As we wait on the dust to settle with all things HISD, let’s take a look back at some of HISD’s “Greatest Hits,” those times when HISD’s board spun out of control before our eyes.
Let’s start with this recent gem that had us all up in arms.
As we wait on the dust to settle with all things HISD, let’s take a look back at some of HISD’s “Greatest Hits,” those times when HISD’s board spun out of control before our eyes.
Let’s start with this recent gem that had us all up in arms.
***links and updates forthcoming
The stone and slingshot were no match for Goliath this evening as he trounced David. The incumbent slate of candidates led by President James Douglas beat newcomers eyeing for their positions by a 2:1 margin according to ballot counts. Of the roughly 350 ballots cast for President, 250 went for Douglas and Ford took home 100.
AN UPHILL BATTLE
In addition to facing the name recognition and relationships of the incumbent slate, there was another factor: voter turnout among millennials who’d make up the base of the Ford slate. With Election Day only being opened from 7am-5pm, there was an obvious advantage to the Douglas slate whose supporters are more likely to be retired or more established allowing a flexible workday and a sure vote for Douglas.
Lloyd C. Ford, Eddison Titus, and Ciara Suesberry ran for President, 1st Vice President, and Secretary of the Houston Branch of the NAACP, an organization celebrating 100 years in existence this year.
The “tug-of-war” of power included lawsuits and claims of impropriety launched from both sides. The branch sued Ford shortly after he decided to put his name on the ballot, and he fired back with a lawsuit of his own. The trio of newcomers was once a quartet including Richard Bonton who was knocked off the slate due to his membership lapsing shortly this year. Then there was the break-in at the branch where only the executive director’s computer came up missing.
This is not the first time turmoil went public at the Houston NAACP. Seven years ago, there was a public tussle between then-President DZ Cofield and the Executive Director, more on that here:
The new slate claimed corruption amongst the existing leadership and complicity among the power brokers of Black Houston, and they brought receipts in the form of a secret recording of State Senator Borris Miles.
The a secret audio recording of the Senator was released, and we had a chance to review the full 63 minute conversation where Miles agrees that corruption exists and has for over 30 years, but tells the new slate they were going about it all wrong. He said in the recording that they shouldn’t go through the organization like a “Bull in a China Shop,” but should instead take power by assuming a less-alarming prowess. He uses for example how he handles his “arch-nemesis” Howard Jefferson and Ben Hall. While nothing earth-shattering, it does leave the question: “What was the senator talking about, and is he complicit?”
Here’s a link to a clip:
The recording made its rounds before gaining ground as it was mentioned in the Afram News, a regional newspaper catering to the African-American community. Gerry Monroe was the first to mention the recording, and followed up with a question at yesterday’s press conference, just one day before Election Day.
Here’s how that went:
Just moments before this, another press conference was taking place outside the branch organized by the Ford slate. According to them, they were locked out of the branch, even though they’re members. The cops were called by the branch an apparent assault followed outside with the Presidential candidate being shoved by a man walking up asking “Remember me?”
Here’s the link:
Last night an email was sent from the branch telling members the election would be overseen by National instead of the local branch as tempers continued to flare.
Voters had from 7am -5pm to vote at the branch before the official meeting at 6:30 pm.
In the end the incumbent slate beat the newcomers 2:1, but I applaud them for running. I see a bright future for Lloyd, Eddison, and Ciara. I was impressed by the way they handled themselves online, on tv, and in general. Mostly, their unabashed posture in the face of the assumed power brokers of Black Houston.
Shortly after taking office, Dr. Douglas appointed me Chair of the Community Coordination committee of the NAACP, and went out of his way to give advice and connections where possible. In fact, shortly after I’d moved to Seattle, I received a call from Dr. Douglas connecting me with another young, Black lobbyist/organizer also moving work under the dome of the Washington State Capitol. And while I appreciate his counsel, I can also critique the branch leadership objectively.
While many of us protested a charter network taking over Worthing, Kashmere, Wheatley, and seven other Black and Brown schools, it was Dr. Douglas, President of the NAACP working the magic behind the scenes as a board member of the charter. At a recent HISD meeting, he better explained his position in the matter, but I feel it would’ve been better for the organization had he not been on the other side, even as a private citizen, it’s a bad look for the NAACP in my opinion.
There’s also the mild stance on issues impacting Black Houston in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. I expected to see a firm, unapologetic response from the city’s most storied civil rights institution.
And while the election is over, this movement to change the NAACP is not. I plan to get more involved at the branch, and hope to see Lloyd, Ciara, and Eddison, too. Furthermore, I hope to see YOU.
The idea for this piece came about a few weeks ago when I and a couple of friends were out drinking one night. If you know me at all, you know I can find a metaphor out of anything, and this night was no different.
Anyway, we were at a bar where we seemed to be the only people who wore du-rags at home, watched re-runs of Martin, or knew all the words to “Wanna Be a Baller.” In other words, we were the only three Black folks in the spot.
I looked over in the corner and noticed the music was coming from a jukebox with the “Touchtunes” logo, so I hopped on my app and started stacking the playlist with stuff I wanted to hear. Jill Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Prince, and Whitney Houston played for a good 30 minutes or so before one of my friends commented “Damn, they must be playing this because the three of us are in here LOL.”
”Nah man, I got the app that controls the juke box,” I told him.
We all chuckled.
Before I knew it, a few folks began lining up to the jukebox with dollars and credit cards in hand to make their selections, but unbeknownst to them, I had the app. Furthermore, I’d already frontloaded all my selections and they’d better buckle up for at least an hour or so of RnB, Hip Hop, and 90’s hits that played on my dad’s system in his 1985 Buick Riviera with rims back in the day.
At that moment, it hit me.
Those people probably heard a bunch of songs in a row that didn’t hit the spot, so they wanted to “Do something about it,” and they did what they thought was the right action to impact the change they wanted: music.
Sure, common sense would say “Go change it at the jukebox,” but that’s the answer if you only know how things work on the surface. They, in essence, were playing checkers with the music. I was playing chess.
Even more symbolic of where I’m going with this metaphor is that the other bar attendees didn’t know there was someone in there with total control via an app. I never had to get up and walk over to the jukebox. They had no idea I held the puppet strings.
Now, clearly the illustration shows what politics have come to today.
Congress can’t pass meaningful legislation on either side of the aisle, and the average American doesn’t know how things work or what they do at City Hall, their State Capitol, or school board.
Unbeknownst to them, there are puppeteers who control the flow of influence, and that’s what I want to point out in this blog entry.
The people don’t like the music, and they have no earthly idea how to really change it.
I want to point out the role lobbyists, activists, consultants, and organizers play in the grand scheme of things. I’ll talk candidly about these roles as I’ve played, or am currently playing, each of these.
If you came here to find out which Houston activists and organizations made big bucks riding with the Mayor Turner’s administration supporting proposition A and opposing B, I’ll give that to you, but first I want to put this disclaimer out there: the checks they’ve received are totally legal, and being paid to support a campaign shouldn’t be a point against someone’s integrity. It’s just important that THE PEOPLE know when someone supports something and speaks out about it for free, and when it’s compensated.
Longtime community activist Deric Muhummad got $20,000 (receipts below) to help oppose Proposition B, the ballot measure that would tie firefighter pay to that of police. I don’t think this check should make you question Deric’s integrity, but just know he’s paid to help the campaign as he speaks.
And there’s nothing wrong with cashing a check to work for a campaign. I spoke to Deric before posting this blog telling him what I’d found. He says he used the money to hire others to do work getting out the vote.
If my chosen mayoral candidate enters the race, I’ll try to get a spot on that campaign with a check, too.
Again, nothing wrong with it.
Back to Prop B.
Right now, police start off at $44,000 in Houston, while firefighters hit the training academy making a mere $28,000. Now technically, trainees aren’t in the bargaining unit—but that’s extra political jargon that would muck up the argument. He received two separate checks for $10k each. One came on September 28th, the other on October 19th.
This doesn’t diminish his reputation at all, just know when you hear him oppose Proposition B, he’s being compensated to do so.
I personally voted YES on Prop B and didn’t get a dime for it.
Other interesting findings in the campaign finance reports were the $10,000 check that went to activist and Super Neighborhood leader Tomaro Bell. I don’t know her personally, but from afar I know she’s a firecracker and is a relied-upon influencer in her community.
HBAD (Houston Black American Democrats) got a check for a smooth $10,000 as well for “consulting” to support the Rebuild Houston Proposition, Prposition A. I found that interesting. Makes you question the door hangers and printed literature from an organization opposing a proposition when you know they were paid to do so.
Charles X White’s “Charity Productions” cashed in too, with a meager $1,100 for an event expense. Mr. White’s organization hosts community events allowing a space for candidates/campaigns to get in front of folks.
Seems like Mr. White sold himself short this time around. He’s got clout. He should’ve been worth $10,000 too.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a step back and look at the difference between ACTIVISTS, ORGANIZERS, CONSULTANTS, and LOBBYISTS, what they do, and how much they’re paid. Oh, and can’t forget to lay out where the money comes from.
According to the dictionary, an activist is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” In my opinion these are pretty much people who genuinely care about an issue, campaign, etc. They are UNPAID.
For instance, all the work Houston Justice did around Grand Jury reform was unpaid. In fact, quite the opposite. From the rental fees for meetings to the printing costs for flyers and grand jury applications, all of this came out of pocket. Most people don’t know this. An activist might organize a protest or rally to bring attention to an injustice in the community, or to shine a spotlight on an upcoming agenda item at the school board. As Adbul Haleem Muhammad put it, it takes both “tree shakers” and “jelly makers.” In this illustration the activists take on the role of the rabble rouser—Malcolm X, if you will, “shake the tree to get the apples” while the policy folks actually make the apple jelly. You need both most of the time.
When you see Ashton Woods spend hours organizing a protest, making phone calls, marching, meeting, etc., for BLM Houston, he’s not making a dime from it. Same for Kandace Webber and the Beckers. Sarah and Ben don’t get paid to attend all the school board meetings.
And while Houston Justice got some cash this time around, I, nor none of the board were paid. The people we hired were paid $15-17 an hour, but we were roughing it. We’re getting a meager stipend and got reimbursed for meals associated with the work.
Now, once you start connecting your activism to tangible, concrete policy, you start getting attention from organizations and candidates that see your influence as a commodity.
Then, you have campaigns offering you $20,000 to support something.
Organizers are like activists, only they are paid, and have a deeper role in pulling things to fruition. While many activists also put on the organizer hat as well, for this illustration, I’m talking about those working for organizations like Texas Organizing Project, Workers Defense Project, or a labor union. Organizers have weekly goals like recruiting X new members for an organization or union, or getting 100 people to commit to attend the campaign planning meeting next week so that they’ll meet the attendance goal of 25. Pay is on a sliding scale. When I left the prison as a lieutenant to work at the state capitol in Austin, I saw for the first time the impact organizations like TOP and WDP have on passing/stopping laws. That’s what led me to get into the work. When I started at TOP back in 2011 I accepted a meager salary of $30,000 per year. Yes, $30,000 per year. That was a massive drop from what I made working for the prison system, and I didn’t get free housing either. Two years later, I was at $60,000 working for another organization as Texas State Director in 2013 with my first consultant gig on the side paying me an additional $3,500 per month.
Yes, I crossed that coveted 6-figure marker that year.
As an organizer, you’re not paid hourly, but instead, are a salaried worker.
You work long, hard hours.
When I worked for TOP in Dallas, I would often work 60+ hours per week. Think about it: during the day you’re meeting with members and preparing them for meetings with elected officials so they’ll be up to snuff on details. You’re also recruiting members. You might have meetings in the evening when folks are off from work. You’re sitting on couches in people’s living rooms learning about their families and the lives in general. You’re building relationships. I LOVED IT. Well, I LOVE it. I use the present tense because even though I’m not paid for my organizing today, I still do it. And while I had goals for the week, I never looked at people as numbers back then. I don’t today, either.
It is a skilled position. The longer you do it, the better off you’re supposed to get at it.
But where does the money come from?
Well, I’ll give you a short answer and example. For the most part these organizations are funded by grants from foundations and government entities.
Let’s just say I hit the powerball and became a billionaire. I’d setup “The Douglas Family Foundation” and put $100 million of it in an endowment and give grants based on the interest earned off that $100 million every year on issues important to me. If you know me, you know this foundation’s portfolio would aim to end the pipeline to prison through funding HBCU styled marching bands and music programs, increasing voter turnout from zip codes similar to the one I grew up in, and building a real re-entry program for those returning to society. I’d also have some stuff in there to support single mothers, too.
Let’s just say I was conservative with my funds and put it in a simple money market account yielding 1% per year. That would mean The Douglas Family Foundation” could grant $1million per year just off the interest.
If we split that money up into four grants, each organization might get $250,000.
The director of the foundation would be responsible for finding organizations tied to our goals, so they find an after school program already working with HISD schools on music education. If their program fits the goals of our foundation, they might get that $250,000 grant to pay staff, buy instruments, etc.
But there’s catch. The grant might have specific requirement that force them to change their program a bit in order to qualify.
That’s basically how that stuff works, and there are donors and foundations for many issues out there.
Sorry friends, it’s time for yet another story…
I know you’re probably reading this like “Won’t he just get through it already.”
But, I find it easiest to illustrate things with stories, metaphor, symbolism, etc.
Back in 2012 when I was working for TOP, I’d had a flat just as I was pulling into the parking garage at my apartment building. This was one of those situations where you could get mad at the flat, but then be thankful because it happened in the best place possible.
Anyway, I pulled into my spot, pulled out the spare tire and jack, and got to work changing the tire.
I’d never done this before, and I didn’t do it that day either.
After a few attempts trying to get the lug nut off, I was having no luck. I hopped on my phone and looked up mobile mechanics in my zip code on Craigslist. I called around explaining what I needed and eventually found someone who would come and change the tire for me.
Before he arrived, one of my friends showed up and saw me still attempting to take the first lug nut off my car to no avail.
As the mobile mechanic showed up with one of those drill thingies in hand, he asked “Durrel, you called a mechanic to change your tire,” as if it was a big deal.
“It’s not that hard, you could’ve done it yourself,” he said.
As I paid the mobile mechanic that $60 fee, my friend shook his head. In his head, this was a waste of money, but in my head I’d prefer to pay someone $60 to do something in 5 minutes instead of saving $60 and taking an hour of my time.
Sure, if I were stranded somewhere without cell phone coverage, I could figure it out if I had to, but that wasn’t the case.
And that’s the BEST way I can describe what Consultants and Lobbyists do.
Let’s go back to my first illustration where my friends and I were at the bar and the other folks got wind of the direction the music was going for the night and tried to “change” the situation.
In their heads, the answer was to go up to the jukebox and pay to change the songs.
A consultant specializing in bar music would know that the Touchtunes app exists and have a relationship with the bar manager who could override the selections I made by unplugging and replugging the jukebox.
That’s why consultants get the big bucks.
I’ve worked to pass legislation and/or influenced meaningful issue-based program in 27 of the 50 states. I know grass tops and elected officials/staffers in many of these, but I don’t accept every offer that comes my way.
Sure, an organization could piss away hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence a legislative committee on public education to get their bill passed, but who knows if it would work, or how long it might take.
A lobbyist might know the chair of that committee personally, or perhaps know the chair’s chief of staff to get that meeting setup.
A consultant might know the details of each of the committee members’ districts, and that there’s a tire plant in the Vice Chair’s district that donates a lot to his campaign and provides thousands of jobs to his constituents.
That consultant might reach out to the owner of said tire plant for a meeting explaining over drinks what the bill is about, and get him to influence the elected official.
See where I’m going with this?
It’s chess, not checkers.
And THAT is why consultants can command big bucks.
But how do they find consultants/lobbyists?
Lobbyists are registered with the entity they’re lobbying, so there’s a registry. For instance, those lobbying at the State Capitol are in a searchable database.
Consultants are found via word of mouth for the most part. The circles these folks run in are very small, and reputation goes a long way.
How do big companies and organizations choose attorneys? Yeah, like that.
For what it’s worth, I’ve NEVER worked on an issue I didn’t agree with, or for a campaign I didn’t genuinely care for.
For instance, in 2012 when Carol Alvarado was running against Sylvia Garcia for the State Senate, I PERSONALLY supported Alvarado, but my organization had endorsed Garcia.
Initially, I was on board because I was paid to do so. But as time went on, I couldn’t do it.
My heart wouldn’t let me.
While I would eventually come around to admire Garcia today, at the time I was so upset about how the plays had been made that my conscious wouldn’t let me speak genuinely about Garcia. I would literally get sick to my stomach using the talking points our organization had created.
I went to our Executive Director at the time and explained my issue, and I was allowed to help with other campaigns we’d endorsed.
However, in 2016 even though I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, my union’s international had endorsed Hilary Clinton. Even though she wasn’t my pick, It wasn’t hard doing my job that time. After the primary, it was even easier.
Dang, I didn’t expect to write so much, and don’t feel like going back through to edit what I wrote so I’m throwing it up As-Is. This low-key has me wanting to start another book project while my current one “5 Years in Prison” ain’t finished yet. I’d point out how race plays a role behind the scenes at many nonprofits who work primarily in Black/Brown communities, and include my recommendations/observations as one of the few young black men working in this space.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll go back and include answers to interesting questions to this post in the future if any come in.
Now off to find a glass of something brown in a glass, with ice.
While District B City Councilman Jerry Davis is term-limited and rumored to be gearing up for a State Rep. race in 2020 against Harold Dutton, the streets are ablaze with talk about those lining up to replace him.
Here’s a list of folks to look out for as the 2019 Municipal Elections approach:
Looking at her social media accounts, it’s clear Jefferson-Smith has had the idea to launch a city council campaign in the back of her head for some time now.
She carries a hefty resume touting over a decade in the oil and gas industry before branching out as a small business owner, now she’s wants to be Councilwoman Jefferson-Smith.
From the polished, campaign-quality photos from social events she’s thrown over the past year or so, to the arsenal of heavy-weight contacts she’s built like union boss Claude Cummings and Councilman Dwight Boykins and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, she’s gearing up for what is sure to be a spirited race.
Jefferson-Smith has a campaign Facebook page with over 3,000 Likes already. We’re a year away from the election!
I met Renee last year during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. While her home had flooded, she was working with a few churches to become, and manage, distribution centers for the North side.
Of the bunch, she’s the only one to officially declare her candidacy, doing so months ahead of the 2018 General Election to occur next week.
While she’s been working alongside some political heavy-weights over the past couple of years, will they back her up as election time comes around?
I’ve known Tarsha Jackson almost the longest on this list of potential candidates, and while I may not have always seen eye to eye with the paid staff at the organization she now works for, I’ve always liked and respected her personally. When I talk to Tarsha, I speak to Tarsha the strong Black woman and community organizer, not the employee of her employer.
Jackson now leads the Criminal Justice campaign for Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which was founded by Ginny Goldman back in 2010 or so. I used to work for them, too. They’re billed as a grassroots organizing aimed at improving the lives of low-income Brown and Black Texans. She’s already got prototypes of her lit printed, and will likely lean on the coins of Ginny Goldman’s donor network, which is quite hefty. I just hope she stands her ground and doesn’t allow Ginny et. al. to shape her into something she’s not.
Jackson is straight up. She tells it like it is, and has a genuine connection to the people and work she does. Her son was caught up in the Criminal Justice system at a young age, and that’s why she fights the way she does.
When meeting Jackson, it’s clear she’s genuinely passionate. Not that watered-down version often seen from those who majored in Philanthropy in undergrad, but like a mother who fights like hell.
Like Renee, Tarsha hasn’t run for office before. But she’ll likely have the experienced operatives and community leaders (and field+donors) from TOP to carry a strong campaign through to November.
He was Chief of Staff to former Councilman Jarvis Johnson and ran to replace him when he became term-limited in 2011. He came out front in a field of 8 candidates with a razor thin advantage over Jerry Davis. He garnered 25.10% over Davis’ 24.41% forcing a runoff. However, when the runoff came around, Davis flipped that razor thin margin.
The final tally was 50.79% for Davis compared to 49.21% for Byrd. That was less than 103 votes that cost him the election in a race that pulled over 5,000 voters.
He eventually took another job down at City Hall, and has been gearing up for this since he lost in 2011. My guess is he decided against running against the incumbent, and would instead wait until the next open election. Some political experts might look at that decision and agree saying “Sit back and wait until another open election.” While conventional wisdom might’ve been the easy choice, others might wonder if his flame dimmed in the past seven years making way for a new slate of candidates.
In 2011, by October he had raised $28,250 for his campaign with $17,347 left in the bank for the final haul. Pretty impressive for a race like this one.
His largest donors/amounts on the report were:
Ousley Lacy from Pearland $1,250,
BGC Pharmacy from Houston $1,000
CBIC Construction from Deer Park $1,000
***Sylvester Turner Campaign $1,000
Randy Bridges from Clute, TX $2,000
CWA gave $5,000 (from endorsement)
***Jarvis Johnson $1,000
Mr. Byrd’s remained a constant presence at City Hall and probably built new relationships holding on to the role of Chief of Staff, but only time will tell. If Byrd enters the race, he might break his way through ending up as the frontrunner in what is sure to be a spirited race.
Full disclosure: I love me some Kathy Blueford-Daniels! I met her back in 2013 when she interviewed for the Harris County Young Democrats Endorsement Committee. I sat on the committee at that time, and was impressed with her candidness, genuine drive, and tell-it-like-it-is delivery.
I remember this encounter like it was yesterday.
Councilman Jerry Davis wasn’t able to come in and interview, so we had him on speakerphone. Both Kathy and James Joseph came in for the interview in person. For the record, while the Harris County Young Dems and many other partisan organizations don’t boast huge bank accounts or boots on the ground for campaigns, they do give you another bulletpoint on your resume, and a huge notch on your belt in the form of VAN access. The Voter Action Network (VAN) is a gold mine of voter info that allows you to cut walk lists and phone lists based on the voter registration information of voters in your district, city, state, etc.
When it came down to whom we’d endorse, it was a close vote between Kathy and the incumbent Councilman.
He won the endorsement and went on to win the election, however, Kathy came in second place in front of James “Joe” Joseph and Kenneth Perkins in the 4-way race. Blueford-Daniels ran an impressive campaign reaching $10k in the bank to work with.
Her fundraising didn’t contain the names of construction companies and the like, instead, remaining grassroots with the exception of a $1,000 donation from Paul Kubosh, brother of current Councilman Michael Kubosh.
Eventually, I’d run into Kathy at HISD Board Meetings fighting to keep schools open, or at protests like the one held to keep the original Wheatley High School building from being torn down. Many in the community felt there was cause to preserve the building so many had used in the past.
Kathy was a constant presence at HBAD meetings when I used to attend, and remains an advocate against gun violence through her BLACKMOM Organization for mothers who survive gun violence.
Kathy lost her son Patrick Murphy to gun violence, and it lit a fire under her that has inspired so many others.
She’s fixed me many to-go plates, and I always look forward to hearing from her over the phone or in person.
While she hasn’t announced a run, I hope she throws her hat in the race.
If she enters, she’ll bring name recognition, a second-place finish from 2013, and all the privileges afforded to one working for Senator Miles.
She currently leads the Senator’s constituent services outfit for the Greater-Fifth Ward Area.
Just guessing, Im sure if she ran, he’d support her… and that would be MAJOR. Further, Blueford-Daniels has deep relationships with the grassroots leaders at Texas Organizing Project.
I don’t know James personally, nor has he announced, but when asked about the upcoming City Council race, his name always comes up. He ran for this seat in 2013 taking 7.84% of the vote. Taking a look at his campaign finance reports, he touted a $60,000+ balance which was impressive until I took a deeper look at the details.
Much of this was “in-kind” donations like the $5,000 Reverend James Caldwell gave to him to act as his campaign manager. Another “imaginary” $5,000 in-kind donation came from David Neal who acted as a Consultant on the campaign. Same for Terrance Hall… the invisible $5,000 “in-kind.”
He supposedly spent $4,000 at Vista Print… you know… the online site you go to where business cards are $20 for 1,000 and your first 500 are free? Yeah, that Vista Print.
In the coming weeks and months, this race will really take shape, and we’ll keep you posted. The candidate list is sure to get longer.
HOUSTON- The Board of Houston Justice Coalition voted unanimously last week to support Proposition B, the initiative to pay firefighters a living wage.
“Our members feel Houston’s Firefighters and Ambulance workers deserve a living wage. We stand in solidarity with the union and urge our members and neighbors to do the same at the ballot box with a Yes vote for Proposition B,” said Houston Justice President Durrel Douglas.
Proposition B, if passed, would provide clarity between police and fire pay in the future. The initiative came about after tens of thousands of Houston voters supported placing the item on the November ballot through a signature campaign led by the union.
‘Over the next several weeks leading up to Election Day we’ll hit the streets with the union knocking on doors and talking to voters to make sure Houstonians rally around our city’s first responders and know that we care for them and their families,” continued Douglas.
Houston Justice is a nonprofit grassroots, member-led organization empowering communities to balance the scales of Justice for their families and communities.
Elisabeth Johnson, Vice President
Houston Justice Coalition
I first gained heard about Houston Justice when Durrel Douglas came to speak at the University of Texas School of Public Health.
Durrel shared some of his own stories, expressing where his passion begun for Houston Justice. He shared with us the dream, the initiative, the work and now the organization that works to strive for social justice.
#ProjectOrange was one of the three projects Durrel mentioned that I immediately latched on to. Although I have been engaged with the community for access to health care, improving the homeless epidemic and promoting equality in education for youth, I never knew of the opportunities that existed to help another community that is often silenced, those in our jails and prisons, our inmates.
I decided to sign up for Houston Justice’s VDVR training in order to be able to grant inmates a chance to vote. This decision was driven by my passion for social change, social justice and human rights.
After completing the training, I signed up for the first chance to register the inmates to vote. As a group of about 30 people, Houston Justice went to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center, where we were not only able to register the inmates and their families to vote, but provided them with a way to be contacted to receive a government ID (which many of them did not have).
I was surprised by the willingness and eagerness of the inmates to register to vote. The inmates were so excited to be able to execute their right to vote, and like me, were not educated correctly on their rights. Many thought because they would still be in jail at the time of the election and/or did not have a permanent residence, that this right was ripped away from them. They learned as I learned that most of them still held the right to vote. Not only did this give me an opportunity to make a difference in the community by serving the public and providing the inmates the chance to register to vote, it also gave the inmates a chance to know that their vote still matters. This was by far the most rewarding part of the Project Orange experience for me.
I was able to learn about the inmate community, the laws revolved around voting, and how to register voters. I will definitely continue to work with Houston Justice on Project Orange as well as the other project focuses like #HouVotes and the Black Census Project.
I am now a VDVR in Harris County and will continue to register people in all communities to vote. Every vote EQUALLY matters.
This is going to be an exciting week for Houston Justice Coalition!
On Monday, we have an interview with a national magazine to talk about our work registering eligible voters behind bars here in Houston, and our plans to take our #ProjectOrange initiave to other cities next year. Many don't know that most people behind bars are there because they can't afford bond, not because they've been convicted of a crime! This means they're still eligible to vote.
Tuesday, we're meeting with State Representative Garnett Coleman to learn more about his legislative priorities for the 2019 session, and to bring him and his staff up to date with the awesome work we're all doing on the ground here in Houston.
We also have a meeting with Salvation Army Tuesday to lay down plans for a monthly mentorship meeting with their young homeless clients. We spell Justice intentionally with a capital "J" because it's much bigger than Criminal Justice Reform, it's also addressing the issues impacting our homeless brothers and sisters as well. Later this month a small group of us will order food, listening ears, and thinking caps as we meet the amazing individuals at the Salvation Army who just happen to be homeless right now.
On Thursday our President, Durrel Douglas, will guest lecture at University of Texas on Cultural Sensitivity/Social Justice.
Friday, we're holding our on-boarding training for our new team of HJC Fellows and Organizers. Over the next several weeks, they'll be on the ground having face-to-face conversations with Houstonians listening to their issues, registering them to vote, and inviting them to join our movement. We spent all day Saturday interviewing potential team members and we've hired some amazing folks you'll learn about next week.
None of this is possible without YOU.
If you like the work you see, feel free to CHIP IN below.
Thank you for your time, donations, and positive energy!
Visit our site to learn even more about our work. Oh, and mark your calendars for our HJC Monthly Meetup next Tuesday, info on our events calendar.
John and April both have very interesting "Behind Bars" stories, and they're using their stories to empower others. John spent years behind bars in Texas paying his debt to society, and now he's working with Houston Justice's #ProjectOrange to recruit volunteers. Both of April's parents spent time in prison, and now she's signed up to register voters behind bars herself!
They both met up over the weekend to shoot the informational video that will be shown on televisions inside the Harris County Jail and on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram.
The Harris County Jail is the largest in the state with roughly 10,000 people behind bars on any given day.
70% of them have yet to be convicted of a crime! They are there because they can't afford bond, or, they might've had a warrant for an unpaid speeding ticket.
We've got some major things brewing at our organization that I can't wait to tell you about in the next few weeks!
For now, don't forget to help build the movement by making a donation and/or signing up to volunteer!
-Durrel Douglas, Founder
First off, remember months ago when I and others rang the alarm saying these schools were in danger of closure? Remember how some elected officials and other power brokers said we were "misinformed?"
Worthing High and Woodson K-8 were not among the list of low-performing schools given a "Hurricane Harvey Pass" by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, neither were Mading and Wesley Middle Schools. What does this mean? Well, now there are two options based on HB 1842, a controversial bill spearheaded by Democratic State Representative Harold Dutton in 2015.
This comes to a head just weeks after a contentious HISD School Board Meeting that led to parents being drug out of the Board meeting and two arrests.
The HISD Board, led by President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, had planned to vote on a proposal at that meeting that many in the community (including myself) disagreed with. The Board was poised to approve a multi-million dollar contract with a chart school group led by HISD's former Board President Paula Harris and NAACP-Houston President Dr. James. Douglas. The board, faced with a short leash by TEA apparently rushed to put forth a deal that would've chartered ten schools in predominately Black and Brown neighborhoods to save the district from state takeover.
After the commotion at the meeting, it was basically impossible to meet the State's April 30th deadline since another meeting would've had to be called---and a 72 hour notice given to the public.
In my personal opinion, it will be a sad day if our democratically elected board is replaced with a handpicked group to replace them as a Board of Managers. While we may not agree with our elected trustees, we should have the ability to vote for our representatives.
If you look historically at what happens when any governmental entity is replaced with an appointed board, there's a deeper division between the community and decision-makers. Take a look at Detroit, Michigan's board of managers and the Draconian cuts that were made in the name of "Fiscal Responsibility" that disproportionately impacted communities of color and economically disadvantaged Detroiters.
To bring this observation closer to home, let's take a look at what's happened with Beaumont ISD after state take over. It started with an online application being available to community members to apply for a seat on the new board. Selections were made by TEA, then the elected board stepped down the next school year.
Read more about that here...
If I had to guess, I'd assume the state will take over HISD instead of closing schools initially. However, there's nothing stopping the newly appointed Board of Managers from making the decision to close the schools later, anyway. I think they will close some schools eventually.
At the end of the day we have to improve the outcome of 9th graders who can't read. I believe expensive standardized testing has become the focus in public schools instead of teaching common-sense life skills that are necessary to succeed in life. This includes reading, writing, math, and science, but also includes trades and extra curricular activities
Well, I wanted to get a firsthand look at what's going on at these schools, and, what other districts have done to turnaround "low-performing" campuses.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure to visit Kendall Whittier Elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma where their district has a partnership with City Year---essentially a tutoring/educational support program that exists during the school day in the classroom as opposed to after school where most economically disadvantaged students have an additional transportation hurdle to endure. I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw. I wanted to know if HISD had anything like this, especially at the 10 schools on the list.
I grew up on Selinsky next to Frost Elementary. I understand it takes extra support to educate economically disadvantaged children. I was one.
At the end of the day, something has to change. Sure we need volunteers to be mentors and read to children, but that's not sustainable. You can't DEPEND on volunteers. There has to be a structural change to public education that is equitable.
I took the time to visit Worthing High School a few weeks ago where Dr. Campbell-Rhone, the principal, explained the wraparound services that exist on the campus, and I got to hear from the top brass at Communities in Schools, which is stationed at that campus and others.
While many are ready to "move forward," I believe it's impossible to truly move forward without understanding and acknowledging the past.
Just confirmed the authenticity of this press release from HISD Press office via phone who confirmed the Board will not move forward with the hotly debated Charter Schools proposal that led to last night's infamous protests from parents, activists, and community leaders.
Kandice Webber and Amelie Goedecke were arrested after Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones ordered police officers to "clear the room," which was filled with constituents awaiting the fate of 10 historically Black and Brown schools.
At the end of Karina Quesada-Leon's testimony, the Board President ordered her removed as seen below.
From HISD Interim-Superintendent Lathan:
HISD will not submit any plans to the Texas Education Agency related to SB 1882
April 25, 2018 - The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Tuesday adjourned without approving a contract to partner with the governing board of Energized for STEM Academy as part of Senate Bill 1882. The district will no longer pursue this proposal, nor will the district submit plans for partnerships to the TEA.
The proposal was intended to give HISD a two–year pause on accountability from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and prevent sanctions from the state related to House Bill 1842.
HISD will continue to operate and manage the 10 campuses that have been in Improvement Required (IR) status with the state for four years or more. Those campuses are: Blackshear, Dogan, Highland Heights, Mading, and Wesley elementary schools, Henry Middle School, Woodson PK-8, and Kashmere, Wheatley, and Worthing high schools. The district’s goal is to help these 10 schools exit IR and continue to meet yearly standards.
“We are not bringing another partnership proposal to the Board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools,” said Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan. “Instead, we will continue to reinforce our commitment to helping students, staff, and families of our Achieve 180 schools continue the hard work they’ve done this year to transform their campuses and increase student achievement.”
HISD will make the necessary changes to the Achieve 180 framework to ensure the district provides them with the additional resources and supports they need to be successful. District administration will be holding meetings with staff and parents at these 10 schools to discuss Achieve 180 plans for their campuses in the 2018-2019 school year. Staff will remain in place at these 10 campuses unless a position is closed as part of the reduction in force HISD is experiencing across the district due to the $115 million budget shortfall.
When I saw the call to help register voters who were currently incarcerated, I knew I had to do it.
I was raised by a single father, in part, because both of my parents were convicted felons. He was always saying that the government didn't care about him, the primary example being that he wasn't even allowed to vote. I know now that is untrue. But it took him decades to find that same truth.
One simple bit of dignity to make you feel you are part of the community at large could have a ripple effect on someone's life.
Because of my childhood, I avoid police officers at all costs. They trigger a lot of anxiety and I had not thought of this until right before I began the drive to the Sheriff's office. I realized I would be around inmates, but I was suddenly more afraid that I would be around a bunch of police.
I also hadn't thought about the fact that in all of those years of legal issues and arrests, I had never been inside a jail/prison. All of this hit me with a quickness and I confessed to the person in charge that I had also never registered anyone to vote, so I was "nervous about that".
In reality, I was nervous about at least 10 different things that morning.
I am so glad that I did it now.
I hope to encourage people to have their voices heard and am working on rallying some folks in Austin to do the same thing there!
I first heard about Project Orange in an email from Houston Millennials.
I had already been to a VDVR training and am very concerned about the lack of voice disenfranchised populations have in our government, so it was a perfect opportunity for me. I was excited to be in a position to have a direct and almost immediate impact relating to people engaging in their civic duties.
I was nervous my first time going to register voters, but only because I was unsure of the process, not the environment. I was made to feel at ease right away though. While there were things to get sorted out and improved during each volunteer session, I always felt safe and, most of the time, very appreciated by the people who I registered to vote.
It was also an incredible opportunity to get a better understanding of the experience of the men and women who spend time behind bars, sometimes only because they can’t afford bail. Eye opening!
Overall, volunteering with Project Orange was a great opportunity to feel like I was giving back to my community, engaging in a crucial civic duty and shining some hope on the future for people who felt like they had hit a road block.
I absolutely will be continuing to volunteer with this incredible organization and also hope to help spread the word about this groundbreaking initiative.