Helping Houston

6 Houston Activists We Admire, In Their Own Words

"Everything that is happening in our country is happening in Houston. We can be the model for this country, and we are not afraid.”

By Laura Furr Mericas July 20, 2018 Published in the August 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Todd Spoth

Marianela Acuña Arreaza | Executive Director of Fe y Justicia Worker Center

“When I got to the U.S., I was in limbo for a while. Being undocumented and vulnerable in the U.S. was part of what motivated me. The top-line issue for workers today is wage theft, or not getting paid in a way that is compliant with the law. I never want to stop fighting [to improve conditions for low-wage workers]. Workers are everything. They take care of babies. All the little things we like to play with are made by low-wage workers. All the spaces that we can call ours in Houston are constructed by workers. It’s easy to ignore the labor that went into everything we have access to.”

Image: Todd Spoth

Bryan Parras | Vice president of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS)

“Growing up, I suffered from headaches and irritability that I can now trace back to chemicals in the air in the East End. After college, I was teaching and listening to kids and moms question why they were sick. It made me think of how many kids aren’t being listened to, yet are suffering. The reason I keep doing this is—for one, it’s getting worse. The impacts of the oil and gas industry are global. And also for the young folks. I know how it feels to think, This is going to be my situation for my entire life.”

Image: Todd Spoth

Kandice Webber | Organizer of March for Black Women and Black Lives Matter Houston, and founder of Houston Rising

“My decision to move to being on the front lines came from the death of Sandra Bland. She was traveling the exact road I travel to go home to see my family. Things just can’t stay the way they are. Discomfort is one hell of a motivator, and I am very uncomfortable. Black women are very uncomfortable. We know things need to be changed, and I’m not going to wait around and hope someone saves me. Everything that is happening in our country is happening in Houston. We can be the model for this country, and we are not afraid.”

Image: Todd Spoth

Jim Blackburn | Environmental Lawyer and Co-director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center

“I consider what I do to be spiritually motivated. It comes from wanting to protect the environment and those who can’t protect themselves, knowing it’s an uphill battle, but it’s the right battle, and that these are important issues for human long-term settlement. I’ve proven I can litigate, but in this later part in my life I can do more good problem-solving. We need a different vision, and we need a totally different way of thinking of our problem. We need to make way for water in our community. Water is a citizen whether we like it or not.”

Image: Todd Spoth

Robin Paoli | Organizer of Houston Women's March

“Twelve days before the National Women’s March, I contacted the organization. They approved a march in Houston overnight. Eleven days later, 22,000 people marched downtown to say, ‘We love our neighbors, we love immigrants, and that’s why we are succeeding.’ People talk about how women get the job done, and Houston’s can-do spirit. That was so vividly brought to life. Our democracy is facing a greater threat than it ever has. Every citizen needs to step up and face the facts.”

Image: Todd Spoth

Rick Lowe | Founder of Project Row Houses

“We responded to the things in front of us. There was an opportunity with these abandoned houses, and artists who wanted to do something more meaningful. Then we realized children wanted to get involved after school, and the challenges of single mothers became obvious. All the efforts are looking at how we can grow our neighborhoods, and a big part of it’s that Houston doesn’t have policies to help the city grow in a way that takes advantage of the assets in its communities. My hope is that we can develop good policy to encourage the growth we all want."

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