The Race to Replace Judge Zinetta Burney

VOLUNTEER!.jpg

Earlier this afternoon I met up with Sam Blair on the Air, KG Smooth, and these three candidates for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, an open seat to replace Judge Zinetta Burney who announced her retirement last year.  Among those running to replace her are her daughter, Sharon Burney, and Cheryl Elliot Thornton who's run for in the past for other judicial seats.  We're not going to talk about them just yet.  Instead, I'm going to tell you my views on these three candidates who answered my last minute request to chop it up on 97.9.

All three candidates arrived to the studio before me.  Ray donning a campaign t-shirt, Audrie in lawyer-esque business casual attire, and DC in denim from head-to-toe with one of those cowboy bolo ties.

It started off pretty snooze-worthy with each candidate giving their 60-second polished pitches.  Ray and Audrie were both ready for this---something you end up doing on the campaign trail a lot.  DC, not so much.  

I've had the chance to chop if up with these folks over the phone, via Facebook, and in-person today, so here's my take on each of the candidates.

AUDRIE LAWTON: THE DELTA

Of the three candidates, Audrie has the most legal experience.  She packs an impressive resume including work on the other side of the bench in JP courts, and is quick on her toes, too.  She's a Delta.  She's charismatic.  She's the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.  Before I met her in person, I'd heard about her from some of my close friends who've been singing her praises after meeting her at screenings or other judicial events.  

I spoke to her by phone a few weeks ago asking her about her run.  She mentioned how she wants to work with non-profit organizations, and how she wants to make her court more accessible to the community.  She mentioned pro-bono work she's done with Texas Organizing Project around Hurricane Harvey legal issues for residents dealing with slumlords, and she runs a tight ship.  She even showed volunteered an afternoon recently for Houston Justice's #ProjectOrange.  Like Ray and DC, she's very responsive to emails, Facebook messages, and the like. 

RAY SHACKELFORD: THE QUE

Omega Psi Phi's stated purpose has been to attract and build a strong and effective force of men dedicated to its Cardinal Principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift, and Ray has always shown himself to be the epitome of their purpose.  I didn't have to do too much research on Ray because I've known his work over the years.  From his work on housing with the National Urban League, to his volunteerism, Ray is one of those people never chasing the camera or spotlight, instead always in the background doing THE WORK.

Ray touts his experience working on issues in the community as his strength.  He's served on the District Attorney's transition team, on the Mayor's Independent Police Oversight Board, and now he's running to become Justice of the Peace for a community he and his family have deep roots in.  In addition to his reputation, he has the benefit of sharing a name with his father, the other Ray Shackelford.  This will obviously be an added benefit.  For those that might not know the younger Shackelford, they know his father, and this will benefit him when people log in to that e-Slate machine.

DC CALDWELL: THE BOY SCOUT

Well, he is.  An Eagle Scout, actually.  DC is the type of conservative that keeps multiple copies of the US Constitution on him... in multiple languages.  How do I know this?  He offered me one once the interview was over.  If DC sounds familiar, it's because he ran against Carolyn Evans-Shabazz last time around.  Or, it might be because he's the Thurgood Marshall School of Law student that caused an uproar around the invitation of Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain coming to speak to students as a Federalist Society event.  

During today's radio interview, DC seemed to try to spar with Audrie Lawton for some reason.  It happened more than once.  After she gave her introductory remarks which included a bit on what Justices of the Peace actually do, DC attempted to correct her.  He did this at least three times during the interview.  For what it's worth, DC is tenacious.  He explained how he fought his own party to end up on the ballot.  Whether I agree with his politics or not, that's admirable.

Who will you support to replace Judge Burney?

I live in Precinct 7, so I'll have to make my own decision as well.  I think I've made up my mind.

 

Dutton's 2015 Law: Worthing, Wheatley, and Kashmere

worthing.jpg

Don't just take my word for it, Superintendent Carranza said it plain a few months ago.  Though some call this "misinformation," check out Carranza's video and former Board President Wanda Adams' email response from the Texas Education Agency.

Here's Trustee Adams' email:

adams closure.jpg

 

In the following blog, I'll lay out the timeline with receipts to explain how historic schools like Worthing, Wheatley, and Kashmere are now at risk due to a 2015 law (House Bill 1842) also known as the HISD School Closure Bill.  CLICK HERE TO READ THE BILL 

Now, chances are your Rep voted for this bill, too.  The only people who didn't vote for this bill were:

Anchia; Coleman; Collier; Farias; Gonza´lez; Gutierrez; Herrero; Martinez Fischer; Moody; Naishtat; Neva´rez; Phelan; Riddle; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Romero; Turner, C.; Walle; Dukes; Miles. 

CLICK HERE FOR THE ACTUAL VOTE

The bill basically set a new rule:  if low performing schools remain that way for five years in a row, the Texas Education Commissioner MUST close the school, or, take over the entire school district through a board of managers that they'd appoint.

Now for what it's worth, I do believe HISD has long neglected our Black and Brown schools like Worthing, Yates, Wheatley, and Kashmere, however, I think this bill makes matters even worse.  Especially considering Dutton, the bills "architect" has been in office since 1984, and on the same House Public Education Committee that has cut resources over and over and over and over.  So it's a bit ironic and absurd for him to write such a bill.

Now some might look at a partnership or charter and see the good in it, but it's not good at all.  It's bad.

How is this bad?  You and I would have no local control over the decisions being made.  Imagine a board of managers who didn't understand the legacy of schools like Yates or Worthing.  Imagine no longer being able to vote for your school board member, instead giving total control to someone who might not even live in Houston.

In 2015, Dutton spearheaded a bill aimed at school accountability, but armed with risky penalties like school closure, chartering, or partnership.  In each of these instances, the district basically hands over the keys to the car, allowing a third-party entity to drive it.  They could decide that Worthing doesn't need a varsity football team, and should instead devote more resources to academics.  A third party could decide to eliminate the marching band at Wheatley, get my drift?

Dutton, whose district includes Wheatley and Kashmere, are now under the gun because of a bill he co-authored!  Don't just take my word for it, take a look here at the Texas Legislature Online page which lists Dutton as a Joint Author. Don't just believe me,  CLICK HERE FOR THE TLO PAGE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF.

Here's a quote from the Republican Chair of the Public Education Committee talking about the bill in THIS HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARTICLE:

"House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock's other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill "one of the most far-reaching bills of the session," and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect."

The architect. 

This State Rep. was credited being the "Architect" of the bill that has our historically Black schools hanging in the balance.

But why?

Well, he received a hefty $5,000 donation from a group called "Texans for Education Reform" right before the beginning of the legislative session.  Check out this quote from the Observer Article on "Texans for Education Reform":

"The group dispatched 19 lobbyists to the Texas Capitol, many of them highly paid, pushing charter school expansion, online learning and state takeover of low-performing schools."

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL TEXAS OBSERVER STORY

Then chairman of public education, State Rep Jimmy Don Aycock, also received $5,000 from the group. As did committee member Joe Deshotel who represents Port Arthur, Beamont, etc, Rep. Farney and pretty much everyone else on the House Public Education Committee from the same organizations that likely pushed the bill in the first place.

Here's a link to his Campaign Finance Report where you can find this donation, too.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's look at the way HISD seems to be walking this thing.  There are essentially two groups of schools.  In one group, they propose a partnership with Johns Hopkins University, but when asked about case studies, or examples of where this organization has partnered with schools before, district officials didn't have any of this information last night.

I did speak to Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones about what we could expect, and for what it's worth, Jolanda always tells it like it is.  She's 10 for 10 in my book, so I believe her when she says athletics, marching band, and other activities will remain on these campuses.  And though I've known Rhonda less time, she hasn't lied to me yet and seems to be upfront with the position the district is in.  I just wish the district were more upfront and transparent with what we might expect if partnership were to happen.

Let me be clear:  I'm against chartering, partnership, and closure. Period.

But, it would be nice to hear:

  1. This is what Johns Hopkins did in X city with the school district there. 
  2. This is what a timeline would look like.

However, I  know she's just 1 of 9, and I don't really trust HISD as a whole. 

Remember back in 2013 when we were fighting school closures?  I guess we'll do this every 5 years.  But at this rate, there won't be any of our schools left.

2013.jpg

Yeah, here we go again.

Now, here's what you can do:

1. Call Dutton's office and let him know it's not cool to move vulnerable students around like pawns on a chess board.  Here's his number:(713) 692-9192

2. Attend the HISD Board Meeting on 2/8 at 5PM and sign up HERE to speak.  We'll have t-shirts for the first bunch of people that show up.  

3. Call YOUR REP and ask how they voted. 

4.  Keep up with HISD over the next several weeks, they vote on whether or not to approve the proposal on April 12th. 

How Dutton's 2015 Law Could Close Worthing, Wheatley, and Kashmere

worthing.jpg

Don't just take my word for it, here's HISD Superintendent Carranza said it plain a few months ago.  Many have called this "mis-information," but it's not.  It's still a possibility.

  

In the following blog, I'll lay out the timeline with receipts to explain how historic schools like Worthing, Wheatley, and Kashmere are now at risk due to a 2015 law (House Bill 1842) also known as the HISD School Closure Bill.  CLICK HERE TO READ THE BILL 

Now, chances are your Rep voted for this bill, too.  The only people who didn't vote for this bill were:

Anchia; Coleman; Collier; Farias; Gonza´lez; Gutierrez; Herrero; Martinez Fischer; Moody; Naishtat; Neva´rez; Phelan; Riddle; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Romero; Turner, C.; Walle; Dukes; Miles. 

CLICK HERE FOR THE ACTUAL VOTE

The bill basically set a new rule:  if low performing schools remain that way for five years in a row, the Texas Education Commissioner MUST close the school, or, take over the entire school district through a board of managers that they'd appoint.

Now for what it's worth, I do believe HISD has long neglected our Black and Brown schools like Worthing, Yates, Wheatley, and Kashmere, however, I think this bill makes matters even worse.  Especially considering Dutton, the bills "architect" has been in office since 1984, and on the same House Public Education Committee that has cut resources over and over and over and over.  So it's a bit ironic and absurd for him to write such a bill.

Now some might look at a partnership or charter and see the good in it, but it's not good at all.  It's bad.

How is this bad?  You and I would have no local control over the decisions being made.  Imagine a board of managers who didn't understand the legacy of schools like Yates or Worthing.  Imagine no longer being able to vote for your school board member, instead giving total control to someone who might not even live in Houston.

In 2015, Dutton spearheaded a bill aimed at school accountability, but armed with risky penalties like school closure, chartering, or partnership.  In each of these instances, the district basically hands over the keys to the car, allowing a third-party entity to drive it.  They could decide that Worthing doesn't need a varsity football team, and should instead devote more resources to academics.  A third party could decide to eliminate the marching band at Wheatley, get my drift?

Dutton, whose district includes Wheatley and Kashmere, are now under the gun because of a bill he co-authored!  Don't just take my word for it, take a look here at the Texas Legislature Online page which lists Dutton as a Joint Author. Don't just believe me,  CLICK HERE FOR THE TLO PAGE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF.

Here's a quote from the Republican Chair of the Public Education Committee talking about the bill in THIS HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARTICLE:

"House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock's other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill "one of the most far-reaching bills of the session," and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect."

The architect. 

This State Rep. was credited being the "Architect" of the bill that has our historically Black schools hanging in the balance.

But why?

Well, he received a hefty $5,000 donation from a group called "Texans for Education Reform" right before the beginning of the legislative session.  Check out this quote from the Observer Article on "Texans for Education Reform":

"The group dispatched 19 lobbyists to the Texas Capitol, many of them highly paid, pushing charter school expansion, online learning and state takeover of low-performing schools."

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL TEXAS OBSERVER STORY

Then chairman of public education, State Rep Jimmy Don Aycock, also received $5,000 from the group. As did committee member Joe Deshotel who represents Port Arthur, Beamont, etc, Rep. Farney and pretty much everyone else on the House Public Education Committee from the same organizations that likely pushed the bill in the first place.

Here's a link to his Campaign Finance Report where you can find this donation, too.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's look at the way HISD seems to be walking this thing.  There are essentially two groups of schools.  In one group, they propose a partnership with Johns Hopkins University, but when asked about case studies, or examples of where this organization has partnered with schools before, district officials didn't have any of this information last night.

I did speak to Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones about what we could expect, and for what it's worth, Jolanda always tells it like it is.  She's 10 for 10 in my book, so I believe her when she says athletics, marching band, and other activities will remain on these campuses.  And though I've known Rhonda less time, she hasn't lied to me yet and seems to be upfront with the position the district is in.  I just wish the district were more upfront and transparent with what we might expect if partnership were to happen.

Let me be clear:  I'm against chartering, partnership, and closure. Period.

But, it would be nice to hear:

  1. This is what Johns Hopkins did in X city with the school district there. 
  2. This is what a timeline would look like.

However, I  know she's just 1 of 9, and I don't really trust HISD as a whole. 

Also, check out this email exchange between Trustee Wanda Adams, then President of the board last year, as she asks about school closures:

adams closure.jpg

 

Remember back in 2013 when we were fighting school closures?  I guess we'll do this every 5 years.  But at this rate, there won't be any of our schools left.

2013.jpg

Yeah, here we go again.

Now, here's what you can do:

1. Call Dutton's office and let him know it's not cool to move vulnerable students around like pawns on a chess board.  Here's his number:(713) 692-9192

2. Attend the HISD Board Meeting on 2/8 at 5PM and sign up HERE to speak.  We'll have t-shirts for the first bunch of people that show up.  

3. Call YOUR REP and ask how they voted. 

4.  Keep up with HISD over the next several weeks, they vote on whether or not to approve the proposal on April 12th. 

5 Things Texas Dems Could Learn from the Astros...

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Seems like it was just yesterday the Houston Astros won the World Series against the LA Dodgers.  Though it was perfect timing for my hurricane-ravaged hometown to be able to celebrate something so prolific, this win was in the works for a long time.  In fact, Sports Illustrated predicted in 2014 that the Astros would win the Big Show in 2017.  READ ARTICLE HERE

Ben Reiter interviewed the front office staff for the Astros back in 2014, and left with the following assumption after learning of their new strategy to shed weight and build a team, essentially from scratch.

"We settled on 2017 because the Astros’ young nucleus would by then be reaching its prime, because it seemed to more or less hew to the front office’s own timeline—which, they promised, would eventually include a payroll hike—and because three years, in baseball, is actually not the blink of an eye."

The idea for this blog entry came about 6:15am this morning.  Damian LaCroix, a candidate for State Senate, sent me a quick message on Facebook messenger reaching out to to me to talk about his campaign.  It was 6:00am.  I, the early bird I am, was already awake as well.  I told Damian I was free to chat right then.  Long story short, by the end of our conversation, he'd earned my support, and dropped a few nuggets.  One of the big "Aha" moments from the conversation was his mention of how the Astros rebuilt their team to eventually win the World Series.  

I believe if Texas Democrats really want to "Turn Texas Blue," they should look to the Astros for inspiration.  Here's my list of 7 things Texas Dems Could Learn from the Astros:


1.  Be Progressive... like foreal

The General Manager of the Astros looked forward to 2017 and built a team from scratch.  Texas Dems will have to create slates that are appetizing to voters.

Though Democrats often claim to be the party of progress, let's look at their electorate in the Texas House and Senate, and how that "Progress" is reflected.  of the 31 members of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans, and 11 are Democrats.  of the 20 Republicans, 13 of them (65%) of them are 40-59 years old.  The rest are 60 are older.  

Now let's look at the Democrats.

Of the 11 Democratic Senators, 7 of them are over 60, and with an average of 25 years of "service."  I put service in quotes to be facetious.  I believe some are there to serve their own interests and egos than those they were elected to serve.

Each of the projects HoustonJustice.Org has launched have had a concrete, measurable goal attached to it.  We grade our impact according to things we can actually count.  How many voter registrations behind bars for #ProjectOrange?  How many new leaders having conversations about school closures.  

We must go to a strategy of servant leadership with measurable impact.  If not, we'll continue to have popularity contests each November.

How else could you explain the state of public education in Texas... in constant decline, while some boast 40+ years of "service."  In my opinion, if you've been there during "The Great Decline," you should be able to look in the mirror and bow out gracefully instead of clutching your seat 'til the Lordt calls you home.  Oh, and that "t" is there on purpose.


2. Vote for Good Candidates, Not "Viable" Ones

Nothing grinds my gears more than hearing "experts" talk about viability.  Was Obama a viable Presidential Candidate in 2008 according to their standards?  Trump in 2016?  Exactly.  

So many know-it-alls end up throwing support behind who they think will win rather than who they actually want to elect.

Could you imagine what the Astros lineup would look like if people got to vote???  Craig Biggio, Jose Cruz and Jeff Bagwell would still be on the team.  Hell, Nolan Ryan, too LOL.  The experts would point to their viability and seniority.  

Let's talk about seniority for a second while we're at it.  

I'm 31.  

In 10 years or so, my generation will be in our 40's, and entering the halls of government at a greater rate than today.  For this to work out the right way, we need some of those in their 60's to retire/self-select so that those currently in their 40's/50's can get their 10 years in.  10 years from now, some will stay, but others will move on to higher office.

By the way: what good is seniority if their constantly closing schools and using that cheap black asphalt to repair streets in your district?  I doubt it there's malicious intent, but instead, ineffectiveness after being on the same job so long.  40 years is a VERY long time.


3. Endorsements Should Mean Something

The Astros chose their team based on their ability, and the long-term vision of the team.  They didn't care about personal relationships or how many memberships a potential recruit could afford.

Yeah, I went there.

Some organizations basically sell their endorsements to the highest bidder.  Here's how it works:

Organization X will have their endorsement meeting at their January 15th meeting.  Dues-paying members will be allowed to participate in the endorsement process.  Before that actual meeting, a group of volunteers from said organization form a screening committee to conduct in-depth interviews with candidates. 

Most of these people are well-intentioned volunteers donating their time for the betterment of their organization and society as a whole.  Others are "gutter" opportunists chasing candidates down the hall to offer their "services" for nominal fees.  Some are desperate enough to say "Hey I can help you get this endorsement and others for $500."

Yeah.  I almost named names, but that's not necessary.

Anyway, right before the endorsement meeting, candidates pay hundreds/thousands of dollars to buy memberships for "new members" whose only mission is to attend that meeting and get them the esteemed endorsement. 

But here's the kicker:  these endorsements sometimes aren't worth the cheap campaign lit they're printed on.

If an organization's only ACTIVISM and most popular meetings are the endorsement meeting, how far is their reach?  How devoted are their "members?"  Yeah, I said it.

The Astros wanted to WIN more than they wanted to be popular.  

When establishment groups actually consider non-incumbents, we'll get somewhere.


4. No More Tokens

Listen, I've been invited to sit on committees, boards, etc. in my 31 years on this planet.  Most of the time, these experiences have been worthwhile and meaningful.  Other times, it became abundantly clear that I was meeting a "quota."  They wanted me to be "The Black," or "The Youth" on their otherwise homogenous boards.  They wanted my handsome face for the board photo on the website and literature, but didn't want my Black voice or young opinions when it came time to make decisions on where resources would be devoted.

Pay attention to groups that want you to show up, but don't want to listen to what you have to say.

You might be a token.

The Astros had no tokens, and neither should the party.


5. Accountability?

Say what you want about Republicans, but LOCALLY they hold their elected officials accountable.  If someone votes the "wrong" way, they get a primary opponent.  (note I had t put "wrong" in quotes because it's usually "right" in my book.)

Anyway, there's a grading system.  They don't just send their elected officials to Austin like mom and dad send Junior off to summer camp LOL.  They WATCH them.

Dems don't.

The entire Democratic Caucus voted along with Republicans on a House Bill led by State Rep Harold Dutton that will likely close Black and Brown schools across the state...at least those are the proposals based on his bill.

And guess what?  Nobody is asking him about this.  (CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT DUTTON'S HISD SCHOOL CLOSURE BILL)

Furthermore, if people remain unchallenged, the Democrats will never have a statewide officeholder with statewide name recognition, and will continue to run mayors and state senators for governor instead of statewide seat holders.

Spicy down-ballot races increase turnout that could add more to up-ballot, statewide seats.

The Astros obviously only held on to players that could pull their weight.  Imagine if a player continued to blame the other team (other party) for their constant failures on the field.  Think they'd last?


 

Durrel K. Douglas is co-founder of HoustonJustice.Org, a grassroots, member-led organization addressing racial justice, mass incarceration and justice reform in Houston.

 

#ProjectOrange Pilot Complete

Yesterday, we held our final Sunday of voter registrations at the Harris County Jail.  To date, dozens of volunteers registered hundreds of new eligible voters!

Here's how it all started: 

A few months ago, a group of us sat down to map out an ambitious plan to bring the opportunity to register to vote to eligible inmates at the Harris County Jail.  The idea initially came about because one of my good friends, Marcus, called me ranting about his recent trip to the Harris county jail for a simple misdemeanor charge, where he was released the very next day.  As he lamented his night in jail, the organizer in me was drawn to the fact that he said there were so many people in one place with nothing to do for hours at a time.  Voter registration!
 

durrel.jpg

I'd already had a conversation with one of my mentors and good friends, Chris Young, about this idea, but it was now time to put the plan into action.  I assembled a list of potential partners based on their reach and expertise, then began planning our outreach strategy to the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

Tina Kingshill, Daniel Cohen, Charnelle Thompson, Bobbie Cohen, and Terrance Edmond were among the initial group who helped think through logistics and broad-based planning.  

Tina Kingshill is one of my new favorite people!  She became the backbone of volunteer management keeping everyone abreast with what's logistics and moving along with the project.  Without her, this project wouldn't have been as successful as it was! 

Before we knew it, #ProjectOrange was slowly becoming a reality!  Additional governmental entities like the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's office, who handles voter registration in the county, were linked in, and we were moving forward!

For Sunday's later, it's been a huge success.  

27336752_2065385133695398_5745202338434520306_n.jpg

I'm looking forward to working with our partners in other counties across our state to bring our non-partisan voter registration drive to eligible voters everywhere!

Eventually, we'd like to work with the City of Houston's Re-entry program to provide additional resources like job training, diploma options, and other resources for the temporarily incarcerated and their families.

While we're planning on doing more impactful work around JUSTICE with a capital "J," we hope our pilot serves as a springboard for other organizations doing similar work.

It didn't take a million meetings, or a lot of money, but we've had a HUGE IMPACT!  You can, too!

Let us know how we can help, or be part of the awesome work your organization is doing, too.

Cheers,

Durrel Douglas, President/Founder

From Corporate America to The Movement-

27332478_1798415386877337_4210403486785270195_n.jpg

By Tina Kingshill

I discovered Project Orange through my Swing Left group a few months ago when it was first scheduled to kick off before Harvey came to visit Houston. I was immediately intrigued by the thought of reaching so many potential voters who were 'hidden' away and forgotten by conventional methods of voter outreach. Recently certified in Harris County I was eager to register as many voters as I could knowing that Texas has one of the worst records for voter turnout.

 

Then Harvey hit like a freight train and everything came to a screeching halt. I remember emailing Durrel Douglas to confirm that #ProjectOrange was dead in the water (pun intended) for the time being and got the word out to other DVR's.  Fast forward a few weeks down the road and I got an email from another DVR asking if Project Orange was back on which prompted me to contact Durrel and we were off to the races. My timing was perfect--they were just ramping back up. (See how God works?)

 

I'd never been inside a jail before so my only reference was watching reality TV shows like 'Lock Up' that showed the stark reality of life behind bars. Hearing them tell their stories confirmed the feeling I always had--that there but for the grace of God, or my good fortune being raised in a stable home with my physical and emotional needs met, and the color of my skin (or lack thereof) go I. I'm not excusing the fact that these people made bad decisions and did some bad things, but I'm also not judging them from my lofty place of privilege. We are all just a few paychecks, physical addictions or psychological traumas away from possibly finding ourselves in those orange jumpsuits with our freedom and dignity taken from us.

 

There is a great need for criminal justice reform in our country and Houston's bail system (more like debtor's prison) is a good place to start. But that's for another blog. It gives me great satisfaction to assist my fellow citizens in exercising their constitutional right to cast a vote and have their voice heard.

 

Emerging from the corporate womb and finding my passion in criminal justice reform, Project Orange is the perfect place for me to start my journey.

Tina Kingshill is the Statewide #ProjectOrange coordinator for HoustonJustice.Org, a grass-roots, member-led organization addressing justice reform at the local and statewide level through mobilization, advocacy, and education.

HOW MY FIRST TRIP TO JAIL BROUGHT ME HOPE

HOW MY FIRST TRIP TO JAIL BROUGHT ME HOPE

By Sarah Becker
 

IMG_7128.JPG

On the morning of Sunday, January 14th, I found myself in a discussion with a prisoner about both when he expected to be out the Harris County Jail and the importance of the upcoming primary elections. It was different from the conversations I have in my circles, both extraordinary yet ordinary all at once.

You see, I am a white girl who grew up in the suburbs. I don’t exactly find myself at the County Jail often. By often, I mean never. But I’ve been on a bit of a journey.

I became determined to educate myself on issues of racial justice after watching black men and women be targets of police brutality the last few summers. Two summers was a true turning point for me when Philando Castile was murdered. After the election, the feeling of urgency to educate myself only intensified.

At the beginning of 2017, I became a Safety Pin Box subscriber. Safety Pin Box is a subscription service for white people who want to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Each month I receive a box in the mail with a set of tasks to help educate myself and be a better ally (tip 1-don’t call yourself an ally). Over the course of a few months, I had learned things about the prison system, mass incarceration and prison labor that no class at school had ever taught me.

All of this education from Safety Pin Box had the effect of humanizing the people behind bars. It helped me see where prejudices had been taught, and where I needed to unlearn. It helped me understand the real issues and the reasons why people are in jail. It helped me grow.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago-when I saw information about Project Orange pop up in my Facebook feed, I didn’t think twice and knew instantly I wanted to be involved.

You see, one of the other foundational things Safety Pin Box has taught me is that knowledge is not enough to create a more just world. We must take action. And this was one small thing I could do to take action. So I signed up to go.

I had also recently become a Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrar (VDVR). A VDVR helps people ensure they have completed the voter registration application completely and is responsible for  turning the registration forms into the proper place. It only requires a one hour training. I am proud to say that the first future voter that I assisted using my VDVR capacity was in the jail.

The morning at the jail was great. The staff from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office was more than accommodating, and I believe, was even working overtime to escort us. We had to go through security checks to get in the jail, but there was nothing more intrusive than a security check at an airport. We did go through a brief training by the Sheriff’s office which was helpful.

While all the reading I had done about the prison system was useful, it doesn’t compare to walking into a jail with your own feet and seeing it with your own eyes. Conditions were about as I expected-not terrible, but not great either. At the county jail, prisoners are housed in large rooms with bunk beds. I believe there are about 50 people to a room. The rooms were filled with bunk beds and there are also toilets and showers, but little to no privacy for those. There is no walled bathroom.

We had access to the prisoners through a small slot in the door, and though it was time consuming and you had to be patient, it was also really wonderful to discuss this sacred right to vote.

My world views are always shifted a bit by an experience like this. As I said before, Safety Pin Box helped me understand the effects of mass incarceration and how unjust laws contribute to it. But seeing the faces and meeting the people who are suffering from its effects makes me that much more resolved to keep fighting. We have much work to do to dismantle the systems that uphold mass incarceration, but this was a tiny step forward in splitting open the halls of power to those who have traditionally been kept out of them.

The people at the jail are just that-people. They deserve to have a voice in our political process, and we should be about the job of amplifying their voices.

Come join us next time!

Sarah Becker is a mom of three small children, a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and public school advocate. You can find more of her work at hisdparents.org.  

BONTON TO RUN AGAINST DUTTON

25086776_560569793383_784507864_o.jpg

Just days before the filing deadline, Fifth Ward-native Richard Bonton placed his name on the ballot to challenge 32-year incumbent State Representative Harold Dutton for the Democratic primary in March.  

24989711_560570162643_790026565_n.jpg

Serving in the State House since 1985 Dutton has rarely been challenged and carries not only decades of name recognition, but a campaign war chest with $91,677.70 in the bank.  Over the years, he's rarely had to touch it during campaign season.

Bonton says he appreciates Dutton for his previous years of service, but feels a different direction is needed in Austin.

25075723_560570157653_2069283228_o.jpg

 

As further details are available, we'll keep you in the loop with this race.

Expect a debate and in-depth interviews with the candidates as this race shapes up.