By Sahar Chmais
There is an instinctual phenomenon of “counting,” little known to those who are not Black.
“You know what I mean when I say counting,” Ray Bryant, Buda’s first Black city council member, asked. “Every black person knows what that means and that’s what we do. When we walk into a room we start counting and see how many other Black people are in there. It’s automatically in us.”
Most of the time, he counts up to two – himself and his wife, Sandra Bryant. The Bryant’s goal is to increase that number of Black community participants and bring them to the table. For many years, the Black community has not felt important; trying to undo that suppression takes time mentally because they have not felt like they had a place, Ray Bryant said.
And when Black people got a seat at the table, there was not always a lot of value to it because sometimes they were perceived as a token, Ray Bryant explained. That is because society was told there had to be someone there.
“We need to be at the table,” and Ray Bryant followed this advice and taught his family this gem. “Someone said a long time ago, ‘if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’”
So, Ray Bryant encouraged his wife to become more active in the community. Not behind the scenes, which is where she used to be involved, but out there in front of people so she can lead by example. Sandra Bryant eventually became the first Black person to sit on Hays CISD’s Board of Trustees. Ray Bryant’s son, Derrick David Bryant, inherited his father’s sociable personality and eventually became the second Black man elected onto Lockhart’s City Council.
This family has been able to etch their names onto many firsts, but these feats come in the 21st Century.
“It’s baby steps that we are taking, hoping that they impact big steps down the line,” Sandra Bryant said. “Who knows what will come afterwards, but I think we just need to continue to push forward. There is lots of change in Hays County, and while we embrace where we are, we look forward to where we’re going.”
The Bryants’ drive and sense of community comes from many places, but it stems from their belief in God. That is their foundation for how they treat each other and their community. They reach out with a hand of kindness and want everyone to know that they are here, listening, trying to help find answers to residents’ questions.
Outside of their public servant jobs, the Bryants’ jobs still tie to helping others out. Sandra Bryant owns a business, Keeping Communities Connected, to teach people about activities happening. This year, she expanded her business to begin giving scholarships and internship opportunities to those between the ages of 12 and 21.
Ray Bryant works for Texas Disposal System and has been there for 11 years. For his 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, Derrick Bryant makes sure fathers know the importance they have in their children’s lives, especially in their developmental years. He also owns a family entertainment business, named Bryant Enterprises Family Entertainment.
Working to serve the community is not their full-time job, it seems to take up much of their time. Still, they do it with open arms.
“It’s a lot of work,” Ray Bryant said, “but when you’re passionate about something it stops being work. Sometimes it goes on autopilot because it’s just what you want to do.”
When Ray Bryant ran for city council, he did not do it because he was a Black man, he did it because he saw a need. He could sit down with various individuals and brainstorm to solve issues the community was facing. Later on he realized that he was the first Black man on council.
Setting an example for young kids and young adults became a bonus in his contributions to the community. And as their family motto goes, if you can see it, you can be it.
So Derrick Bryant goes out in Lockhart, attends sporting events and interacts with students. They may not know his position in the community, but seeing him there, interacting with kids and encouraging their passion, becomes a way for Derrick Bryant to enact the family motto.
“I want to make sure [the kids]see somebody in the community that they can reach,” Derrick Bryant said. “They don’t have to know I’m a councilman. I just wave and say hi, approach them and let them know someone in their community cares about them. I want to make sure they succeed and know what’s out there, that they sky is the limit.”
Just as this family carries messages of hope and elevation to the community and the self, they carry a heavy weight on their back. Their skin color, especially when they are outside of their communities, can be construed as a threat, Derrick and Ray Bryant described their situation.
When they leave the comfort of their towns, where they are known, the Bryants’ know that anytime they get pulled over could be detrimental and life threatening.
“I realize that every day I put my feet on the ground and go out into society that I am perceived as a threat because I am wearing this skin,” a somber tone washed over Ray Bryant’s joyful demeanor. “I have learned to live with that; and I live in two worlds.”
Ray Bryant explained that one world is the White world – he lives through the motions, goes to the job he enjoys, gets his paycheck and he does what he needs to. Then there’s his world. In his other world he needs to teach his children what they need to do as Black people, if they get pulled over by the police.
“I have to put on a couple of hats just to survive,” Ray Bryant said. “I know I’m a threat in some people’s mind. In Buda if I get pulled over I’m fine because I’m familiar with the people and I feel safe here. We have a great police department. But anywhere else in America, if I was traveling and a light goes on behind me, I promise you fear grips me, I don’t know if I’m going to make it home that night. That’s my life.”
Black History Month is a great start to get the conversation going, the Bryants’ agreed, but they stated a simple fact; they are Black 365 days of the year, not just for one month.
Recognizing Black history opens an avenue of learning about Black culture and Black history, which is American history. During this month, people should open up these topics, use it as a way to learn more about Black history, especially those who share that culture.
Learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks is a great appetizer to the culture, Derrick Bryant said, but it should open up people’s palettes to learn of more great contributions that Black people have made to this world.
“I just think Black history needs to be celebrated across life,” Sandra Bryant said. “We have doctors, lawyers, people who invented things, officers, so many other things that African Americans contribute to society. I want [younger generations]to know Black culture expands beyond the basketball court and music. That’s who we are for some, but beyond that, there’s lots of other things we contribute that are positive.”