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A Fort Worth neighborhood was a food desert. Then an ex-Dallas Cowboys linebacker moved in

In World
April 24, 2024

David Howard knows what it’s like to be successful. He was an NFL linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and Minnesota Vikings in the 1980s. He also owned a restaurant and was a chef. Now, he wants his neighbors in Fort Worth to know that feeling.

So, how did he get drawn to Stop Six, a Fort Worth neighborhood known more for homicides than shopping centers?

“I was thinking we could move and become fixtures in the community. My wife was like, ‘Why do we have to go back to the hood?’ Howard told the Star-Telegram.

While playing for the Dallas Cowboys Howard would often get homesick. He missed certain parts of his culture, though he enjoyed his new lavish lifestyle. He did research on Texas history and learned about the development of Black neighborhoods. In the midst of his search he came across Stop Six.

The Stop Six neighborhood runs about four square miles. The area’s first property owner was Amanda Davis, an African American woman who purchased a one acre tract for $45 in 1896. It was the sixth stop on the Northern Texas Traction Company’s route between Dallas and Fort Worth from 1902 until 1934. That’s how the neighborhood came to be known by its nickname.

“I read about [neighborhood founder] Amanda Davis and the area’s historical preservation. I used to drive there and ride around because it reminded me of where I grew up,” he said.

After learning Stop Six suffered from disinvestment over time, Howard felt inclined to do something about it. That’s when the idea of moving began to grow, he said.

“I thought if we can get into the neighborhood so they can see what a middle class family is all about, we can be good role models. I saw where the community was going and started a 30-year comprehensive plan,” he said.

Upon moving to Stop Six, Howard began to grasp what the area looked like. He noticed it didn’t have any grocery stores or laundromats, and there were only a few businesses.


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In recent years, money has flowed into the community to help reduce crime and rebuild one of the last vestiges of public housing in Fort Worth — Cavile Place. A $35-million investment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could potentially spur nearly $345 million in activity in the neighborhood, turning the many vacant lots into a bustling community.

The senior living community Cowan Place opened for business last year, replacing Cavile Place. It is the first project completed as part of the Stop Six Neighborhood Choice Initiative — with roughly 1,000 mixed income units along with 12,000 square feet of commercial space in the historic east Fort Worth neighborhood.

David Howard talks about his plan to convert a plot of land he owns in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, pictured, into a farm to grow fruits and vegetables for the community on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

David Howard talks about his plan to convert a plot of land he owns in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, pictured, into a farm to grow fruits and vegetables for the community on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Plants grow in a raised bed of a community garden in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. David Howard has been investing in the community of Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood for over two decades, including building community gardens.

Plants grow in a raised bed of a community garden in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. David Howard has been investing in the community of Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood for over two decades, including building community gardens.

Food shelves inside an event space David Howard is working to convert into a SNAP and EBT grocery store on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Howard, a long-time investor in the community, hopes to help fight food insecurity in the neighborhood.

Food shelves inside an event space David Howard is working to convert into a SNAP and EBT grocery store on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Howard, a long-time investor in the community, hopes to help fight food insecurity in the neighborhood.

Growing up in the projects of South Florida, then college

Howard knew what it was like to live in an area that looked like Stop Six because he grew up in the projects of South Florida. He recalled growing up in the 1970s on government assistance.

“There were just certain things me and my siblings couldn’t readily get like other kids. We didn’t miss meals, but at the same time we had to practice delayed gratification and group economics,” Howard said. “I can remember taking buses to more affluent neighborhoods in South Florida then coming back to the ghetto. That was when we learned there was an economic difference.”

Howard was raised by his grandparents in Florida through middle school. His mother remarried and moved across the country to California chasing a better life. He followed her west and enrolled at Long Beach Polytechnic.

He was a good enough linebacker in high school to catch the eye of a PAC-12 recruiter. Oregon State called, he answered, packing his bags to head north to Corvallis, Oregon, a mere 83 miles south of the state’s largest city, Portland.

He was a Beaver, except he had no idea how small the town was. It was a culture shock, Howard said of his few months in Oregon. He couldn’t wait to get back to more familiar environs — transferring to Long Beach State University after only one season.

Howard’s professional career began in 1984 when he was drafted to play for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL. He was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the NFL Supplemental Draft. After sustaining a bad ankle and elbow injury during his second year in the NFL, Howard said that was his wake up call.

“It made me realize this game could be taken away from me at any time so I needed to make sure I developed other skills to prepare for life after sports,” he said.

A love story: How David met Jacqueline

Howard knew what he wanted to do. His heart was all about lifting his people. But his labor of love — to help change the fortune of a community — couldn’t have gone off the ground without the love of his life.

While riding around the city with a friend, Howard said he saw his now wife of 29 years, Jacqueline, walking. She had just moved to Irving — where the former Cowboys practicing facility was located. She was from Arkansas and moved to Texas with her family.

Howard yelled out of the car window for Jacqueline’s attention as they drove by. “He said ‘Hey, how you doing? My name is David, I play for the Cowboys,” Jacqueline recalled.

“I was like ‘Oh okay,’ because I wasn’t impressed, he was in the passenger seat of the car,” Jacqueline said.

“She called me a scrub,” Howard said, as the lovebirds giggled, recalling the moment.

Howard continued to pursue Jacqueline, found her number, then asked to take her on a date. She accepted and after dating for two-and-a-half years, the two married in June 1995.

David Howard is working on converting a plot of land he owns in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, pictured on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, into a farm to grow fruits and vegetables for the community.

David Howard is working on converting a plot of land he owns in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, pictured on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, into a farm to grow fruits and vegetables for the community.

A small community garden grows behind one of David Howard’s organization buildings near Texas Wesleyan University on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

A small community garden grows behind one of David Howard’s organization buildings near Texas Wesleyan University on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Seed packets on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at a property owned David Howard is working on converting into a small grocery store that would provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the Stop Six neighborhood.

Seed packets on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at a property owned David Howard is working on converting into a small grocery store that would provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the Stop Six neighborhood.

David Howard: ‘I wanted to be the bank of the land’

Howard continued to play football but zoned in on studying history and economics. After he retired from the NFL while in Minnesota, he opened a restaurant.

“I told my wife: ‘Give me 10 years in the restaurant business, and if we’re not where I feel like we should be, we’ll move back to Texas,‘” he recalled. “I said, ‘If we did go back, we’d go to Stop Six.’”

After those 10 years were up, Howard and his wife used their life savings to move to Stop Six in 2005 and bought property.

“There’s a lot of revitalization going on around the community right now but when we got here, property was cheap. Land banking is something that I studied, so I wanted to be the bank of the land, “ Howard said. “I thought as the community comes around, we can have the property and sell it to people at affordable prices. I was really buying it for my people so when they made the choice to come back, it will be affordable.”

Land banking is the practice of buying and retaining undeveloped land with the intention of selling it for a better price at a later date. Government organizations, developers, and investors frequently employ this tactic to buy land in prime areas before it is developed and becomes more costly.

Communities of color in Detroit, Chicago, and Phoenix have practiced land banking to help with the burden of vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties. Last year, the city of Fort Worth considered a land banking program as a solution to its affordable housing crisis.

Stop Six was segregated in the early 20th century. It was known for its successful black-owned businesses and became home to many Black elected officials and leaders over the decades. East Rosedale, Stalcup Road, Ramey, and Miller are the current boundaries of the region. According to citydata.com, the racial makeup was 50% Hispanic, 44% African American, and 2% white, as of 2022.

Black businesses that thrived in Fort Worth fell apart after Jim Crow rules were lifted in the 1960s. Black consumers could now bank at large banks, buy in upscale department stores, and go to the same barbershops as white customers. Black-owned companies were unable to compete, so one by one they went out of business. The decline left blocks vacant of people and empty storefronts.

David Howard walks through an event space he is working to convert into a SNAP and EBT grocery store on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. He also envisions a co-working space open to Texas Wesleyan students.

David Howard walks through an event space he is working to convert into a SNAP and EBT grocery store on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. He also envisions a co-working space open to Texas Wesleyan students.

Dew speckles the leaves of collard greens at a community garden built by David Howard in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Dew speckles the leaves of collard greens at a community garden built by David Howard in the Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

‘We’re gonna do some chickens… collard greens, okra, and onions’

Howard grew up with his grandparents who were sharecroppers in Florida. They would feed him turtles, squirrels, and chicken, while teaching him how to grow his own food.

Howard used what he learned to start community gardens and is currently building a farm in Stop Six — hoping his work can help get the community get out of being a food desert. His goal is to open a neighborhood SNAP and EBT grocery store in the next year.

“We’re gonna do some chickens and my three staples are collard greens, okra, and onions. My wife likes flowers and herbs so we’re gonna focus on those as well,” Howard said. “Whatever we can’t produce, we’ll partner with other farmers’ markets in North Texas. We’ll also purchase from meat markets and other grocery stores.”

Howard said a SNAP and EBT grocery store is similar to a mom and pop shop that sells smaller retail items. Low-income families can use SNAP benefits to supplement their grocery budget and purchase food that is essential for overall health. To be clear, the Stop Six store is no pipe dream. The former professional football player already acquired a building where the store would go in. He’s just waiting for certification from the USDA to operate as a SNAP and EBT business.

Howard also plans to use his skills as a former chef to host cooking demo’s inside of his future grocery store.

“So families can learn how to prepare different foods and how to stretch their food for the whole month,” he said.

Howard’s life goal is to create generational wealth for the community. He hopes to change the narrative of Stop Six by doing what he can to fulfill its needs.

“It’s the hood because we didn’t have any neighborly people, people felt like they didn’t have ownership, investment, or equity. A lot of them left because of the negative connotation it had, but I think Stop Six is a hidden gem,” Howard said. “You’re five minutes from downtown, you can get to Arlington in three minutes, and you have access to five different highways. I just want my children to see they can build their legacy in the community that they grew up in.”

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