Photo: Keidron Henderson, Town of Walls Mayor and Director of Hotel Operations at the Fitz Hotel and Casino. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)
The story of Keidron Henderson, Mayor of the Town of Walls, speaks to the importance of adult mentors connecting with and pouring into the lives of young men and women.
Henderson, the county’s first African-American mayor when elected in 2020, hoped to be on track toward a career in football when injuries killed that dream.
“I was a standout athlete in high school and thought I was going to go to the NFL and buy my mama a big house,” Henderson said Wednesday, Jan. 3. “But, I tore both of my knees up and I was really suffering from depression at that time. I even contemplated suicide but I haven’t have a suicidal thought now in 30 years.”
Henderson said what happened was that he was directed by one of his mentors to apply, through the son of one of the mentor’s good friends, at the Fitz Casino for work as a valet attendant.
“He told me about the opportunity but I never parked a car,” Henderson related. “I put on the blue double-breasted suit that I graduated high school in, that my mentor had actually bought for me. The vice president of slot operations, Gary Anderson, saw me filling out my application to be a valet attendant and struck up a conversation with me.”
The conversation led to Henderson being hired as vice president of slot operations.
“In a year’s time I had worked into a leadership position,” Henderson said. “In 24 months I was one of the youngest people in the state of Mississippi to have a Key Employee License, which is a big deal in the gaming industry. A lot of times I was the highest key figure on the property, in charge of all of the money and everything that goes on.”
It was through the connection with mentors that Henderson is now Director of Hotel Operations at the Fitz Hotel and Casino. That is where Henderson is holding his first Mayor’s Ball in the hotel’s Great Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Jan. 13, starting at 7 p.m. The event, organized by the Psi Beta Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, is a fundraiser evening of music, great food, comedians, and keynote speaker Shannon Brown, will help raise funds for Henderson’s first Youth Summit.
Brown, a retired chief diversity officer for FedEx Express, was considered a top corporate executive during his time at FedEx Express. In 2017, Brown was named as the most powerful executive in corporate America by Black Enterprise Magazine.
The Mayor’s Ball benefits a major initiative of Henderson for the youth of Walls and the area. He is calling it a Youth Summit and will be a two-day activity at the ICS Head Start Center in Walls. As many as 50 youngsters, 25 boys and 25 girls in grades 6-12, will be able to take part in the function that Henderson believes will be the start of the youngsters’ path, or career lane if you will, toward a successful career.
“We’re going to have automotive mechanics, institutions, hair stylists, doctors, attorneys, real estate agents, teachers, most any industry,” Henderson said. “They’re going to pour into these kids and expose what they do in their industry, how to get into their industry, and talk about the challenges and rewards of their industry. The idea is for the kids to have peaked their interest into what lane they’re going to be going into once they leave high school.”
The Summit, which will include meals and a field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, will include a group presentation followed by breakout session.
“The idea is that as they break away in these groups, that person becomes their mentor, or one of their mentors for that career lane,” Henderson explained. “They exchange emails, they exchange contacts, and they do a check in.”
Fifty kids have already been committed to the Summit and Henderson said the number will be increased incrementally as funding allows. He said it is important to match mentors to teenagers and looks at his own life to prove the point.
“If you find a career field that you are passionate about, you never really work a day in your life,” Henderson said. “We want to get these young people honed in on a career path. They’ll learn about the lanes they should be leaning towards.”
Henderson also credited Olive Branch Mayor Ken Adams for helping promote the Mayor’s Ball, promoting it through his connections and working with the Mississippi Municipal League to get the message out statewide.
“We’re expecting to have a really nice turnout,” Henderson said.