This is the story of Brenda Peters.
Brenda Peters has fond memories of growing up in Dallas during the 1950s.
She helped her parents run a soul food restaurant that was a community hub and she loved going to school. But most of all, she looked forward to the day the bookmobile would visit her street.
“Libraries were still segregated at that time,” Peters said. “So, there was a little bookmobile that would come through my Black neighborhood every two weeks.”
An avid reader, Peters considered it the best day of the week.
“From a little girl who wasn't allowed inside a library to having my name on one – it feels surreal,” Peters said.
Finding Her Path
Peters had a shy and bookish personality growing up, and in many ways, still does.
“Not only did I love reading, but I also was really good at math,” Peters said.
Because of this, she considered becoming an engineer. However, due to a high school physics teacher who believed women did not belong in engineering, Peters looked for other ways to use her mathematic skills.
“Unfortunately, he successfully dissuaded me from that idea,” Peters said.
But she would go on to challenge an industry, nonetheless.
By the time Peters was a senior in high school, Dallas schools had been desegregated, and so had libraries. As such, she frequented the rows of books that had been off-limits for so long.
“I remember going into the library one day and reading a book on careers,” Peters said. “I wanted something that paid well and used math and that's when I stumbled upon the idea of becoming a certified public accountant (CPA).”
Peters was accepted to Texas Tech and became a first-generation student.
“Becoming a first-generation student was exciting, but it had its challenges,” Peters said. “I had to apply for scholarships, but once I decided I was going to become a CPA, I never wavered.”
Peters estimates her cohort was less than 10% female, with only two of those women being Black. While it was a stark change coming from an all-Black community, Peters adjusted to being in an environment where there weren't many people who looked like her.
In fact, she thrived.
“Texas Tech prepared me well for my career,” Peters said. “I had great classes and great professors.”
Herschel Mann was one mentor who made a lasting difference in Peters' life.
“Even though some of us were minorities at that time, Mann never treated us differently,” she noted. “I always felt he had high hopes and expectations for me.”
Peters was accepted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the honors chapter at the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting honors society, and also was accepted into Texas Tech Mortar Board, which at that time, was the highest academic honor for women at Texas Tech.
Peters graduated in the top 10% of her class and was highly recommended by professors for her first job after graduating with her bachelor's degree in accounting in 1974.
The Real World
Peters took her first job at an accounting firm in Atlanta, Georgia, in the mid-1970s. Thrilled to move to a new state and start her career, Peters was quickly met with some harsh realities.
“Life is not fair,” Peters said. “I was not always met with the same friendliness in the real world that I encountered in college.”
During orientation for her first job, Peters and others were informed there were certain clients they would not work with.
“Some clients had no interest in a woman managing their account,” Peters said, “let alone a woman of color.”
When she was allowed on accounts, Peters recalls the response she would sometimes get when walking into a room. The client's face would sometimes shift, and she realized she was not the “Brenda” they were expecting.
While there were some attitudes Peters could push past, she quickly learned where to draw the line.
“On one occasion early in my career, I remember discovering irregularities during an audit,” Peters said. “While reviewing the findings with the client, I was informed that he and his college roommate had attended Klu Klux Klan meetings during their undergraduate years.
“I never returned to that office.”
And while Peters is not the type to focus on limitations, there have been several hard realities she first accepted, and then challenged during her career.
“The accounts you have access to early on, add up in this industry,” Peters said. “There was a colleague of mine who started a year or so before me, but he didn't have any restrictions when it came to the accounts he could work on.
“He went on to become CEO of the international firm. And that's not because he didn't deserve it, but he also had a different starting line than some of us, and that's just a reality.”
Building a Legacy
As the years passed, Peters built herself a distinguished career. Ultimately settling down in Houston, she later married and had a daughter, Christina.
“I was fortunate to have received scholarship assistance in college, so while I had some student debt to pay off, it was substantially smaller than it would have been,” Peters said.
Because of this, Peters wanted to pay it forward to future students and to her alma mater. Peters joined the Texas Tech Alumni Association (TTAA) board in 2003 and established a scholarship fund for Texas Tech students who are graduates of Houston's Jack Yates High School.
“I choose to live in a predominately Black neighborhood,” Peters said. “Jack Yates is in the zone I live in and most of its students are economically disadvantaged minorities.”
The idea for the scholarship was sparked in the early 2000s when Peters received a postcard from the College of Business, and she didn't see diversity in the images.
Rather than complaining about the situation or pointing fingers, Peters decided to do something herself.
“Jack Yates was my first initiative to put my money where my mouth was in terms of advocating for and reflecting increased diversity,” she said.
And it hasn't been the last.
Over the following years, Peters supported the Equal Access Scholarship Initiative Endowment, has served as a board member for the TTAA and the advisory council for the Rawls College of Business; she has donated to Texas Tech's Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programs such as Mentor Tech and established the Peters Family Accounting Scholarship Endowment in honor of Herschel Mann, serving students who are either first-generation or come from an underrepresented student population.
Peters' generosity to Texas Tech and its students is a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
“Generosity was a cornerstone on which I was raised,” Peters said. “When my family ran their restaurant, my mother would often feed people who couldn't afford to pay. We didn't have a lot ourselves, but we shared what we did have with others.”
Another reason for Peters' generosity is she knows our time is limited.
She lost her husband and sister in recent years and says going through that kind of grief reminds you of what really matters. Her gifts to Texas Tech are a way to honor her family's legacy, and hopefully bless others in the process.
When Peters learned there would be a Black Cultural Center at Texas Tech, she knew she had to get involved.
She did just that, with both her time and finances.
Peters contributed a significant gift to the development of the Black Cultural Center due to her excitement of having a space like this at her alma mater.
“I made my first white friends at Texas Tech,” Peters said. “I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood, and while my senior year of high school was integrated, I didn't make any friends there. College is where I really came out of my shell and met new kinds of people.”
In fact, she's still close today with a friend she met in Mortar Board.
“We celebrated our 70th birthdays together this summer,” Peters said. “And I would have never had that friendship if not for Texas Tech. That's why I wanted to give to this center, because I hope it fosters connections like the ones I made.”
Peters envisions the Black Cultural Center as a place that's welcoming to anyone who wants to gather there – fostering conversation about differing ethnicities and shedding light on the Black experience and Black history.
Beyond learning about others' experiences, college is a chance to build relationships with those different than us, and Peters hopes this center makes even more space for that at Texas Tech.
In early September, Peters traveled back to campus for the grand opening of the Black Cultural Center and was recognized for her generosity, not only by being named a distinguished alumna by the Rawls College of Business, but also by seeing her family's name on the library in the new Black Cultural Center.
“I'm so proud to have the Peters' family name associated with the library,” Peters said. “I am excited that unlike my youth, this library will be welcoming to anyone who would like to visit.”