Vicki Byrd: Passion for politics inspired by experience
Vicki Byrd, who was recently elected to the Denton City Council, can trace her experience with community action all the way back to her childhood. Born and raised in a predominantly Black neighborhood in South Houston, Byrd saw that a lot of people in her community didn’t have the opportunity to grow beyond the environment they were brought up in.
“You grow up with this sense of, you are where you are and this is where you’re supposed to stay, but I was so blessed to have a mother who did not think that way,” Byrd said.
Byrd credits her mom, Sylvia, with instilling in her the belief that she could do anything she felt like she was meant to do.
“Although she was a single mom, she was interested in all things related to the betterment of her community – I could see it,” Byrd said. “I saw her getting involved in political activities. She ran for City Council in Houston. She owned and operated her own charter schools. So, she was a great role model.”
In fact, it was through her mother that Byrd was first exposed to politics. She recalls seeing her in leadership roles such as PTA president from the time she was in middle school. Sylvia was the type of person whose complaints drove her to action – she was never involved in politics for popularity or personal gain, Byrd said.
As an adult, Byrd stayed informed on issues facing her community by reading her local newspaper. Her path to Denton City Council began five years ago, when her husband suggested that she run. In the following years, she would hear the same thing from several friends and mentors. The final push came just two days prior to the filing deadline, when a long-time mentor offered to help her run.
A graduate of Texas Women’s University (TWU), Byrd studied criminal justice and psychology and initially wanted to go into mental healthcare for law enforcement officers. The issue hit very close to home for Byrd – her brother, who struggled with his mental health, had been a police officer back home in Houston.
Byrd worked as a student assistant in the TWU police department, and they offered her a job as a dispatcher after she graduated. Alberto Gonzalez, one of the policemen there, befriended Byrd and took a special interest in her career. On Gonzalez’s advice, Byrd enrolled in the regional police academy – the only woman in her class of about 45. When a position opened in the TWU department, Gonzalez encouraged her to apply. At 22, Byrd became the first African American female police officer for the campus, and one of the first within Denton.
After 10 years in the police department, Byrd moved into a risk and facilities management role that focused on occupational health and safety and emergency and environmental management.
“I’m very lucky to be able to say that I set the standard for safety at Texas Women’s University,” Byrd said. “That’s a legacy to behold, and I’m going to hold onto that because I worked very hard to make that happen, and I don’t regret any moment.”
After leaving her risk management role, Byrd moved into the education space. At her mother’s request, she opened a charter school in Denton. Sadly, her mother passed away that year; wanting to keep her name clear after her death, Byrd decided to close her mother’s charter schools across the state. She still felt a pull toward education and got a master’s degree in education. Byrd began working in a special education position in an elementary school, a role that was especially meaningful to her due to the struggles she had watched her brother go through.
When asked what advice she would give to the next generation of women in politics, Byrd recommended getting involved in as many things as possible and being willing to develop relationships with people.
“I think that just exposing yourself to a lot of different things, finding a mentor in one of those arenas is so important,” Byrd said. “Be interested, have your mind open, and listen to people.”
In many ways, Byrd’s willingness to do just that characterizes her leadership philosophy as a city council member. Her vast range of professional experiences with all different types of people prepared her for her role – she takes her responsibility very seriously and sees the need to work for the good of the community as a whole. At the moment, she’s not thinking about what comes next but is instead focused on being in the moment and doing the best that she can in her role.
“It’s for the greater good - just a caretaking of us all, and recognizing that we’re not talking about individualism here, we’re talking about working for everybody’s sake,” Byrd said.