Derrick Freeman wears Port Arthur on his sleeve.
Born and raised in the city, Freeman has seen and experienced a lot of what Port Arthur has to offer; from his father having to endure the constant worry of “layoff lists” in the 1980s to the present day P.A., where as a married 35-year-old father of three, he and his wife, a teacher in PAISD, are carving out a life in a place whose future is as diverse as the people that make up the population.
And in an election year where six of the eight Port Arthur city council seats are up for grabs, the results of this year’s election will weigh heavily as to how this once proud city’s future fares. With unemployment rates hovering near 17 percent, a downtown that is a shell of its former self but yearns to be more, and an aging population base juxtaposed with an apathetic younger generation, Freeman, the youngest of all the Port Arthur city council candidates, is ready to initiate his political career by reigniting the passion in Port Arthur that he knows is still very much alive.
“I thought I’d start (my political career) at 40,” said Freeman, who’s running against incumbent D. Kay Wise and Willie “Bae” Lewis for Position 7 on the city council. “But when I came home and started seeing some the things our city needed, or was lacking, or that we could improve on, I felt like I had something to offer.”
A 1994 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, Freeman had the political bug bite him early on. The student body president at TJ, Freeman left Port Arthur after graduation to attend Liberty University in Richmond, Virginia where he studied political science and played football. His first summer in college was spent as a congressional intern for then representative Steve Stockman. He later transferred to the University of Texas-El Paso and continued his pursuit of a political science degree before ultimately returning to Port Arthur.
Blessed with a smooth, baritone voice, Freeman, who has always had an interest in music and entertainment, went to work as an on-air personality for Magic 102.5 FM in Beaumont. However, thanks to a fervent desire to expand his entertainment career and “the checks I received from Magic 102.5” he says with a laugh, Freeman ventured out west at the age of 23 to launch his career in Los Angeles.
For eight years, Freeman developed a work ethic and learned a lot about marketing, graphic design and advertising, as well as soaking up the politics of Los Angeles that helped form not only the business he operates today, but gave him ideas as to how he could apply those lessons learned in L.A. to P.A.
“I lived through the LA downtown revitalization, and I saw them take Skid Row and change the whole dynamic of Los Angeles’ downtown, and I saw the commitment to do it with excellence … people will come. Some people don’t buy into the “if you build it, they will come,” but we’ll make sure we have rooftops and making sure we have private investors building subdivisions, attracting residents to the west side and downtown area.”
Freeman also learned a lesson in responsibility when he was moving back from L.A. and, he said, half of a marijuana joint was found in the U-Haul he was driving. Freeman insists it wasn’t his, and says now he should’ve handled the situation better.
While downtown LA had the allure of the Lakers and the Staples Center, which Port Arthur clearly does not, Freeman understands that it’s going to take a community effort to get people on board with making the downtown a viable option. But it’s not just the downtown that is important, Freeman acknowledges that it’s time to take this information age generation, and cater to their strengths, which is technology in many cases, and use technology to improve workplace efficiency and communication in city hall by building and improving existing computer servers and let technology-based businesses be an alternative to the petrochemical industry that Freeman is worried too many in Port Arthur have become reliant on.
“We need to encourage more entrepreneurship,” he said, “we have too many people growing up relying on the idea of just working for the refinery. And that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not for everybody.”
As a small-business owner himself, he owns a marketing company, Marketing Innovations and Network Development, Freeman is a one-man crew and self-taught in many of his applications. He has grown his business for the last three years since arriving back in Port Arthur in 2008. He and his wife Shannon moved back to Port Arthur from L.A. to be closer to family after she became pregnant with their second child.
He understands the value of balancing a budget, and knows all too-well the reality of doing “more with less,” valuable skills he can apply to the city if elected to council.
“There’s plenty of ways to generate revenue for the city,” he said, including exploring advertising spaces on buses and bus stops for instance, as well as streamlining trash pickup to ease fuel costs. And as someone who cultivated plenty of business contacts while in L.A., he said if businesses are going to come to Port Arthur, someone has to get them there, and he’s confident he can do just that.
“I want to be out there selling and lobbying businesses on Port Arthur. And with the downtown, it’s going to take more than just sending out letters; it’s going to take phone calls, meeting people, handshakes, face-to-face time,” he said. “People aren’t aware of the incentives that we have, and we have attractive incentives to attract business.”
For a young family man that has built his reputation on sweat equity, keeping his faith in God and trying to provide a better life for his family and a better Port Arthur for his kids, Freeman said when it comes down to it, he wants to make a difference for his city and all its citizens, young and old.
“I feel that I’m genuine,” said Freeman, who has helped register 20,000 youngsters as part of his work with inthebooth.org, and wants to make helping the youth of Port Arthur one of his primary goals if elected. “I’ve been trying to meet as many people as possible just so they know my heart and know what I’m trying to do for this city.”