Bryan Parras represents a new generation of community organizer, blending tried-and-true grassroots organizing with effective social media campaigns. Parras was raised and still lives in Houston’s East End, a predominantly minority and low-income community amid the largest concentration of petrochemical plants in the nation. Along with his father, Juan, a fellow community organizer, Parras co-founded Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), which has become a potent force in fighting environmental injustice and cleaning up Houston's polluted communities.
Robert "Bob" Armstrong became a state legislator in 1963, took office as state land commissioner in 1971 and spent nearly three more decades in elected or appointed office, including a seat on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and a stint as assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department. Armstrong was instrumental in helping the state acquire more than 200,000 acres of ranchland for Big Bend Ranch State Park, whose visitor center was renamed this year in honor of his lifetime pursuit of a sound balance between environment and economy.
Glen Maxey is an icon of LGBT activism in Texas. Maxey served six terms in the Texas Legislature, from 1991 to 2003, as its only openly gay member. In the 1980s he was instrumental in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and delivering services and education to those afflicted by the disease.
Becca Keo-Meier responds to discrimination and harassment against gender expression with compassion and reason. As a doctoral student at the University of Houston and an ally and member of the LGBTQIA community, Keo-Meier is committed to creating safe spaces for people exploring their gender and for those who have non-binary gender experiences. Keo-Meier’s work has received accolades for its focus on gender-diverse youth as well as their parents, families and friends.
Mark White was governor of Texas from 1983 to 1987, and an ardent supporter of the death penalty. He presided over 19 executions during his term. When he ran again in 1990, he filmed an infamous TV ad in which he strolled past the photos of men he’d ordered executed. Today, White regrets the ad and argues that the administration of capital punishment in Texas is deeply flawed and in need of reform.
Anthony Graves spent more than 18 years imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, including 12 years on Texas’ death row. He had two execution dates postponed before being exonerated in 2010. Since his release, Graves has advocated for reform of the criminal justice system. He founded the Anthony Graves Foundation to give children of incarcerated adults “a choice and a chance to live happy, productive lives, and become the powerful, new foundation of our communities.”
As senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, Adriana Piñon leads the charge against civil rights abuses along the U.S.-Mexico border and fights for legal representation for immigrants in the United States. In a recent high-profile case, Piñon and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection for subjecting U.S. citizens to cavity searches without a warrant and for using excessive force at U.S.-Mexico border crossings.
Barbara Hines has trained hundreds of students in immigration law since founding the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law in 2007. For four decades she’s defended immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Texas. In 2008, Hines, the ACLU and other co-counsel made national news when they won the release of infants and children from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, a privately run immigrant detention facility in Taylor.
Taft native Bill Wittliff’s contributions to Texas iconography span decades and media. He’s published John Graves, directed Willie Nelson in Red Headed Stranger, written screenplays for the Lonesome Dove miniseries, had three books of his own acclaimed photography published, and established the Wittliff Collections archive of southwestern writing and art at Texas State University. His first novel, The Devil’s Backbone, a coming-of-age story set along the Texas-Mexico border in the 1880s, was published by the University of Texas Press this fall.
Poet Carrie Fountain was born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico, but she got to Texas as fast as she could—or at least in time to acquire an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in Austin, where she’s since settled in with a writer-in-residence position at St. Edward’s University. Her debut collection, Burn Lake, won the 2009 National Poetry Series, and her second, Instant Winner, was published by Penguin in October. Both contain poems, in the words of Observer poetry editor Naomi Shihab Nye, “of such transporting movement and time-depth, we could all be everywhere we’ve ever loved, teenagers again, or a hundred years from now, sky-shimmering, containing it all.”
Ernie Cortes is a genius at organizing against entrenched political power. Trained by Saul Alinsky, Cortes founded the legendary COPS organization in 1974 in San Antonio revolutionizing politics in the Alamo City. He’s now the executive director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a network of grassroots community- and faith-based groups.
Cristina Tzintzún, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, is the leader of Austin-based Workers Defense Project/Proyecto Defensa Laboral, which defends low-wage workers in a state hostile to unions. Tzintzún has led dozens of campaigns to secure better working conditions and wages for low-wage workers, including undocumented people working in dangerous trades. Her group’s successes have reinvigorated a moribund labor movement in the Lone Star State.
After state troopers finished clearing the last of the ″unruly mob” of reproductive-rights activists from the Capitol in June 2013, after lawmakers moved ahead with strict limits on abortion access, Lenzi Sheible was just getting started. As a student at the University of Texas, Sheible started Fund Texas Choice to ease the burden on women who may now have to drive for hours and stay overnight to access an abortion by assisting with travel costs, and helping to assure, in the process, that choice in Texas isn't limited to a few big cities.
The fight to protect the legal abortion access guaranteed by Roe v. Wade began just as soon as the U.S.Supreme Court handed down the ruling. In 1973, Peggy Romberg began rallying citizens and lobbying at the Capitol to protect reproductive rights. For decades, her efforts have helped preserve access to family planning and health care for Texas women.