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By Liz Farmer. Updated p. Wednesday to reflect student meeting. Updated a.

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One catch: the job was in Dallas. What would it be like, Payne wondered, to live in Dallas as a thirtysomething black woman? At her Brooklyn apartment, Payne picked up the phone and dialed one of the few people she knew in Dallas, a classmate from Harvard Business School who also was black.

Did she like Dallas?

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Payne asked. Are there many black professionals there?

A quiet pause followed, then a string of hesitant utterances. At a time of striking growth among the black population in the Dallas area, the city still suffers from an image problem among black professionals who perceive other cities—Atlanta; Chicago; or Washington, D.

Michael Boone, founding partner of the Dallas law firm Haynes and Boone, says his firm still struggles to recruit African-American attorneys to Dallas and has resorted to sending out letters to the top black student law groups in the country, encouraging members to apply. Young black lawyers often are told that if they want to work in the South, they should go to Atlanta, not Dallas, he says. Yet, interestingly, this perception is at odds with the data.

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In one of the more notable demographic shifts of recent decades, blacks have been moving by the thousands to southern cities, including, and especially, Dallas. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area ranked fourth for attracting the largest of African-Americans between anddrawing a yearly average of 7, new residents, according to William H.

Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution in Washington, D. Coming in first was the Atlanta area, with an average of 23, new black residents a year; then Houston, with 11,; followed by Charlotte, with 10, Clearly, Atlanta remains the overwhelming magnet for African-Americans in the South, attracting triple that of Dallas and more than Dallas and Houston combined.

But Dallas has emerged as a key player in the migration shift, Frey says. Dallas has benefited from the reversal of a long-term Great Migration north by thousands of black residents throughout the early part of the 20th century, as they went in search of better jobs and more tolerant communities. In the s, demographers noticed that the s had fully turned around, with African-Americans leaving former magnets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and repopulating southern cities such as Dallas. Demographers call it the New Great Migration. Frey believes the Dallas metro area will continue to be a major draw for blacks in coming years.

He notes Dallas ranked second nationally for overall black population gain between andwhich included migration and local births.

Census data. During the same period, the black population dropped in the metropolitan areas of New York and Chicago for the first time. Despite ificant growth in the black population here, the Dallas metro area is still only 15 percent black. For comparison, Atlanta is 32 percent black. Like many thirtysomethings on a fast-track career path, Payne was ambitious. She bought a one-way ticket, stopped at a BMW dealership to pick up a car, and drove to her newly purchased condominium in Uptown. As the days passed, Payne was pleased with some of the perks of her new life: an easy commute to her office in Uptown and a much lower cost of living, which allowed her to upgrade to a 1,square-foot condominium, more than double the space she had in Brooklyn.

But one thing was immediately troubling. In New York, she never had a problem finding a crowd of black professionals, in restaurants, at the gym. Here, when she went out after work, she often was the only black person in sight.

Attorney W. Where are they? When Allen was recruited from Harvard Business School, she tried to avoid this experience by picking a neighborhood with a diverse population of whites, blacks, and Hispanics. She, too, had been worried about the social experience of living in Dallas. She researched neighborhoods online and got excited about North Oak Cliff, with its diverse demographics and older, historic homes. But when she got a call from the relocation real estate agent, the woman tried to dissuade her. We should find you a nice condo in Uptown.

She parted ways with that agent and hired one who lived in North Oak Cliff. To find friends, she leaned on her alumni networks, eventually assembling a group of five close black female friends. Over dinners, they talked about living in Dallas and how it fell short in some ways compared to other cities, particularly Atlanta.

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Dallas scored slightly better than Atlanta, which came in as the 41st most segregated area. The top spots went to Milwaukee, New York, and Chicago. Pinnock and her friends felt that the Dallas sprawl made it feel more segregated, because black professionals were spread out across the suburbs. The women hoped that perhaps with the continued growth of the Dallas Arts District and the new downtown deck park, a more diverse group of professionals will linger in the city and cross paths.

But the biggest difference they saw was that those other cities had a more visible presence of high-achieving blacks in political and business circles. You want to have these role models, to see people who look like you, doing the things you want to do. One of the women was Lauren Graye, a black professional who moved back to her hometown of D. It seems much more likely for me to achieve a certain level of success in a company that already has African-Americans in executive positions.

So we perceive there is a glass ceiling, and we leave.

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These negative perceptions among minorities led a group of business leaders to discussions in the late s. The executives were having trouble recruiting and retaining minority professionals, particularly blacks. In a time of shifting demographics, and an extraordinarily connected world economy, these company leaders knew they must court diversity for competitive edge.

Knowledge of different cultures means access to more consumers. Most simply, clients searching for attorneys, ants, or bankers like to see a little of themselves in the company ranks. With an overwhelmingly white work force, company leaders knew they needed to diversify to survive. They had long heard that minorities had a negative impression of Dallas. They decided to forsake the nebulous and focus on the concrete: recruiting minorities to North Texas. Ken Reeves came to North Texas six years ago as a human resources executive. Reeves says he initially was hesitant to leave Houston.

There, his family lived in a diverse upper-class neighborhood with great schools in Sugar Land. His immediate neighbors included families who were white and black, as well as families from India and China. When Reeves relocated to Fort Worth, his housing decision largely was driven by the quality of schools for his two children, who are now ages 12 and 4.

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That led him to North Richland Hills, a mostly white suburb. Reeves says he believes the area suffers from not having more integrated, diverse communities.

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Taj Clayton and family at his campaign headquarters. Ken Reeves and family playing basketball. His eyes kept falling on Reeves as he took in the car and the suit. Reeves answered politely, then drove away. While mayor, Kirk was dressed in a tuxedo at a charity event, standing beside his wife, who was wearing an evening gown.

A man walked up and tossed his keys to Kirk, mistaking him for the valet.

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As Kirk glided across Stemmons Freeway, he rolled down the window, cocked his arm, and flung them out. Kirk, now the U. Trade Representative under Obama, says the city was struggling with the same racial issues when he arrived in the s as a young lawyer. Race was still a top issue 20 years later when he ran for mayor. Dallas has never really embraced its responsibility to educate an increasingly ethnic population.

Atlanta has several historically black colleges, as does Houston, with Texas Southern University. Consider, he says, Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta. He was born in Dallas. There was also the charismatic Willie Brown, the first black mayor of San Francisco. He was born in East Texas. And Emanuel Cleaver, the first black mayor of Kansas City.

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He was born in Waxahachie. There are those who have left and come home again. Curry, 30, returned to Dallas, bought a condominium downtown, and works as a senior communications and marketing analyst for Dell. I like the people.

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Curry acknowledges that it might be harder for black professionals to find their social niche in Dallas than some other cities. But the scene is here, if you know where to find it. His social life is, in part, dictated by groups such as Facebook and Meetup. Cedric Mims is also on the list. He graduated from Cedar Hill High School, received a law degree from Pepperdine University, then was ready to come home. He moved with his family to DeSoto when he was 18 years old.

Then he went off to Harvard. After Harvard Law and a stint in Boston, Clayton and his wife, Tonika, also a Harvard graduate, decided to move to DeSoto and build a home in a gated community with a mix of black and white residents.

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The Claytons picked Dallas over other cities, believing it would be the best place to raise their children, ages 6 years, 3 years, and 4 weeks. When Clayton ran around the track at the DeSoto Recreation Center, he watched the 9- to year-old boys gather to play basketball. They started and ended practice with a prayer. And it has long been neglected by the city.