Rachel Proctor: Drawing on lived experiences
Rachel Proctor is the Mayor of DeSoto, Texas—a city located in South Dallas County. Prior to serving as Mayor, Rachel was a DeSoto City Councilmember. Rachel’s background as a business entrepreneur allowed her to implement large, citywide economic development projects like the Grow DeSoto Market Place, a small business incubator within the city that provides affordable rents, business mentoring and support for small business start-ups. While she didn’t have much insight into local politics prior to running for office the first time, she drew on her lived experiences. When asked if she felt deterred as a first-time candidate, Rachel said “[n]o matter what you think may disqualify you, there are always more things that qualify you than not.”
Rachel was born in Dallas and moved to DeSoto when she was in the third grade. She was the only Black student in her class at the time—DeSoto’s demographics were “majority” heavy meaning white families made up the majority of city’s residents. Over the past twenty years, DeSoto has since flipped into a “majority-minority” community, meaning a majority of the population is made up of Black and brown families. This shift presented unique challenges infused with racism and discrimination. Economic resources were redirected out of the area, limiting the opportunity for DeSoto residents to live and work within city limits. As the daughter of an entrepreneur, Rachel was motivated to change this pattern.
Rachel’s first role model was her father, a pastor and businessperson. Her father was a leader in the community, even though he never served as a local elected official. Rachel recognizes a lot of qualities in herself that her father also had. He lived life without excuses and pushed others beyond what they felt they were capable of. Though he only had a 6th grade-level education, Rachel’s dad built a family childcare business that is still in operation today after nearly 30 years. Rachel worked as her father’s “right-hand” person, learning different business skills like how to run payroll or manage employees. Rachel followed in her father’s footsteps to become a business entrepreneur.
After graduating from college, Rachel and her sister moved back to DeSoto and purchased a home. When she received her first tax bill for the property, Rachel became interested in learning why it was the amount it was—leading her inevitably into local politics. Most specifically, as a DeSoto ISD alum, Rachel started to get involved with the school district. She wanted to make a positive change in the lives of DeSoto students, especially given the new “majority-minority” makeup of the student population. However, as fate would have it, Rachel would ultimately run for city council.
Rachel initially wanted to run for school board given her strong tie to the district as an alum. Right after she picked up her packet to file for the position, Rachel attended a gala hosted by the DeSoto Chamber of Commerce, a board she was serving on at the time. At that event, she learned of a vacancy on the city council and was encouraged to run for the position. Miraculously, following a council redistricting the year before, she lived within the vacancy district’s limits. This was Rachel’s sign to run for city council.
It was important for Rachel to serve on the city council to bring change to DeSoto. “There are some things that can only be changed if you have a seat at the table,” she said. During her first campaign for city council, Rachel learned the difficulty of balancing her time. As an introvert, Rachel notes that interacting on the campaign trail can be draining. She figured out how to take moments throughout the day (especially on voting days!) to disconnect. “You have to be intentional about balancing your time—more so your energy,” Rachel said.
In 2013, Rachel successfully won her campaign for DeSoto City Council as a first time candidate. She continued to serve in this capacity until she ran and lost her campaign for DeSoto Mayor in 2019. One thing Rachel has learned, especially following a loss, is that women must live fearlessly. “You cannot be afraid to fail publicly,” Rachel said. Had she let her loss slow her down, Rachel might not have run in the special election for the mayoral seat in 2021—and won.
Following the sudden passing of Mayor Curtistene S. McCowan, there was a vacancy for the DeSoto mayoral seat. Rachel ran and won the position, becoming the 22nd Mayor of DeSoto. Again, when it came to her work-life balance, Rachel struggled to maintain a sense of normalcy. Rachel was elected on February 2nd, sworn in soon after, and immediately faced the effects of Winter Storm Uri the week after Valentine’s day. Having to shift so quickly from a campaign onto the front line of a natural disaster leaving her constituents without power and water left Rachel feeling the effects well beyond the storm. Rachel encourages all candidates to take time for self-care.
As a city councilmember and now as mayor, Rachel is most proud of her work building economic opportunities for DeSoto residents. Rachel was instrumental in the conceptualization of the Grow DeSoto Market Place, a small business incubator which would ultimately become a public-private partnership within the city of DeSoto. With this program, Rachel is working to lower the barrier for entrepreneurs in her community to create homegrown businesses. Because of DeSoto’s location in Southern Dallas County, capital investors have limited the outpouring of resources in the area. Grow DeSoto Market helps to mitigate the cost of starting a business, such as reduced rent, in exchange for training and oversight through the incubator program. The goal of the program is to create and maintain small businesses within DeSoto’s city limits. Other cities across the country are working to replicate this program, bringing great pride to Rachel.
Rachel said that one of the greatest barriers she faces in the intrinsic pressure to “always have the answer.” Rachel believes that women feel like they have to prove to naysayers that they are qualified for a specific opportunity and regretfully place unrealistic expectations on themselves. However, Rachel admits that it is okay not to have all the answers; rather, it is important to have plans that can arrive at an answer. Otherwise, women in leadership may burn out trying to have all answers at all times.