by DeNita Lacking-Quinn
I am always awestruck by women who have stood in the face of adversity and became the change they wanted to see; not only creating a seat at the table but forming a table for others. When I think of women who have moved organizations forward, making the tough decisions, and not being afraid to stand out in the City of Dallas, one of the first women I think of is Ms. Zenetta S. Drew.
City of Dallas icon, Ms. Zenetta S. Drew is the Executive Director of the awarding-winning Dallas Black Dance Theatre and overseen operations for the past 35 years. Drew is a woman of many firsts. She is the 1st African American student and African American Valedictorian in her high school. Zenetta was also recognized as the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s business accounting degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce as well as the first African American female to be named a Distinguished Alumna.
I had the distinguished pleasure of interviewing Ms. Drew and learned that her determination sparked at a young age, even through another industry, not rooted in the Arts. Despite this fact, Ms. Drew had the life experiences, education and work ethic to rise in leadership.
DLQ: You are an icon in the City of Dallas and created a strong legacy not only for you but for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre,you have a background that I don’t think many people know about so tell me a little bit more about your time in the oil industry.
Z.Drew: Well I joined the oil industry as my first job out of college with a degree in accounting and I entered that industry where there were very few females and very few people of color in the mid-70s as a result of that I ended up being able to work in Dallas, but I also had an opportunity to travel and one of the major accomplishments was having a department that design one of the first offshore oil platform accounting systems that had a government interest and multi oil company interest and so I had the opportunity to fly out of the helicopter for about 18 months and jump out of the helicopter onto an offshore oil platform to you know take inventory of the project progress so that that was a big one and then I ended up managing more than 50% of the corporation’s revenue and at that time that company was the 4th largest oil company in the world so far that you know I think that it was a different kind of career there were lots of dollars and lots of zeros and yeah it’s a nonprofit
DLQ: Who are the people that you derive your strength from that you look to and have helped you create your legacy?
Z. Drew: My whole concept of who I became and I’m still becoming really started with my father I had to go to high school the very first year other integration occurred in my hometown and I felt that at 9th grade based on what I had been told that I really could not achieve because we had been told that schools of color at that time were deficient and I just said to my dad I can’t I did I won’t be able to compete because we had about a month’s notice and the law changed and my father said to me “I’m not sending you there to compete I am sending you to be the competition” that changed my life and so going through that school I ended up becoming the first valedictorian African American 50 years now and there has not been another black African American or African American designated as valedictorian and then I moved into the accounting at Texas A and M commerce became the first African American some female in the history of that university to get an accounting degree and so that catapulted me into the oil industry and from that I ended up becoming and I’m very grateful to become to have become the first distinguished alumni African American female at Texas A and M commerce so that’s just one of many first but I got comfortable with the first because of my father and I think it was he and my mother both who were educators but my dad was one who really said no this competition thing is not what you’re there for and it can be it can be a negative but I once you go overboard but I think it made me very it made me very aware that I did not have to see someone like myself in order to see myself in that space and I think that was the best lesson that I could have learned.
DLQ: How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep it moving? You are ever-changing and always forward-thinking so how do you keep that fresh?
Z. Drew: Well I had the privilege of meeting and Williams the founder and she was the artistic leader of the organization until 2014 my role is really just the business side is to ensure that the art happens on a business and professional manner which means I’m working with the board and all of the management components to ensure that the dancers are paid and that the productions are high quality on the business side and the way to keep it fresh is really to listen to that person who is the artistic genius and be the supporter as I’ve said is that this is the business of the arts the artistic leader creates the art our job is to put it on the market our job just to make sure that it’s paid for that it reaches the communities that we’re intending and that we also work with those who are investors as sponsors and so with that I’m grateful that we have been able to do many things but on the business side the opportunity that I have been given as a business leader working in the arts is to really perpetuate or catapult the add concepts of thought leadership what can we do the changes the industry what can we do that no one else is doing and since I didn’t have an artistic background when I joined this organization in 1987 I really didn’t know any better but to say why can’t we do it this way so one of the first things we did was a board report card we need to have accountability with volunteers it’s more than just showing up putting your name on the organization there are things that need to be done and so there’s now about 15 things that we have put forth in the arts industry nationwide that is changed literally how the arts do business and so that’s what I’m most proud of for me on the business side and of course the arts and the dance speaks for itself.
DLQ: Let’s talk more about volunteerism because you were a volunteer for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre for over 11 months before taking this role, how important is volunteering in this space?
Z. Drew: It’s very important and I think the things that help you know where you can put your passion is if you volunteer you get to know an organization you get to see the inner workings you get a chance to see the challenges and yet you may be looking at it from a distance but it’s also very it’s important to you but it’s also important to the organization because they nonprofits all nonprofits need more resources and you cannot pay for everything that you need just literally does not work that it does not work. So what I suggest to everyone is that when you volunteer you’re giving up yourself and you always know that if you give you’re going get and that’s part of that you know, it’s unpaid like you’re going to be rewarded so whether you find your passion at the organization and you decide to do something else you’re not going to lose by voluntary and certainly every organization benefits when you contribute and put your heart into it so I encourage everyone to volunteer 11 months for me and the eleven months really started because I didn’t have a choice or so she had no money and Williams was hurt but I knew I wanted to help her with her vision and so that became an opportunity for a job.