By Crystal Cherry
Amid cheers and applause, Debbie Denmon danced her way to the podium while Alicia Keys blared. Once the audience calmed, she said: “That is hilarious. ‘Girl on Fire’… y’all have no idea.”
Denmon, director of communications of the Dallas County district attorney’s office, delivered a speech Feb. 28 at El Centro College about African- American women who have paved the way in American history. She discussed her thoughts regarding African- American achievements.
She asserted such accomplishments did not grow out of struggle, but out of a legacy of courage and initiative. “A look at the civil rights movement and an examination of triumphs of African-American women in recent years shows what we have to teach all Americans about womanhood and the human personality from our perspective,” Denmon said.
Born in Denton, Texas, Denmon grew up watching the first African-American news anchor for Dallas’ Channel 8 WFAA-TV, Iola Johnson, knowing as early as age 12 she wanted to be just like her.
Those dreams led Denmon to the University of North Texas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. After moving around a bit during her early working years, Denmon eventually returned to North Texas and worked for Channel 8 WFAA-TV, just like Johnson.
Her career as a news anchor with WFAA lasted 12 years, until the station failed to renew her contract. “They said I no longer had the ‘anchor look’ and I needed to lose weight to a size four,” she said. Outraged, Denmon took legal action, feeling she was being held to a different standard than her male coworkers. “I did not win the lawsuit, but hopefully I paved the way for another woman who will be in that position,” she said. Sharing this vulnerable moment illustrated that it takes courage to face injustice.
“I enjoyed her honesty and willingness to share her personal struggle to empower other people,” Karen Mongo, an El Centro speech professor, said. Denmon did not hold back anything if she felt it should be said.
“I want you to be encouraged by all types of women you admire,” Denmon said. “Although I was speaking about African-American women, this is about empowering all women, to let you know it’s not always easy, but in the end, you will be all right.”
Sierra McMurray, a broadcast journalism major, was among those waiting to meet Denmon. McMurray was particularly moved by how Denmon shared her professional and personal experiences. She felt as though they would help in her own career. “I have to know my priorities and continue in this field regardless of being stereotyped,” McMurray said.
Denmon urged everyone to learn from the courageous women in American history, perhaps igniting a fire in some of the students as they listened.