Dr. La Tonya Woodson-Mayfield: Making a difference in students' lives
Growing up in Eastwood and the Stop Six communities of Fort Worth, Dr. La Tonya Woodson-Mayfield planned on attending an HBCU, a historically black community university. Her high-school guidance counselor told her it would not challenge her enough. Nonetheless, she enrolled in Hampton University and enjoyed the inclusive environment. Her guidance counselor’s remarks remained in the back of her head and ultimately influenced her decision to transfer to Texas Christian University, TCU. She remarks that the two universities could not have been more different. A specific incident with a professor at TCU contributed to her decision to change her major from English and Spanish to speech communications. Although she graduated from TCU, Dr. Woodson-Mayfield recognized the clear distinction between the two universities and how she, and many other students of color are treated differently depending on their environment.
After marrying and briefly living in California, she watched the Rodney King riots unfold and was horrified by the racial bias within the criminal justice system. Dr. Woodson-Mayfield recognized the bias but was unsure of her role in fighting for equality and justice. She even considered law school to support the social justice cause. Nearly two decades later when Barack Obama was elected President, he inspired many individuals to run for office as well, whether it was at the federal, state, or local level. Dr. Woodson-Mayfield recalls watching a candidate on the television cite Obama’s words of encouragement that inspired her to run for office. It was also the nudge that Dr. Woodson-Mayfield needed to do the same. She knew she wanted to make a difference in her local community, so she ran for school board in Crowley ISD in 2017. She ran against four opponents for the coveted Place 2 seat and came out victorious. She ran for reelection in 2020 unopposed.
Dr. Woodson-Mayfield cites one of her greatest accomplishments to date as a Crowley ISD trustee was hiring Dr. Michael McFarland as the district’s superintendent. After interviewing candidates for months, she, along with her six board colleagues, found the perfect person for the job. Dr. McFarland has made numerous educational gains for the district and the collaboration and teamwork between the superintendent and the board has allowed Crowley to serve as a paragon of a district. While the board has made various gains within the district, Dr. Woodson-Mayfield feels that the effects of COVID-19 on students and their families is the greatest issue facing her community today. She believes the inequities among races is being amplified by the pandemic, in both health care and education. Her goal is to ensure every student has the resources they need to succeed, in a safe and nurturing environment. Dr. Woodson-Mayfield also believes that COVID-19 will have adverse effects on students’ long-term mental health. The impact of the lockdowns, hospitalizations, and the aftermath of losing loved ones, will have a lasting effect on students and their well-being.
Dr. Woodson-Mayfield has not only made a difference in her local community, but she also focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) on an international level as well. She recently joined CBRE as the director of global DE&I. She supports global workplace solutions, ensuring that the organization’s DE&I goals and objectives are achieved. In her most recent role as senior manager, global DE&I at Korn Ferry International, she helped clients with DE&I strategies and program execution. She is passionate about her career choice and feels it is “transformative and great to see change,” but still believes there is a lot of work to do. In her words, DE&I is not a moment or a box to check, but rather a cultural shift of creating and sustaining diverse, equitable and inclusive work environments where everyone has the potential to thrive. She also recently accepted a position as a course facilitator for Cornell University’s diversity and inclusion certification program. In addition, she has co-authored two books, Power Moms and Black Women Speak Out: Stories of Racial Injustice in America, the latter of which she spoke about her experience with workplace discrimination. She plans to write additional fiction and non-fiction books related to workplace environments.
When asking Dr. Woodson-Mayfield if she had any advice for women interested in pursuing a career in politics, she responded:
“First off, know yourself. Know what you are passionate about. Know your why — your purpose. This is what keeps you grounded, so you do not lose focus. Ask yourself why are you getting involved. For me, it was to provide service. I wanted to make a difference in children and students’ lives. When I remind myself of that purpose, it helps me in times of conflict. Second, know what the risks are and what the stakes are. I say this because there are many long nights, a lot of scheduled and some unscheduled meetings, and missed family dinners. Ask yourself how will this impact my family. Third, know who is in your corner and who has your back. Ask yourself two questions in this order in every situation. First, where am I going? And second, who is going with me? Who are my supporters? You have to set smart goals for yourself. These are your goals, not anyone else’s goals. Then, you are going to need people to be extensions of you, those who will help you campaign in all the ways you need. And fourth, know your role and continue to learn. I came into my role with a desire to make a difference in students’ lives. I knew some things about the district, but not everything. However, I was committed to learn every day. I challenge myself to learn something new each day. Finally, do not run from conflict. As John Lewis once put it, sometimes the work we do is not pretty or glamourous. People may not agree, but if you are doing it for a good purpose, it must be done. Don’t be afraid of getting into ‘good trouble,’ which is speaking truth to power and doing what is right and just, even if it’s unpopular.”