Tyre Gray didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming the head of a mining trade association.
Teaching, he thought, was his calling.
“I studied education in college and I taught at a high-risk school in San Diego where the population of the school was 92 percent minority,” said Gray, who’s 40. “And at the age of 20, I was a teacher and was really a father figure for kids who were 12 and 13.”
But it was a chance encounter over drinks at a bar that set him on path to law school and in 2020 to become the first Black president of the Nevada Mining Association.
In 2001, Gray moved to Las Vegas to work at Silverado High School’s music department. One night, over drinks at a bar, he said he was offered an opportunity to switch gears and work in hospitality, and help open the Palms hotel-casino.
“It was a random chance encounter, and I always say my life is what happens when you say, ‘Yes’ to a random question,” he said.
After helping open the Palms, he later worked at Caesars Palace. The experiences brought new skills that, Gray said, “paid dividends.”
Law school ‘gave me an additional purpose’
At around the same time, he was starting to get ill “to the point where I couldn’t work.”
Gray said he was diagnosed with kidney disease in his early 20s and was placed on a transplant waiting list.
“I decided to go to law school while on that list,” he said of his enrollment at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.
“Having an outlet really did help me to, frankly, survive,” Gray said of law school. “Because it really did, I think it gave me an additional purpose to continue to live.”
He graduated in 2014 and joined law firm Fennemore Craig, where he worked as a lobbyist for mining companies.
“I got smart on mining issues,” Gray said. “Having relationships and a good personality gets you in the door, but what will keep you there is really developing a knowledge base. I set out to become an expert in taxation.”
When Gray’s predecessor, Dana Bennett, announced in late 2019 that she was stepping down from the association, she gave him a call. Bennett, the first female to become president of the trade group, told Gray he would be a great successor. “It was very intentional on her part, and very visionary to think of how we can continue to drive diversity in the mining sector,” he said.
After several in-person interviews, Gray got the job in early 2020.
“My qualifications spoke for themselves as well, so it wasn’t a diversity hire, it was a qualification hire that has the added benefit of having diversity,” he said.
“I didn’t even think about it in the context of I was going to be the first African American trade head in the state until someone brought it up,” Gray said.
Association board member Christina Erling, head of North America government affairs for Barrick Gold Corp., told the Review-Journal that Gray was the right choice to lead the association.
“Tyre took on this role right before the pandemic hit and has met every challenge while learning on the fly, and while managing a diverse association membership,” Erling said. “He’s been able to effectively advocate for the industry during a time when building stakeholder relationships in the traditional sense hasn’t been available … I think we’ve all learned as much from him as he has from us.”
Diversity needs to be intentional
Gray notes that it’s easy to establish entry-level diversity, but more challenging to get professional-level diversity. “You need to be intentional about it. You have to be willing to say, ‘Hey, this is what we want and we’re recruiting for this,” he said.
Gray said he’s making sure the mining industry is attracting a pool of applicants from diverse backgrounds.
“The interesting part about diversifying any industry is just kind of the insular nature in the community,” he said. In the mining industry, Gray noted, it’s not uncommon to find a father, son and grandfather working on a mine site.
“What that means is that those communities are exposed to these jobs; the ability to expose other communities to these opportunities (is) what can help drive diversity,” he said.
Gray highlighted a few of the industry’s benefits, noting it pays the highest average wages in the state, at around $90,00 with other benefits, health care and retirement.
“We are robust; we are the 12th largest industry in the state,” he said. “Mining jobs are the American Dream jobs that allow people to provide for their families and build a stronger next generation.”
Gray also carries with him lessons learned growing up in a San Diego neighborhood that he notes “they don’t show on the postcards.”
Education as equalizer
His mother impressed upon him at an early age the importance of academics and to stay focused on his studies.
“She went out of her way to apply for me to be part of Longfellow Elementary School, a language immersion school,” putting him on the waiting list at the age of 3.
At age 5, Gray got in and attended the school in an affluent area near San Diego’s beach cities. It was the first time that he was in a predominantly white neighborhood, and he learned from the experience later in life.
“It really helped me to operate in a world with different races and different faces all the time,” he said. “And so, learning that at a young age, my mom instilled in me that education was a great equalizer, and I still believe that to be true today.”
Gray also has a message for youngsters. “I would just continue to encourage the next generation Tyres out there to continue to work hard and prepare yourself for random opportunities.”