes Jr. Community Outreach Center.
During the conversation, Holmes, pastor emeritus of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church, discussed his 50 years in ministry, service and activism while Kirk, former mayor of Dallas and the first African American to serve as the United States Trade Representative and who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as a trade advisor, discussed his experience in politics.
Both discussed their career-start in the city of Austin and how living there influenced their futures.
Holmes arrived in Austin in 1948 after living in Waco. He graduated cum laude from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin.
“My father was a United Methodist pastor and was assigned as the district superintendent for Austin of the United Methodist Church,” Holmes recalled. “That was a painful transition for me leaving Waco and to go to Austin, because my education was interrupted and I had to leave Austin and go to Waco. I was on the football junior varsity team and when I got to Austin, all that was already going on and my ego was too big to join the B team and so I struggled through that.”
Kirk was born in Austin.
“That was the year that the Brown vs. Board of Education was decided,” Kirk said. “As much as people think that Austin is sort of this more liberal city than Dallas it was still segregated back then and I watched my parents struggle along with a lot of other parents of not being able to vote. My father was the first Black clerk in Austin and my mother taught school. So part of my being involved civically was born out of watching my parents fighting for the right to vote.”
Kirk graduated from Austin’s John H. Reagan High School and went to Austin College in Sherman.
“People asked me why I didn’t go to the University of Texas at Austin,” Kirk said. “My sister went to UT and at that time UT was very slow to embrace people of color so I didn’t want to go there and just wanted to get away.”
Kirk did however get his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1979.
Holmes said he credits his father for becoming the leader that he is today.
“I traveled with my father and he taught me a lot,” Holmes said. “I would sit and watch him as he presided over conferences and as he preached. I also got to observe other pastors and leaders of the church as they preached. My father also took me to events when different personalities came in to town. I was greatly influenced by that and many of the people I met in the church and community.”
Kirk and Holmes also discussed why they decided to get into politics.
“It was part necessity because I remember my parents encouraging me to do everything,” Kirk said. “I never dreamed I would be into politics because I was more like Zan in that my house was either about politics or music because my parents loved music. However, I just knew that I was going to be a lawyer. I remember when we got the right to vote. My mother was the more vocal community activist but my father was one of those wonderful quiet people who picked up his children then would go to work. He had as much pride being a poll watcher.”
In 1974, the state of Texas convened with a constitutional convention. Kirk said he went to the Texas State Capitol looking for a job and ran into a woman who would change his life.
“A lady by the name of Ann Richards was chief of staff to a young lawyer named Sarah Weddington, who at 28 years old successfully argued in the Roe vs. Wade case,” Kirk said. “Richards knew what I wanted and literally took my hand and walked me to the Capitol and told me I was going to work as an intern. That introduced me to starting working around the Legislature and I did that all the way through law school. Once I came here to Dallas, I was practicing law and was doing what I wanted.”
Holmes also talked about his experience in politics and his experience being elected to the Texas House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972.
“On the first day I was sworn in and the first session I was going to address the speaker of the House, I almost said bishop,” Holmes said. “I served two full terms and was on the redistricting committee and when we got single member districts, I quit.”
Kirk described his run for the mayor of Dallas, in which he served from 1995 to 2002.
“When I ran, I had people telling me that I wasn’t experienced enough for the position,” Kirk said.
However, Kirk won the mayor’s chair with 62 percent of the votes against several candidates. Kirk is also credited with keeping the Dallas Mavericks in Downtown Dallas with the building of the American Airlines Center.
Kirk was asked if he was still mayor during former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller’s term, would the Dallas Cowboys still be in Dallas and not Arlington.
“That election to build the new home for the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars was the closest election in Texas political history,” Kirk said. “And in most elections now, the early vote is 98 percent indicative of what is going to happen. That arena election, we were losing 62 to 38 percent in early voting in that arena election. However, we ended up winning that election because of the coalition that we had built with Pastor Holmes and the African American Pastor’s Coalition and the Dallas Chamber. I told Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, that the only way we would get the Cowboys to stay in Dallas was to build their stadium in South Dallas and in Fair Park. If you put the Cowboys in Fair Park, you are saving not only the Cowboys, but the Texas-OU game, you’re saving Grambling and Prairie View, and we are helping reignite Fair Park and rejuvenate that community and Jerry Jones was willing to do that.”
Kirk and Holmes then discussed why there is so much hatred toward President Barack Obama.
“I think one of the reasons that you see this vitriol against our president now is because he is just so cool,” Kirk said.
Holmes offered his thoughts on why America has bad thoughts about Obama.
“When Obama was elected, many of us thought we had arrived,” Holmes said. “We thought we had overcome racism. If anything, in the election and how he was treated, revealed that we are as racist as ever. You think about how he has been treated with old threats, is like any other. He is a brilliant mind and how else do you explain the way he has been treated since he has been president. The bottom line is he is the first African American to be elected president and because of this he has caught hell.”
Holmes said racism is still the biggest challenge facing this nation.
Kirk and Holmes have strong plans to vote during the next presidential election. Kirk made his opinion clear.
“There is no one more ready to take on the next presidential seat than Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Holmes, however, said in his experience as pastor for 28 years at St. Luke, he has never told anyone how to vote.
“I say that you study the issues and I trust and pray that you are going to vote right,” Holmes said. “Watch these elections carefully and make the right decisions.”