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New Leaders Council

2017 Fellows


Derrick Bass, Dean of Students, YES Prep Public Schools 


Derrick Bass was born in the city of Chicago and now resides in Houston, Texas. Derrick has a passion for youth development and giving back to the community through his clothing brand (The Opulent Brand), service projects and mentoring. He currently works as a Dean of Students for YES Prep Public Schools. Prior to moving to Houston, Derrick worked as an Assistant Principal for CICS Longwood Elementary Charter School. Derrick was also Chairman of the Junior Board of South Central Community Services in Chicago. Derrick is a distinguished member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

Jeffry Faircloth, Customer Service Representative, Comerica Bank


Jeffry Faircloth is an advocate primarily on issues related to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. A life long Houstonian, Jeffry has served on numerous community boards within the Houston LGBT community. Since 2012 he has sat as a board member of PFLAG Houston, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide support, education and advocacy chiefly for parents and families of LGBT loved ones. He also took on the role of co-president of PFLAG Houston's board of directors between 2014 to 2016 and now currently serves as the organization's vice-president. Jeffry also served in 2013 on the board of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats. Currently, Jeffry – a former HATCH Youth himself – is a board member of the Davidson HATCH Youth Services Committee which helps oversee the Montrose Center's HATCH Youth program that seeks to provide a safe place for LGBT youth who are just beginning to come out of the closet. In 2016, Jeffry was selected as one of 49 Houston individuals to serve on Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBTQ Advisory Board, created in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. A recent graduate from University of Houston with a major in history and minor in religious studies, Jeffry seeks to attend seminary for graduate school in order to study Biblical scholarship and theology. He is very passionate and motivated in regards to educating society on religious issues and believes that such education will help to advance equality for many minority populations and will assist in eradicating prejudice. Jeffry believes that everyone should strive to create a world where the lived experiences of as many human beings as possible is maximized to the fullest capacity. Seeing the progressive movement as a vehicle to achieve such goal, Jeffry is very excited to join the New Leaders Council to build a society in which humanity can be enhanced and is the forefront of political discourse.


Sabiha Gire, Senior Associate, Outreach Strategists


Sabiha I. Gire is a native Houstonian and currently serves as Senior Associate at Outreach Strategists, a public affairs firm in central Houston. With a focus on strategic communications, Sabiha has developed campaign strategies for congressional, mayoral, and law enforcement candidates, non-profit organizations, and corporate clients. Her most recent work for the national Takata airbag recall – the largest recall in American history – led her to develop a highly targeted street team and community approach that has been replicated in cities across the U.S. Sabiha took a lead role in developing a community oriented response to countering violent extremism with the City of Houston’s Anti-Gang Task Force, which resulted in effective dialogue between community leaders and law enforcement. She also successfully created operational structure for a health foundation that serves over 200,000 clients annually to help increase the number of children and low income families that could be served. Sabiha enjoys being a part of grassroots campaign action and as such, served as a supervisor at the Texas Organizing Project during the Wendy Davis for Governor campaign, overseeing a team of 50+ canvassers, and as a fundraiser for the Obama for America campaign in 2012. Sabiha received her B.A. in International Relations from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas and is a published writer, having written The Role of Social Media in the Arab Spring for The Pangaea Journal. Sabiha is committed to advancing women’s rights through advocacy. She serves as an advisor to Houston’s first drop-in center, The Landing, where survivors of human trafficking and the commercial sex trade can receive the help they need to recover from their trauma. She also serves as a mentor for Girls Leading Our World (GLOW). In her free time, Sabiha enjoys eating new cuisine, traveling and exploring the nooks and crannies of her city.


K. Alexis Gunn, Director of Grants and Community Partnerships, Yellowstone Academy


Alexis is a social engineer. She has a deep commitment to improving access and opportunity for everyone, especially people in low-income communities and communities of color. Currently, she serves as the Director of Grants and Community Partnerships at Yellowstone Academy, an innovative private school that exclusively serves students from low-income families. In this role she secures and stewards vital funding that ensures 350 students have access to a rigorous academic program that prepares them for high school, college, and career. Additionally, Alexis cultivates relationships with community stakeholders to advance the school’s mission. In previous positions, she has advocated for criminal justice reform, civil rights and on behalf of girls through both policy research and program development. Alexis is an alumna of Howard University where she earned a Bachelors of Arts in History with a focus on African American studies and a Juris Doctorate. She is a member of the Texas and Florida Bars. Alexis serves her community through the Missouri City Chapter of the Links, Inc. and with Houston Volunteer Lawyers. In her free time, she enjoys exploring locally and internationally, yoga, and good conversations over cocktails with family and friends.


Aurora Harris, Executive Director, Lesbian Health Initiative of Houston, Inc. (LHI)


Aurora Harris is the executive director of a rapidly growing nonprofit serving the LGBT community, with a mission of eliminating barriers to healthcare and promoting health and wellness for LGBT-identified women and transgender men. During her tenure as Executive Director, she has transformed the agency's communications and outreach strategies, formalizing collaborative partnerships and increasing the diversity of board leadership, volunteers, and clients served while simultaneously solidifying LHI’s sustainability for years to come. Under her leadership LGBT patient advocacy was brought to a national level, when she became an Affordable Care Act LGBT consumer representative for White House Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Working with the Center for American Progress, she became an essential voice for the “Hear the Nine” campaign that highlighted how a Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell against the Affordable Care Act would have real-life impacts on LGBT Americans across the country. At her direction, LHI established partnerships with numerous health care providers and community organizations and is collaborating in several LGBT inclusive health research projects. She has received accolades for her accomplishments at LHI, as well as for her efforts on behalf of the LGBT community at-large. She was named by Outsmart Magazine one of 2016’s Ten Faces of Black LGBT Leadership in Houston. She was recently honored with the Black Queer Magic Community Leadership Award and She currently sits on the City of Houston’s first ever Mayoral LGBTQ Advisory board. She received her B.A. in English and African American Studies from the College of Charleston.


Fatima Hassan Ali, Associate, Beck Redden LLP


Fatima Hassan Ali was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and grew up in Katy, Texas as the eldest of seven children. After graduating from Stanford, she moved to Geneva to work with the United Nations in Geneva focusing on gender-based violence in humanitarian crises. She then headed back to Stanford to work at the Center for Health Policy at Stanford, focusing on child health in fragile states. Fatima has also worked as a research assistant at a philanthropic consultancy advising donors on impact investments. She left the Bay Area to earn her JD from Harvard Law School, motivated to better understand the nexus between law, economic development and justice. At Harvard, Fatima served as a student attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. She was also a primary editor for the Harvard Human Rights Journal and worked with Rwandan Development Board drafting legal instruments related to strategic foreign investments. Fatima also worked directly under the Vice President of the New Ventures team at Northeastern University to perform due diligence in evaluating potential venture capital investments in innovative education startups. Fatima then clerked in one of the nation's busiest federal courts in south Texas. During her clerkship, Fatima gained exposure to a wide range of civil litigation. Now, as a Houston-based lawyer, Fatima is devoted to fighting for her clients. Promoting understanding, helping people learn and voice opinions, creative problem solving, forging thriving communities and markets, and supporting art- these are some of Fatima's passions.


Pamela Hernandez, PhD Director of Program Design & Community Engagement, Project GRAD Houston


Pamela Hernandez, Ph.D., is the Director of Program Design & Community Engagement at Project GRAD Houston, a non-profit organization that supports the college access and college success of Houston families. In her role, she develops and manages programs, curriculum and resources to ensure they are research-based and relevant to the diverse population they serve. Dr. Hernandez has twelve years of experience working in U.S. public and private higher education institutions in various areas such as student leadership development, multiculturalism, diversity/social justice training, assessment and research, event/educational programming, and fiscal management. Dr. Hernandez has experience leading community organizing efforts in Maryland, particularly working with college students, immigrant advocacy-based organizations, and community leaders to mobilize for the passage of the state's tuition-equity policy. She also presented to the 84th Texas Legislative session about Texas' in-state tuition policy when the policy was being challenged. More recently, she volunteers for initiatives that increase civic participation, motivates youth to enter college, and mentors undergraduate and graduate students through the educational pipeline. In her most recent research, she explored the strengths and assets among undocumented college students to identify strategies and processes that may assist students in accessing and succeeding in college. She hopes to use her research, skills and advocacy efforts to empower communities, and build human capacity. Dr. Hernandez earned her doctoral degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in December 2015 in the field of Higher Education Administration, her M.S. in Educational Leadership from the University of Oregon, and her B.A. of Art degree from Knox College.


Robert Icsezen, Lawyer, Icsezen PLLC


Robert Shukru Icsezen is a transactional lawyer in Houston, where he has run his own boutique non-litigation advisory services law firm since 2010. Rob received his JD from the University of Chicago in 2002, and his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1999, also from the University of Chicago. After leaving Chicago, he started his career in his home town, Houston, first working as a corporate associate for a large Texas law firm and later working as in house counsel for the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team. Rob then moved across the planet to Istanbul, Turkey, the origin of his unique last name, where he served as senior associate in the M&A practice for a large, New York based, international law firm. After having their first child in Istanbul, Rob and his family moved back to Houston, where he went back in house, as corporate counsel for a large Houston based oil and gas drilling company. Having served in that role for several years, Rob decided to open his own law practice, where he has since enjoyed advising his diverse client base on a wide variety of business matters since 2010. In 2008 Rob served as an Obama delegate at the Texas State Democratic Convention. Rob is a member of the Board of Directors and Finance Committee of the Queensbury Theatre, a community theater located in west Houston. He is a devoted husband and proud father of four.


Bianca Mahmood, Community Coordinator, Emancipation Economic Development Council


Bianca Mahmood is a native Houstonian and resident of Third Ward. She currently serves as Community Coordinator for the Emancipation Economic Development Council, a coalition of nonprofits, faith-based institutions, local businesses and other community stakeholders working to preserve the historical African American culture of northern Third Ward and prevent the involuntary displacement of its long-term residents. Bianca was the valedictorian of her class at M.B. Lamar High School and is an alumna of Harvard University, where she earned and A.B. in Government and a citation in Spanish. During her undergraduate years, she directed Ghungroo, Harvard’s South Asian cultural show and its largest student-run production. She interned at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. and moved to New York City upon graduation. Bianca spent two years as an analyst in the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs and three years in the Business Intelligence group at Getty Images. She returned to Texas in 2012 with a desire to deploy the skills and knowledge she has acquired in service of her community.


Mallory Mincberg, Senior Counselor, Houston Area Women's Center


Mallory Mincberg is a senior counselor at the Houston Area Women’s Center. As a counselor she works with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; she provides individual counseling and leads support groups. She has recently lead support groups on bereavement and caregiving at two large religious institutions in Houston. For six years, Mallory has been an enrollment specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She was responsible for assessing adult volunteers for appropriateness and safety concerns, as well as children for matching characteristics. For three years, Mallory served on the executive board of the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity, the supervising organization for the Lawson Academy, a charter school for middle school students located in the 3rd Ward. Mallory received her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Social Relations from Earlham College and her Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of Houston. She is a native Houstonian and is dedicated to empowering Houston women and young girls through her commitment to mental health and volunteer work in education. Mallory recently ran her first half marathon and has plans to complete a full marathon in the near future. She also loves to cook for her close family and friends.


Melanie Pang, Qualitative Research and Evaluation Manager, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston


Melanie Espinosa Pang is a social worker, who currently serves as a data and program evaluation manager with The Salvation Army of Greater Houston. In June of this year, she was appointed co-chair of Mayor Turner's LGBTQ Advisory Board, the first of its kind in the City of Houston. Throughout her career, Melanie has served in a variety of communities and capacities, aiming to further equity and lived equality -- from advocacy efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in food deserts to serving as a case manager to refugee minors in foster care and young adults experiencing homelessness.While attending the University of Houston, Melanie served as an intern for a variety of organizations that exist to build equitable access to opportunities, such as CAN DO Houston, Collaborative for Children, Legacy Community Health Services, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and the Houston Food Bank. With nearly a decade of experience in LGBTQ rights advocacy, Melanie was awarded the 2016 President's Award for Distinguished Community Leadership by The Houston GLBT Political Caucus and received the honor of being ""Social Worker of the Year"" in 2015 by National Association of Social Workers Houston. Voted OutSmart’s Gayest and Greatest “Most Valuable Female Volunteer” in 2016, Melanie was also featured, among others, in OutSmart's 2015 profile piece titled “Houston's Emerging LGBTQ Women Leaders” and as one of “20 Queer People of Color You Should Know” in 2014. Melanie is also honored to be a Leadership Houston Fellow, Class of XXXIII, and an honoree of the League of Women Voter’s Houston Rising Stars Class of 2014-2015. In addition to her position at the Salvation Army, Melanie also teaches at the University of Houston, in both the undergraduate and graduate levels, courses such as Introduction to LGBT Studies and Organizational Behavior and Change. As part of 2016's post-election healing, she curated a weekly e-newsletter for progressives called Preparing for Action which connects progressive-minded people to local opportunities to take action through efforts in organizing, solidarity, volunteering, and caring for one another. Melanie is a proud, queer-identified Asian American woman who believes in achieving social justice through more connection, data, creativity, and compassion.


Mary Kate Raffetto, Associate, Beck Redden


Mary Kate Raffetto is an associate attorney at Beck Redden LLP. Before joining Beck Redden, Mary Kate clerked for the Honorable Xavier Rodriguez of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas School of Law with honors where she served as an Associate Editor of the Texas Law Review and a Teaching Quizmaster for the David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy. Upon graduation, she was named to the Order of Coif. Prior to law school, Mary Kate served as a Teach For America corps member in San Antonio, Texas. She taught Algebra I and Algebra II at Brackenridge High School is proud to call herself a Brackenridge Eagle. Mary Kate founded the school's speech and debate program. In its first year, the team won the district tournament and advanced to state competition. Mary Kate received San Antonio ISD's Rising Star Award in 2011, which is presented each year to the district's most outstanding first year teacher. Mary Kate is a native Houstonian who graduated from Deer Park High School in 2005. She received her B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. While in undergrad, Mary Kate was a member of the university's speech team. She credits the team for her career as an attorney and her lifelong commitment to social justice. Now, Mary Kate is dedicated to educational equity. From the expansion of speech and debate programs in Title I schools to creating support mechanisms for low-income college students looking to attend law school, she hopes to create opportunities for Houston students to succeed.


Julia Retta, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of Houston City Council Member David Robinson


Julia Retta is the deputy chief of staff for City Council Member David Robinson. As the principal policy aid, her responsibilities include conducting research, tracking legislation, and providing policy recommendations. In addition to being the office “policy wonk,” Julia attends community and neighborhood meetings across the city to provide updates and listen to citizen concerns. Her main interests are affordable housing, transportation, resiliency planning, immigration, and public health. With a professional background in communications at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Julia enjoys translating complex policy debates into everyday language and encouraging citizen engagement in city initiatives and planning. Outside of work, Julia is involved with various causes, including historic preservation, health care equity, and civic education. She is passionate about connecting people and fostering collaboration on issues that improve quality of life for all Houstonians. Her volunteer work includes Preservation Houston, the League of Women Voters, and student mentorship at the Lawson Academy in Third Ward. She graduated from Rice University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and completed study abroad programs in Washington, D.C. and Paris, France.


Jose Rivera, Community Developer, Neighborhood Centers Inc.


A Houston resident since 2004, Jose received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Houston and also has an Executive Master’s in Public Administration from Texas Southern University. Jose has over 10 years of experience in community development and government service and expertise in building strategic partnerships, interfacing with government entities, elected officials, non-profit organizations and community residents. Establishing a career of service working for the Mayor's Anti-Gang Office, Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA and served five years as a Community Liaison for Congressman Gene Green working on Veteran's, SBA and Local issues for the 29th Congressional District of Texas. Jose currently is the Community Developer for Neighborhood Centers Inc. leading development efforts in the East Aldine Community. Jose is also a Principal and Co-Founder of Bridge Strategies LLC which is a External Relations Firm. Jose bridges these experiences to lead and identify forward thinking strategies to create meaningful and lasting connections to the communities he serves. Understanding the complexities and diversity of our communities through various levels has helped Jose in creating efficient and proven strategies in community development, public relations, and governmental relations.


Carrie Schneider, Artist


Carrie Schneider is an artist interested in collapsing moments across time and the ability of people to reimagine their space. Her projects include Hear Our Houston (2011) a hub of public generated audio walking tours, Care House (2012) a memorial installation in the house she grew up in considering the roles of caregiving/caretaking and the bodies of mother/home, The Human Tour 2013 with collaborator Alex Tu, a 40 mile caravan tracing the outline of a human onto the streets of the city, and Sunblossom Residency (2009-2015) in which middle schoolers who are refugees resettled in Houston chose seven artists to teach them multidisciplinary processes of making. Her first solo exhibition, Incommensurate Mapping (2014), curated by Dean Daderko, excavated the Contemporary Art Museum Houston's past visions of its potential futures and invited visitors play with/in the institution. With Jennie Ash, Schneider co-organized Charge, a Houston convening of local and national presenters to platform artist-led models, advocate for equitable compensation of artists, and consider artists’ work in the larger economy. Schneider thinks across boom and bust cycles and recently worked with Susan Rogers of the University of Houston's Community Resource Design Center on the only national grant by Kaboom! awarded in Houston to the OX4D Plays project. With five teen residents, they are adding Afrofuturism inspired play interventions to retrofit housing complexes built for singles in the 70s for the families that live there now. Currently, Schneider is a 2017 Fellow with Project Row Houses and the University of Houston's College of the Arts, researching Survival Creativity and how one may translate trauma into a speech act. Her work has been featured by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Project Row Houses, Diverseworks, Alabama Song, Labotanica, and many places outside of arts institutions. She has organized and hosted many public conversations including the Art of Equity panel for the Rothko Chapel's Confronting Inequality Symposium, and dialogues between artists and experts in a range of other disciplines for the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. Her visual work and writing have been featured in Gulf Coast, Temporary Art Review, and Cite Magazine. She received her BFA in Fine Arts and Culture and Politics from Maryland Institute College of Art and her MFA from a grad school she made up. She works as a teaching artist in public schools with no arts curriculum and dances queer tango.


Jason Smith, Commander, Detachment Chief, Liquefied Gas Carrier National Center of Expertise U.S. Coast Guard


Jason Smith is the Detachment Chief for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Liquefied Gas Carrier National Center of Expertise where he supervises a team of liquefied gas subject matter experts providing technical advice and training for Coast Guard inspectors who regulate vessels and facilities that transport or utilize liquefied gases. Jason has previously held numerous assignments specializing in marine safety, coastal security, and environmental compliance. Most recently he held a 3 year assignment as Chief of Prevention at Sector Boston where he oversaw a 75 personnel department and two independent commands and a 4 year assignment at the Coast Guard Headquarters’ Directorate for Commercial Regulations and Standards where he worked as the US's liaison to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). On his spare time, for almost 20 years, Jason has been actively involved in Special Olympics helping to manage regional games and coach traditional and unified teams throughout the country. Jason is a 1996 graduate from Maine Maritime Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation and a 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Master of Science in Systems Engineering and Reliability/Risk Engineering. He is originally from Pelham, New Hampshire and now lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Smith and 6 year old son, Jack.


Jace Valcore, Assistant Professor, University of Houston Downtown

Jace L. Valcore, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Houston Downtown. They received their doctorate in Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver in 2014. Their research interests and focus are on issues of LGBTQ equality and equity in both criminal and social justice. They have published work on hate crime laws and gender in policing. They regularly teach courses on Criminology, Policing, Sex Crimes, Research Methods, and Hate Crimes.



Christopher Valdez, Strategy & Creative Direction, Primer Grey


Chris leads strategy and creative direction at Houston brand consultancy, Primer Grey where he and team develop work with a people-first approach, helping to make words and Design solve human problems. Chris has most recently contributed work to campaigns for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and First Lady Michelle Obama, and works daily with entrepreneurs and leaders across a variety of industries and sectors. Chris is a Court-appointed Special Advocate working with youth in the care of the state of Texas. Chris was recently the recipient of the League of Women Voters-Houston Rising Stars Award, and selected as NextCity 2016 Vanguard Fellow. Chris most recently launched PG > Design for the Public Interest with his collaborator Evan O'Neil to leverage Design and Design Thinking to increase capacity and increase access for the people served by Houston community and advocacy groups. Chris is a native to Houston, TX but bears a great connection to Mexico City and Mexico where he spends as much time as possible with his partner, Kristen Schlemmer. When not traveling, he, Kristen, and their young dog, Birdie, live in their home in Houston's Old Sixth Ward and he works in Houston's changing East End. Chris is almost always down for karaoke.


Alycia Welch, Associate Director, Angela House


Alycia Welch is currently the Associate Director at Angela House, a housing program in Houston whose mission is to successfully transition women into society after incarceration. Alycia earned a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs with a specialization in Social and Economic Policy and Nonprofit Studies and a Master’s of Science in Social Work Degree with a concentration in Community and Administrative Leadership from the University of Texas at Austin. She received her BA Degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with concentrations in Political Science and Women’s Studies. During the 84th Texas Legislative Session, Alycia served as a Legislative Aide for Texas State Representative Elliott Naishtat, Vice Chair of the Committee on Public Health, advancing bills that proposed reforms to the mental health and criminal justice systems, two of which were signed into law by the governor. The recipient of two policy research awards, Alycia has authored several reports on the need for reforming the criminal and juvenile justice systems in Texas and has presented her findings to elected officials, state- and county-level agency leaders, and other key stakeholders. She has also presented at professional conferences on the need for reforming the criminal justice system. Most recently, she was a co-presenter at the National Association of Social Workers Texas State Chapter Conference and a local summit on the impact of incarceration, identifying community-based solutions that support the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated women. Alycia’s experience implementing reforms to the state and county criminal justice systems spans the course of her work with organizations such as the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Prison Justice League, the Prison Creative Arts Project, the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project, the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, and Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. She is grateful to the men and women she met through this work who were incarcerated or recently released from incarceration for teaching her the power of forgiveness, team work and walking in solidarity with communities that are marginalized by the criminal justice system and other intersecting social systems.


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