We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Priscylla Bento and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Priscylla, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
My parents are immigrants from Brazil and I am a first generation American. My parents grew up under the Brazilian military dictatorship and fully understood what it means to live in a country without basic human rights. Therefore, my background as a first generation American has shaped every facet of who I am and contributes to why I believe in the American dream.
For the first half of my childhood in the 1990s, I grew up in Pleasant Grove in Dallas, Texas as my father was the Pastor of the Hispanic congregation at Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church. The reality of living in Pleasant Grove was stark with a meth house next door and a human trafficking house down the street. At that time the inner city wars were still going on and I would often come across kids my age being “jumped in” to either the bloods or the crips by fourth or fifth grade. By 2002, my family had moved to Rockwall, Texas as my parents pursued a better environment and education for my sister and I. The culture shock was immediate as I walked into my 8th grade gymnasium the first day of school and saw no one that looked like me. It was a rough adjustment, my family and I faced discrimination in many ways, and I never felt accepted as a young teen.
That is until my senior year of high school. As my senior year came to a close I applied to many of the local scholarships available. The night of scholarship awards I expected little, but the Rockwall community was ready to pour into me. By the end of the night the Rockwall community alone had awarded me with almost $20,000 in scholarship. I wept as I realized that although I experienced hardships adjusting to the Rockwall community, at the end they had also changed and embraced me as one of their own.
I specify this upbringing because today we live in an America that is so divided. It is as divided as a girl from Pleasant Grove experiencing a new life in Rockwall. However, my upbringing showed me that even the polar of opposites can change and learn to embrace one another. That is what I believe we need in America today, reconciliation and an embrace of our communities.
The experiences in my life have impact who I am today and I am blessed to use my experience in every facet of my adult life.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Professionally, I hold 3 positions. I work full time with the City of Dallas in the Office of Equity and Inclusion as a Policy Manager. I also work part time as an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas and Dallas College at the Eastfield campus. As a policy manager I have the opportunity of positively impacting our communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic by managing the Dallas Eviction Assistance Initiative. I have also developed the City’s first Fair Housing Assessment Tool used to assess and ensure that housing projects needing City approval affirmatively further fair housing in the City of Dallas. I also conduct policy research and implementation regarding fair housing programs, advancement of affordable housing, and human rights. As a professor I teach political science at the university level planning course formats and implementing learning objectives while utilizing the collaborative learning process in regular and dual credit course formats.
My journey into my profession was not an easy one. I completed my undergraduate studies in 2011 and the impacts of the Great Recession were extremely prevalent at that time. I was unable to find entry level work and in order to ensure I had professional experience I had to intern and complete fellowships for many years while working part time jobs. I didn’t have a true full time position, and entry level position, until 2014 and by that time I had completed my Masters and was beginning my PhD studies.
Along the way I have learned that no one owes anyone anything. If you want something in life, do not expect anyone to hand it to you. You must go and grasp what is yours. In my adult life I submitted hundreds of applications for positions I felt I was more than qualified for. However, I only received a handful of opportunities, with the majority of applications submitted replying with a simple no. That has shaped me to understand that when a door opens, you must walk through. There are very few chances you get in life and if an opportunity presents itself, be fearless and say yes every time.
I do not consider myself lucky. I consider myself hardworking and blessed.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I have often had many friends and even family members from Brazil visit Texas. Usually the first few places we visit include Pioneer Plaza and Reunion Tower in Dallas. They are iconic locations that everyone should have the opportunity of visiting. I also enjoy taking my visiting friends to Katy Trail Ice House where you can enjoy some barbeque or TexMex food at a great garden style restaurant. Since I live in Rockwall, the two best places to take visiting folks is to the Rockwall Harbor on Lake Ray Hubbard and to the Rockwall Downtown that still maintains its small town Texas feel. If folks are looking for a more cowboy feel, I also enjoy visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards where a herd cattle drive occurs twice daily.
Fortunately, the Dallas Fort Worth area has plenty of adventure for folks to experience.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shout out will always go to my parents. They moved to America from Brazil with a dream and they showed my sister and I what it means to pursue your dreams. My father and mother arrived to the U.S. with a scholarship to Criswell College in Dallas, Texas in 1988. They knew no one, they spoke no English, and they had little to support themselves. The first week in their first apartment they both slept on the floor sharing 1 pillow, all while my mother was pregnant with me. The journey to success was never an easy one for them, but they persevered. They are my heros.