These four Black women are making their mark in the tourism industry and their communities.
Brandy Evans joined Visit Wichita in 2021 as the vice president of marketing, overseeing advertising, public relations and social media. She is also working on projects to amplify diverse voices in the community and ultimately make Wichita feel more inclusive.
The 21-year marketing and tourism veteran graduated from Louisiana State University in Shreveport with an English degree and landed a job with a local newspaper. A year and a half later, in 2001, she decided to help the travel media craft their stories as a public relations specialist for the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. Evans was promoted to vice president of communications in 2004.
Evans has aided the community by developing programs to promote small businesses through her work. In Shreveport-Bossier, she introduced Restaurant Week and later Black Restaurant Week as a board member at the African American Chamber of Commerce. In Wichita, Evans hosts professional development seminars for industry partners to provide them with the skills and strategies to elevate their businesses. Off the clock, Evans is a committed volunteer with organizations like Step Forward Literacy Project, Highland Friendship House Kid’s Club and Junior Achievement Spark Workshop.
Over the years, she has mentored several young professionals who enjoy thriving careers as executives in tourism, advertising, marketing and academia.
The Edison in Disney Springs
Deaundra Rolle — affectionately known as Chef Dee — has been masterfully fusing Caribbean flavor with American fare as the executive chef at The Edison in Disney Springs. Rolle puts her spin on seafood by using citrus, fresh herbs, seasonings and hot peppers, a nod to her upbringing in the Bahamas.
Rolle first developed her appreciation for the culinary arts in her native Caribbean country. She was an avid fan of the Food Network, keeping her television fixed on the channel. But it was her grandmother who would provide her earliest lessons. The family matriarch would send Rolle off to pick peas to prepare soup. She would also help her grandmother turn benne seeds (sesame seeds) into the popular Bahamian street dessert benne cakes.
Rolle decided to pursue her passion by attending Keiser University in Melbourne, Australia, and attaining a bachelor’s degree in restaurant and food service management from the University of Central Florida. While in college, she gained experience at hotels and joined the Disney College Program. After graduation, Rolle continued to work across the Walt Disney World properties at All-Star Resorts, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs before her role at The Edison.
Generally, women are underrepresented in the food industry’s corporate pipeline, particularly Black and Latina women. Rolle said she experienced challenges in her trajectory but is proud to be an example to other Black women and aspiring chefs in her community.
Keyra Lynn Johnson
Delta Air Lines
In 2021, Delta Airlines elevated Keyra Lynn Johnson to vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She spearheads a comprehensive DEI strategy and implements programs impacting Delta employees, customers and the wider community.
Johnson graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in speech communication before becoming a part of the Delta family more than 25 years ago. Her first role was on the front line as an associate customer service agent before moving into communications-oriented positions. She steadily rose to senior leadership on the airline’s corporate, internal and employee communications teams. In 2016, she became the managing director and eventually chief diversity and inclusion officer.
Johnson heads the Delta Care and Scholarship Funds, the airline’s nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships to employees and their families for educational advancement and assisting those experiencing unexpected hardship. She also serves on the board for Southern Crescent Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center. A strong connection to faith and family underscores her leadership and passion for community outreach.
San Diego Tourism Authority
Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA), is responsible for the strategic development and management of the organization and overseeing efforts to promote the region. Coker is also committed to telling the story of San Diego through a diverse and inclusive lens.
The Wilmington, Delaware, native originally envisioned following her dad’s successful career path as a teacher or opening a medical practice with her sisters. But that all changed when she got a job waitressing on the weekends in high school. Coker had found her calling in hospitality. After graduation, she enrolled at Johnson and Wales University and joined Hyatt Hotels and Resorts as a corporate management trainee. Coker worked her way through the ranks of the company, holding multiple positions at properties in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Oakbrook, Illinois, during her 21-year tenure. Prior to her current role in San Diego, Coker served as the executive vice president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and eventually became the organization’s president and CEO.
Coker’s goal has always been to leave a community better than she found it. She views her sales and marketing duties as an opportunity to uplift the region and, ultimately, create an ecosystem that provides sustainable, well-compensated jobs for community members.