A Seat at the Table

photo by Tyrone Dodson
photo by Tyrone Dodson

“There is a destiny that makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.” —Edwin Markham

The lines of “A Creed,” a poem by Edwin Markham recited by L. Lee Richardson to her senior class at age sixteen became a providential blessing that set into motion divine appointments in each of her children’s lives—including her daughter, Linda Henderson. This foundational legacy impressed upon her by her mother continues to guide Henderson, and she has passed on this legacy to the generations that have followed her.

Markham’s poem has become a mantra for Henderson’s family. “Our entire family knows this poem, and we enjoy reciting it together at every gathering. We all know it by heart,” she said. As one of five siblings, Henderson credits her mom with much of their success. “We were good kids and never got in trouble, but my mom ran her house on a strict schedule that she expected us to follow. I went on to become who I am now because of the morals she instilled in us.”

Henderson’s early teen years began during a very pivotal time in our nation’s history. “As I was in junior high school, we integrated from the Macedonia School to Liberty-Eylau Junior High School.” It was a no-brainer for her classmates to elect her class president and class favorite. Everyone who meets Henderson is quickly drawn to her.

While Henderson was working as a front desk receptionist at CHRISTUS Health Center in Central Mall, Sam Shuman walked in the door. So impressed by her poise and intelligence, Shuman gave her his business card and asked her to call Bob Bowden at Offenhauser & Co. Insurance. “I was working two other jobs at the time, and this was my part-time gig. After speaking to Mr. Bowden, he offered me a job right away without ever seeing my resume,” said Henderson. “I told him I would need a few days to decide, and in June 1990, I began my career with Offenhauser Insurance as a cashier.”

Henderson is a trailblazer and has never been restrained by a glass ceiling of fear. Undaunted by the prospect of being the only black woman in a specific field, she believed in herself and always trusted what she had to offer. With a prolific resume ranging from hot check collector, State First National Bank runner, loan teller, and five years at Lone Star Army Ammunition, Henderson was the first black woman at Louis Raffaelli’s District Attorney’s office and the first black woman to sell home and auto insurance in Texarkana.

She recounts being asked in a conversation with a continuing education instructor if there was anyone else like her doing what she was doing. “We laughed about it,” Henderson said, “but I hadn’t seen anyone else like me doing [insurance] in this area. I never saw anyone of my color in these rooms.” She knew those could become very lonely rooms, or she could instead view them as a source of empowerment. She chose empowerment. “I felt I made my mother proud. She was proud to tell her sisters in California that her daughter was in the insurance business and that she worked for the district attorney’s office. My whole family felt an enormous sense of greatness knowing I was doing this. I really believe I made an impact.” While it can be scary to be the lone wolf, Henderson never allowed that thought to get in the way of her determination. “I had to make myself do it because I knew I belonged, and I knew I had earned my seat at the table,” she said.

Henderson received her Accredited Customer Service Representative license from the State of Texas in December 1992. “I was a customer service rep, waiting on customers and talking to them about insurance, but I couldn’t sign any contracts until I became an agent.” In December 1995, Henderson went through the rigorous process of testing to become a licensed insurance agent in Texas and a non-residential agent in Arkansas.

That is also the same year Henderson married her husband, Walter. As a young single mom, she had done what it took to make sure she and her children thrived. “I had a job where I cleaned a building at night, and Offenhauser asked me if I wanted to clean their building and work as well.” With her new marriage, the couple became partners in her cleaning responsibilities as her new husband wanted to lighten some of her load. “He wanted to clean the building to keep me from having to do it. Now, we have a little cleaning business on the side where he cleans office buildings. I still clean one… my son Michael’s office building.”

After 34 years in the insurance business, Henderson is now semi-retired, but she still comes to the office two days a week as an independent contractor. Her gumption to continuously pursue her passions and never slow down has made her an inspiration. She believes it’s important to pass on the things you have learned and always be open to learning something new. Currently enrolled at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, Henderson is pursuing her Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences. “Before my mom passed away ten years ago, I talked to her about going back to college, and she said, ‘Linda, you can do it. You are college material.’ and proudly, I just finished my first semester with all A’s.”

When Henderson is not busy studying for school, cleaning buildings, singing in the choir at St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church, where she has been a member for the past 60 years, or taking care of her husband, five successful children, and many incredible grandchildren, she can be found actively serving her community through the Zeta Amicae of Texarkana USA as the Vice President of Auxiliary. The Zeta Amicae of Texarkana work under the umbrella of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. “Our auxiliary works in the community; we help feed the homeless by serving meals. We take socks to nursing homes. We provide snacks and drinks for our law enforcement and fire departments in Texarkana and the surrounding area. We mentor sixth and seventh graders at Texas Middle School, and we call them the Young Tiger Leaders (YTL) or Precious Gems, which is an all-girls club,” said Henderson. It comes as no surprise that Henderson was chosen as Zeta‘s Amicae Person of the Year for 2023.

“I’ve always had an extra job or two on the side… I don’t understand how people cannot apply themselves. I don’t want anyone to hand me help when I know I have an able body to work. This is the same mindset I have instilled in each of my children,” said Henderson. While reflecting on her many accomplishments, Henderson recalls times that were not always easy, but it was her faith that sustained her. “There were times I had to hold back tears as some customers were not so nice to me, calling me names and speaking with harsh words, but I thank God for my faith. Overall, it has been great, more good days than bad days.”

Living her life to the fullest, Henderson has become one we could all do well to emulate. Her words of encouragement for the younger generation would be, “If you’re young, go ahead and go to college. There are different ways you can go, and if you don’t have a family that can support you, ask the college. They have the resources to help you. If you have a dream in you, try to do it! Don’t sit on that dream. Get up and move! Don’t wait for someone to hand you something. Work for it!”


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