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Celebrating the contributions of our diverse cultures

Feb. 4, 2020 - TCEQ commemorates Black History Month

By Marty Otero, TCEQ External Relations

Isaac Jackson, Earl Lott, Yolanda Davis, Darrell McCant, Chris Gobert

African Americans play a prominent role at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Their work ensures that the agency is operational day in and day out.

This year, during the month of February, TCEQ commemorates Black History Month by spotlighting some employees of black heritage who do amazing things at the agency.

“TCEQ prides itself on our cultural diversity, which is a direct byproduct of hiring the most qualified people in their field,” says Executive Director Toby Baker. “I would like to thank our employees that continue to make a positive impact to this agency.”

Providing information to elected officials

Isaac Jackson provides information to elected officials that helps them address inquiries.
Isaac Jackson provides information to elected officials that helps them address inquiries.

Isaac Jackson started his career at TCEQ on June 15, 2000, in the Intergovernmental Relations Section as a legislative liaison focused primarily on water issues. He remembers that his first assignment was to meet the leadership and subject matter experts of the Water Division at the agency and become familiar with the sections.

“What I like most about working at TCEQ is the amazing people I get a chance to work with that help me address concerns from senators, representatives or other government officials,” shares Jackson. “I get the chance to help provide information to elected officials that helps them address inquiries they have received from constituents. The TCEQ is a family and I am extremely grateful for the colleagues I have.”

Jackson states that being African American is “something that has always been a part of me and has never been a problem.”

“I have been very fortunate to work with people across the agency and believe that TCEQ is one of the best places to work,” he said. Jackson grew up in Dallas and remembers celebrating black history not just in February, but throughout the year. From Juneteenth, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and activities during the month of February, these are all times he and his family celebrate.

“I can trace one of my ancestors to 1823 so I celebrate the legacy. I celebrate by providing information to my grandchildren and others on the outstanding contributions made by African Americans in America,” he says proudly.

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Shaping experiences through her heritage

Yolanda Davis (center) meets with her staff to discuss financial issues.
Yolanda Davis (center) meets with her staff to discuss financial issues.

Yolanda Davis, Assistant Director of the Financial Administration Division, has been with TCEQ for 17 years and has 22 total years of state service.

In 1996 she started with TCEQ when it was still called the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, as a payroll specialist. In 2001 she left to work for Dell Financial Services, and eventually returned to TCEQ in 2007 as the payroll officer. She became the manager of Financial Operations in 2016 and as of Feb. 1, 2020, she now serves as the assistant director for the Financial Administration Division.

“My African American heritage has shaped and continues to shape my experience here at TCEQ by allowing me to see people at face value and not according to stereotypes or media,” shares Davis. “My heritage has taught me to stand firm and strong on my principles and be kind and caring with the people who are most important in my life.”

Davis states that TCEQ has allowed her to experience a variety of people with different backgrounds and a vast amount of knowledge. As a manager at TCEQ, she has been able to concentrate her efforts on teambuilding.

“I think people value cooperation within their teams when they are exposed to different cultures,” she adds.

Davis was born and raised in Austin and often celebrates Black History Month by educating others on the contributions of African Americans throughout America’s history.

“What I love best about my job at TCEQ is the people,” she says. “They are the best; they are dedicated to taking care of the environment and each other.”

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Moving up through the ranks

Chris Gobert (left) discusses procurements and contracts with his staff.
Chris Gobert (left) discusses procurements and contracts with his staff.

Chris Gobert, Manager of Procurements and Contracts in the Financial Administration Division, has always been with the Procurements and Contracts Section. His first position with TCEQ was as a purchaser IV, then a purchaser V. He was later promoted to purchasing supervisor, and then to his current position. In this role he oversees seven purchasers and a purchasing work lead, in addition to six contract specialists and a contract supervisor. “First and foremost, I’m an American. I’ve dedicated my career and passions to public service. My skin color and the experiences that come with being a black male, whether consciously or subconsciously, have shaped me into the person I am today,” Gobert shares. “If I were to choose one attribute that has come from my experiences, it would be my ability to understand people.” Gobert states that being able to understand the intentions and motivations of the people around him has contributed to his success in the workplace. He feels that being an African American male in a leadership role within TCEQ puts him in a unique position.

“I can’t help but be mindful of how starkly different my general experiences may be from the people around me,” he says.

Gobert grew up in Crosby, Texas, approximately 22 miles east of Houston. He is quick to say that he celebrates black history every month but, joking aside, he states, “the church I attend uses the month of February to recognize the struggle and achievements of black men and women who came before us by sharing black history facts.”

At home and at church, he and his family celebrate by preparing traditional African American food. Additionally, for him, it’s also about self-reflection and honoring the memory of the men and women whose sacrifices closed the gap of inequality, as well as acknowledging the successes of his contemporaries.

“The people I work with every day is what I love most about my job,” Gobert states. “I work with a diverse group of people that enjoy their work and together we advance TCEQ’s mission and strive to protect our state’s public health and natural resources.”

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A love for the land

Earl Lott (left), Ferrell Fields Damen, and former co-worker Sam Gammage, giving legislators a firsthand look at the construction that goes into a municipal solid waste landfill.
Earl Lott (left), Ferrell Fields Damen, and former co-worker Sam Gammage, giving legislators a firsthand look at the construction that goes into a municipal solid waste landfill.

Earl Lott started his career with TCEQ in January 1995 as an engineering specialist in the Petroleum Storage Tank Division. His first assignment was to create a database of all the petroleum storage tanks in the state and ensure that they were in compliance with state and federal technical standards in order to receive fuel delivery certificates.

“I have worked in numerous programs within the agency, including in the Water Supply Division and as a special assistant in the Office of Permitting and Registration,” Lott begins.

“For the past 12 years I have served as director of the Waste Permits Division. Since starting with the agency in 1995, I have had the opportunity to learn many programs and expand my knowledge of the agency and state government.”

“My heritage and background have provided me with a sincere love of the land and the environment. I was raised in the small town of Runge, Texas. Runge is located about 70 miles south of San Antonio. I grew up a part of a fourth-generation ranching family. My family, along with numerous other African American families, farmed and ranched thousands of acres of land in a small community located about six miles north of Runge referred to as Flaccus. Flaccus was recognized as the first African American settlement in Karnes County, Texas.”

Lott adds that “the families in this community maintained their land throughout some of the most difficult times in history, the Great Depression and segregation. The families in this community prided themselves on being self-sustainable and living off of the resources that the land had to provide.”

According to Lott, shortly after the Great Depression, all but two of the African American families sold their land and traded the farming and ranching way of life for better paying jobs in the city. Today, the Lott family is the only African American family that continues to own land and maintain the ranching way of life.

“Ranching is still one of my greatest passions,” he shares. “This being a part of my heritage has always taught me the value of hard work and the importance of being a good steward of the land and the environment.”

Lott celebrates his African American heritage by giving thanks to all of his loved ones that worked so hard and sacrificed so much to maintain the land during some of the most difficult times in history. He takes every opportunity that he can to teach his kids about their heritage and the sacrifices that were made by previous generations.

“I love the fact that my job allows me to make a difference by preserving and protecting the environment for all Texans to enjoy,” Lott says.

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Sound science for a better life

Darrell McCant and his fellow toxicologists provide toxicological support to different agency programs.
Darrell McCant and his fellow toxicologists provide toxicological support to different agency programs.

Darrell McCant has been with TCEQ for just over 19 years. He’s had various roles and responsibilities as a risk assessor/toxicologist in the Toxicology, Risk Assessment, and Research Division. His role has included reviewing requests for comments for air permits, providing toxicological support to different agency programs at public meetings, coordinating the evaluation of air monitoring data, and authoring and co-authoring various scientific peer-reviewed articles, posters, and oral presentations. He has also represented the Toxicology Division on various interagency workgroups, such as the Ambient Network Design and Air Pollutant Watch List, to name a couple.

“My first assignment was to review a request for comments from the Air Permits Division,” McCant explains. “This involved evaluating whether the predicted emissions from the fiberglass manufacturing facility in Houston had the potential to negatively impact citizens in the area by comparing the represented emissions to TCEQ’s effects screening levels.”

“Growing up, our African American churches would celebrate African American heritage and black history with special programs that would feature some outstanding African American speakers, have speech competitions, musicals and plays, concerts, and art exhibits/performances that would honor the contributions of African Americans to this country’s fabric. My family has carried on these traditions and added participating in the Austin Commemorative March on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.”

As of January 2020, 269 African American employees, 183 in Austin Headquarters, 86 in TCEQ Regional Offices, and nine average years of service to the TCEQ

McCant was raised in Scotlandville, a small community in north Baton Rouge, LA. It was a small, proud African American community in south Louisiana where industrial emissions were as prevalent as poverty, and all its trappings were motivating factors that contributed to his thirst for education and for seeking the truth through sound science for a better life. In addition, while he was growing up, his maternal grandfather came to live with his family from his rural community where he was a tenant farmer.

“My grandfather inherited some recipes for home remedies for several ailments, which he used on himself, his children, grandchildren, and extended family/community,” McCant shares. “I would watch him make teas from certain plants and compound salves for wounds and stings. As I tried to model him, I found that science was the real root to his remedies and thus started my initial quest to become a pharmacist, which developed into a love for science, specifically toxicology as it relates to public health and the environment.”

What McCant loves best about his job at TCEQ is that he gets to use science in his role as a risk assessor/toxicologist, along with other dedicated professionals throughout TCEQ who work to protect public health and the environment.

He adds, “Also, as a bonus, I love TCEQ’s work culture, which values diversity as well as developing our people professionally.”

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All photos TCEQ.