Missouri City native Yolanda Ford made history on Saturday as she became not only the first woman to be elected Mayor of Missouri City but the first African-American, male or female to be elected mayor.
“I am so proud that the residents of Missouri City have elected me as their mayor,” Ford said in a statement. “After having served on the city council for the past five years, and as a lifelong resident, I am deeply invested in the well-being and growth of Missouri City, and I look forward to working with citizens, the city council and others toward its betterment.”
Ford won her runoff election against incumbent mayor Allen Owen, receiving 51.9 percent of the vote. Owen had been the mayor of Missouri City since 1994.
The newly elected mayor graduated from John Foster Dulles High School. She earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Houston and a Master of Architecture degree from Prairie View A&M University. She will be sworn in on December 17.
A runoff election was mandated after no candidate received half of the vote in the November 6 election. Owen had won 36.06 percent of the vote while Ford had won 34.96 percent. Fred G. Taylor, the third candidate on the ballot came away with 28.98 percent of the vote.
Andrea Roberts, assistant professor of urban planning in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, has started a project to provide comprehensive documentation of the so-called “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. Freedom colonies were self-sufficient, all-Black settlements that former slaves established after they were freed at the end of the Civil War.
“Africans became hash marks on census reports when they reached America and were enslaved, leaving them, ultimately, without an understanding of their heritage or connection to their homeland,” Dr. Roberts said. “These self-sufficient freedom colonies were established under the most difficult of circumstances by industrious, intelligent and organized people acting much like current-day city planners — and some of their descendants are performing the work of preservationists today.”
Dr. Roberts has identified more than 550 freedom colonies established by the almost 200,000 newly freed African-Americans living in Texas just after the abolition of slavery. Today, some of these freedom colonies still exist as communities and host festivals and celebrations while maintaining connections with the past. However, little evidence remains that some of these colonies ever existed. The project, The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, aims to help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage and empower city planners to plan and preserve communities.
“This [project] is about changing the dynamics so that we’re focusing on accountability, and helping people define and reclaim their communities,” Dr. Roberts said. “It’s also about realizing that African-Americans built their own communities, and they should see themselves as part of urban planning, an important field where they are more commonly considered the subject.”
Ieshia Champs never could have imagined what she would achieve when she grew up, as she bounced around family homes, entered into the foster care system, and had her first child at age 19. But nearly 14 years and a total of five kids later, this mom is about to graduate from law school after a difficult journey — and she says her faith led her through it all.
The 33-year-old, who is originally from Port Arthur, Texas, has been through a lot. However, from the looks of her beautiful family in her recent graduation photos, it seems like the more trying times might have been worth her consequent path. From leading her to Houston and to a church that provided her with guidance, as well as the people she would quickly call family, Champs is now seeing that her earlier struggles are coming full circle. And it all goes back to one Child Protective Services caseworker, Gail Covington, who picked her and her siblings up when Champs was just around 7 years old.
“I’ll never forget it,” Champs tells Yahoo Lifestyle, of the moment Covington brought them to a home outside of the chaos that the little girl was used to. “I cried so hard because I missed my familiar surroundings, even though they were horrible. And one day, I woke up in time for school. I actually had a bed to sleep in, and we had brand-new clothes on the floor. It was then that I realized my friends had no idea about this type of life.”
What Champs explains as the “drug-filled environment” where she lived with her mom was the norm for everyone in their neighborhood. Once she had an idea of another type of lifestyle, she began to wonder what she could do about all of the people left behind without help. Her teachers introduced her to the idea of becoming an attorney and providing a service similar to what Covington provided Champs. However, she would eventually return to a toxic environment soon thereafter.
Being adopted by a maternal uncle, Champs says that she and her siblings eventually ended up back in an apartment with their mom — which ended up leading her down a bad path. “We really didn’t have much guidance,” Champs explains. “My sister ended up having her first baby at 14. I ended up dropping out of school my 10th or 11th grade year, and I ran across my kid’s father. We ended up having our first child, and then we had a second. And it just kept going.”
It was when Champs had three children and a fourth on the way that her life began to change. Her sister enticed her to attend a service at the Ministers for Christ Christian Center in Houston, led by Bishop Richard and Louise Holman, who she now refers to as dad and mom. Champs recalls a service where Louise, who serves as a prophetess, called the mother of five up to the front of the church and offered up information about her future. Louise said that God wanted Champs to go back to school to get her GED, so she could eventually follow her dream of becoming a lawyer — a dream that Champs had never shared with Louise.
“She told me that God would take care of me,” Champs says of Louise’s encouragement. “During that same year — it was 2009 — I ended up having a house fire, I lost everything that I had. I got laid off from my job, the father to two of my children died of cancer while I was seven months pregnant, I literally tried to kill myself, and I ended up going back to get my GED.”
Champs credits the inspiration and prayers from the Holmans for her getting an associate’s degree in paralegal studies at Houston Community College, and a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston. Both degrees eventually brought her to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where she’ll be graduating in May. Although receiving her Juris Doctor degree was far from easy, she commends her five children for making it possible.
Giving her time to do both her work and rest, Champs says that her eldest son, who is now 14, has been amazing at taking the other four children — ranging in age from 5 to 12 — to a quiet place in the house to do activities or eat a snack. In order to honor this commitment, she decided to include them all in her graduation photos, which were taken by Bishop Richard.
“I’ve been attending Ministers for Christ for about 10 years, and [Richard] is not just my bishop,” Champs says. “He’s a professional photographer, and he knows my story. So I wanted him to be very active in that.”
Now, as the bishop’s photos circulate around the internet, Champs’s older children are beginning to understand what “going viral” means. However, Champs remains focused on what she wants to do with her doctorate once she passes the bar exam, which is to become a general attorney with a specialization in family law and juvenile law, and eventually become a judge.
“I feel like with what I’ve been through as a child and in my upbringing, I can probably help some of these juveniles who may feel like there’s no hope for them,” Champs explains. “I want to be the one to fight for those children who are in these horrible living arrangements. To try to help them reconcile with the family, or if not, give them the same opportunity that I had.”
On Saturday, the Houston Museum of African American Culture opened an exhibit dedicated to the life and death of Sandra Bland.
The 28-year old was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, arrested, and found dead in her Waller County, Texas jail cell three days after in July 2015. Although her death was ruled a suicide, activists and others criticized the jail’s handling of Bland.
On opening night, visitors were able to walk through the exhibit featuring smiling images from Bland’s life before sitting in a makeshift car to watch footage from the traffic stop that ultimately led to her death.
For her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, sitting in that car was the hardest part of the exhibit. “It felt like when that officer was walking, he was walking towards you,” she told local station KTRK.
Reed-Veal added that she felt like her daughter was telling her story even after her death. “People seeing this exhibit should say to themselves hold on, I’m going to think a little differently about the way I do things—with my interactions with everyone but more so police officers,” she said.
Touching the lives of those who visit
The artists who worked on the exhibit clearly did their homework. Many of the pieces give a glimpse into the type of woman Bland was at the time of her death. “I’m discovering we were very similar. She was a woman who took over 50 selfies, she had very healthy self-esteem, was in a sorority, educated, young had a future ahead of her,” said Lee Carrier, the designer behind the central mural in the exhibit.
Visitors have also been blown away by the emotion of the exhibit.
“The struggles that African American’s face, whether light, brown, or black as it’s called, our realities are sometimes different than our counterparts,” visitor Erinn Miller told the station. “It doesn’t matter if you’re educated or not educated, from the city or the country. Sandra Bland was a classic case.”
Visitors will be able to see the exhibit from now until Feb. 28.
Kyira “Kira” Dixon Johnson and her husband Charles seemed to have it all: a healthy baby boy, flourishing entrepreneurial careers, and vibrant health. Which is why no one could have predicted that 24 hours after welcoming their second son into the world, Kyira would be dead.
The Johnsons represent an alarming reality that’s only recently gained attention in the national media: African-American women are dying in childbirth at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts. When I first read the statistics, I was stunned. “This isn’t the 19th century!” Yet facts prove otherwise.
For a recent Essence article, Meaghan Winter wrote:
“In some rural counties and dense cities alike, the racial disparity in maternal deaths is jaw-dropping: Chickasaw County, Mississippi, for instance, has a maternal death rate for women of color that’s higher than Rwanda’s. In New York City, Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die of pregnancy-related causes—and the disparity has more than doubled in recent years.”
While experts agree that the causes are multi-faceted, and include factors such as diet, poor pre- and post-natal care, existing high-risk conditions (like hypertension and diabetes) and lack of access to properly trained medical staff, by far the most troubling thing I heard was this comment from Darline Turner, an Austin-based physician’s assistant and certified doula:
“This goes across socio-economic status. Even a high achieving Ph.D. – who is a six to seven figure earner – still has worse birth outcomes than a white woman without a high school education who is smoking,” she said during a phone interview.
“How is this possible?” I wondered.
Darline explained that the “issue no one wants to talk about” is the experience of chronic mental, physical and emotional stress experienced by black women living in modern America, and its negative impact on birth outcomes. (For more thoughts on this topic from Darline Turner, click here.)
Disturbed by the seeming nonchalance at what should be declared a national health emergency, she began the Healing Hands Doula project, a grassroots effort aimed at supporting healthy pregnancies and births for women of color in Texas.
Her belief that “we’ve got to return to community” is borne out by scientific studies from a variety of fields. “We know that loneliness is a major factor in disease.” According to her, a mom who isn’t connected to a strong and vital community offering robust emotional and medical support is more susceptible to complications.
The kind of purpose-driven work that birth professionals like Turner and Joseph are doing on behalf of women of color falls into the category of purposeful contribution. Over the past few years, research has shown that when you answer the “call” to do good for others, you actually strengthen your immune system.
ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas ― At 3 a.m. on Sunday, Jason Brownlee, a pilot with the U.S. Coast Guard, woke with a start. His phone was ringing. While he was asleep, Hurricane Harvey had slammed into the greater Houston area, bringing extreme winds and heavy rainfall. His bosses wanted him back at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston ― ASAP. There was one problem, though. Brownlee, 34, was already flooded in.
“Every road that I could take to get in was impassable,” he said. So his team pulled the maneuver they knew best: They scrambled a rescue aircraft and picked him up in an elementary school parking lot near his house.“I came in, put my uniform on, grabbed my gear, a crew, a helicopter,” and took off, he said, flying the first of what would be many rescue missions in the days to come.
Coast Guard rescue workers had been working nonstop since the hurricane made landfall. Many of them left families behind. One serviceman’s wife was in labor as he worked to aid his community. Several Guardsmen at Ellington Field lost homes and vehicles of their own, while others, such as Eric Cybulski, were initially unable to get to the air base to help because of severe flooding.
“This one caught a lot of people off guard,” Cybulski said. “I don’t think the Houston area was expecting something of this magnitude ― this much rain.”
Brownlee said he was humbled after flying over Houston early on in the storm. He didn’t see any damage, and although he was ready to act at a moment’s notice, he figured the worst was over. Hours later, he’d wake up to a call demanding that he get back to his chopper.
“My famous last words were, ‘Hurricane Harvey is going to be nothing,’” he said.
He would save 20 lives over the course of the next few days ― three times as many people as he’d rescued since he became a pilot three years ago.
According to Entertainment Tonight, Texas native Jamie Foxx announced on Instagram that there will be a telethon on Sept. 12 to raise money for those in need from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. “Just wanted to let everyone in Texas know, we got you,” Foxx says, adding that he’s donated $25,000 to GlobalGiving, a non-profit organization that provides a global crowdfunding platform for grassroots charitable projects.
“From a fellow Texan, my heart goes out. My prayers go out. September 12 we have a telethon that we’re doing. We’ll give you more details, so we can raise as much money as we can for everybody down there.”
Top talents Blake Shelton and Reese Witherspoon will reportedly also be part of the upcoming televised money-raising effort.
Over 100,000 cans of water will soon be arriving in Texas for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The much-needed water is being donated by Anheuser-Busch, which periodically halts beer production at its Cartersville, Georgia factory to produce canned drinking water for emergencies, according to the company. The water should arrive in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday.
About 50,000 cans have already arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in anticipation of the heavy rainfall the area may receive as the tropical storm moves east. In the Houston area, the storm has already dropped more than 2 feet of rain and caused widespread and life-threatening flooding. The donation is being made in response to the American Red Cross’ call for emergency drinking water.
Anheuser-Busch Vice President of Community Affairs Bill Bradley said the decision to halt beer production at the Georgia brewery allows them to help communities in times of crisis. The company has been able to help during other emergencies, such as Hurricane Matthew, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and wildfires in the west.
The devastation from Hurricane Harvey continues to be felt throughout Texas, as heavy rains and catastrophic flooding are expecting to continue for days.Although the extent of the damage and death toll is not yet clear, the National Weather Service is already calling the storm “unprecedented.” Major highways are submerged in floodwaters, emergency services have received thousands of calls and authorities are urging residents to stay in place.
Recovering from the disaster could take years, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are an untold number of homes and people affected, and the additional flooding and rainfall is set to make the situation even worse.As emergency services, charities and aid groups gear up to address the massive need from Harvey, here are some ways that you can help.
1. Donate Or Volunteer
A plethora of organizations are appealing for donations to help them as they send volunteers and supplies to the hardest-hit areas.These include the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse,Save The Children, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and Heart to Heart International. Food banks throughout Texas are also accepting donations for people affected by the storm. You can donate money to Feeding Texas, a network of the state’s food banks, here. Additionally, the Elgin Courier has compiled a list of food bank locations throughout the region that may need donations of food or supplies. The local Texas Diaper Bank is putting together disaster relief kits for families with young children. You can donate here. There is also the Coalition For The Homeless, which helps coordinate shelters and outreach for the city’s vulnerable homeless population. Portlight is a local organization that offers relief to the disabled and older adults.
The Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce is raising funds to assist in recovery efforts in those two communities, which were especially hard hit when the hurricane first made landfall. You can donate here. Crowdfunding site GlobalGiving has launched a hurricane relief fund aimed at gathering funds for local nonprofits in the storm-stricken region.Animal shelters and rescue groups are taking in numerous pets displaced by the storm ― ones that got lost in the chaos, were left behind, or simply need temporary housing while their owners stay in evacuation shelters. Those groups include the SPCA of Texas, Austin Pets Alive!, Dallas Animal Services and the San Antonio Humane Society. A number of online fundraising sites have also been set up through GoFundMe, with donations benefiting everything from hurricane and disaster relief groups to animals and families in need. The full list of fundraisers can be viewed on GoFundMe’s Hurricane Harvey Relief page.
2. Donate Blood
Blood centers expect a supply shortage because of the closure of some blood banks along the Texas coast and the likely demand stemming from injuries sustained in the storm. Centers have put out calls for extra donors to help deal with the aftermath. You can find donation centers or blood drives for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Centerhere, or for Texas organization Carter BloodCarehere. And even if you’re not in Texas, you can search online for blood drives local to you or book an appointment via the Red Crosswebsite.
3. Provide Accommodation For Evacuees
Airbnb has launched a portal so that the people who have been displaced by the hurricane can find a place to stay. It’s also waiving fees for people affected by the disaster. More details are available on the Airbnb website here.
The president of the University of Texas at Austin has ordered the immediate removal of statues of Robert E. Lee and three other Confederate-era figures — Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg — from a main area of campus.
President Greg Fenves announced the statues’ fate Sunday night, and the removals should be complete by mid-morning Monday. A university spokesman says the area has been blocked off. Lee and Johnston were Confederate generals, Reagan was a Confederate postmaster and Hogg was the first native-born governor of Texas and the son of a Confederate general.
In a letter to the university community, Fenves connected the events with the decision to remove the statues now: “[T]he horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation. These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” …”The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history. But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres.”
“We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus.”The statues of Lee, Johnston and Reagan will be added to the collection at the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History for “scholarly study,” Fenves wrote. The Hogg statue will be considered for relocation elsewhere on campus. In 2015, the university removed a statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis.
On Saturday, Duke University announced that it had removed a statue of Gen. Lee that was in the entry to the large chapel on its campus.