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New Leaders Council

2018 Fellows

Meet the 2018 Houston Fellows
(back to NLC 2018 Fellows)

Aaron Cano

Human Services Program Manager, City of Houston Health Department

Houston_Aaron_Cano_-_Aaron_Cano.jpgA native Houstonian and dedicated social justice professional, Aaron currently serves as Human Services Program Manager for the Houston Health Department’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative, a collaborative addressing opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color. In this role, Aaron cultivates relationships across sectors to identify program and policy level strategies to further efforts around youth employment and disproportionalities in the juvenile justice system. Aaron’s previous experience has involved work with community-based initiatives focused on a range of issues including: food access and insecurity, reproductive health, and the intersection of transportation policy and public health.

Aaron graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor of Business Administration and received his MPH from the University of Texas School of Public Health. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys exploring Houston’s cultural diversity through the city’s vibrant dining scene. When not eating, he is typically reading or searching for his next read at the Brazos Bookstore.

Ching-In Chen

Assistant Professor, Sam Houston State University

Houston_Ching-In_Chen_-_Ching-In_Chen.jpgChing-In Chen is the author of 'The Heart's Traffic' and 'recombinant' as well as co-editor of 'The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities' and 'Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets.' A Kundiman, Lambda, Callaloo and Watering Hole Fellow, they are also a member of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundations writing communities. In addition, they serve on the Executive Board of Thinking Its Presence: Race, Advocacy, and Solidarity in the Arts. A community organizer, they have worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside, Boston and Milwaukee in the areas of immigrant rights, racial justice and coalition building with other communities of color, economic workforce development, anti-eviction organizing, anti-war organizing and LGBTQI* activism. Their work has been featured at Poets Against Rape and Word from the Streets and has appeared in 'The Best American Experimental Writing,' 'The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing,' and 'Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.' A graduate of Tufts University, they earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside and a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. They currently teach creative writing at Sam Houston State University, where they serve as poetry editor of the 'Texas Review' and the steering committee chair for the SHSU LGBTQI* Faculty & Staff Network.


Ryan Dennis

Curator & Programs Director, Project Row Houses

HOUSTON_New_Leaders_Council-8_-_Ryan_Dennis.jpgRyan N. Dennis is the Curator and Programs Director at Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas. Her work focuses on African-American contemporary art with a particular focus on socially engaged practices, site-specific projects, and public interventions. Since joining Project Row Houses in 2012, she has organized and co-organized eight Rounds (PRH exhibitions) including, but not limited to, Round 46: Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter at Project Row Houses (2017); Round 44: Shattering the Concrete: Artists, Activists, and Instigators (2016); Round 43: Small Business/ Big Change: Economic Perspectives from Artists and Artrepreneurs (2015); Round 41: Process and Action: An Exploration of Labor (2015); Round 40: Monuments: Right Beyond the Site (2014); and Round 39: Looking Back, Moving Forward (2013).

While at Project Row Houses, she also organized the Social Practice, Social Justice Symposium (2014), develops rigorous public programs, created the 2:2:2 Exchange Residency Program with the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, Project/Site, a temporary, site-specific, commission-based public art program, and most recently the PRH-CASE Fellowship in collaboration with the University of Houston.

Prior to Project Row Houses, she worked in New York City at the Museum for African Art as the traveling exhibition manager, working on exhibitions which included but is not limited to El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria and Jane Alexander: Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope). She received her master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management from Pratt Institute where her research focused on the role of the artist as the administrator and cultural producer through residencies and collaborative programming. Ryan has also worked as a community organizer and a curatorial assistant at The Menil Collection in Houston, TX.

Her writings have appeared in online/print catalogs and journals, including Prospect.3 Notes for Now, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts, and The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Studio magazine. She has been a visiting lecturer and critic at a number of art schools and art institutions throughout the country and taught courses on community based practices and contemporary art at the University of Houston.


Caroline Duble

Lead Engagement Specialist, ACLU of Texas

Houston_Caroline_Duble_-_Caroline_Duble.jpgCaroline Duble is a dedicated advocate and proud native Houstonian. She originally joined the ACLU of Texas in the summer of 2015 as the Houston Community Organizer. Prior to her work with the ACLU, she studied sociology at Warren Wilson College and worked as a rural community organizer in North Carolina. Her extensive engagement in social justice and equity work began in high school, when she became heavily involved in the LGBTQ equality movement. This involvement led her to a deeper understanding of inequality and has culminated in a fierce commitment to social change. Caroline is passionate about catalyzing intersectional progress by empowering leaders and listening to the unique stories and qualities that every individual brings to the table. Caroline continues to bring people together as the Lead Engagement Specialist for the ACLU of Texas' statewide engagement department. Caroline leans into the tension that comes with community growth and change, and always seeks progress from a place of deep-abiding love.

Jamie Gonzales

Diversity Education Coordinator, University of Houston

Houston_Jamie_Gonzales_-_Jamie_Gonzales.jpgJamie received her Bachelor of Art in Government from The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and a Master of Education in Higher Education from the University of Houston (UH). She began volunteering in 2012 as the first Area Network Coordinator for UT’s LGBT alumni network before serving as the co-chair for the Texas Exes LGBT Network in 2013. In 2014, Jamie sat on the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Youth Hospitality Committee for the Creating Change Conference in Houston.

Since her switch to the higher education field in 2014, she has led programming, initiatives and services focused on diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, and equity along with leadership development for students. Jamie is the first Diversity Education Coordinator for UH’s LGBTQ Resource Center and proud advisor of Gamma Rho Lambda’s Kappa Chapter and International Student Organization. In her role, she manages a student leadership development program, educational trainings, grant writing and support services for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies. Jamie works closely with campus partners, student organizations, and community nonprofits to provide collaborative and intersectional programming for the campus community.

Outside of UH, Jamie volunteers in various capacities including the Texas Exes Network Advisory Board, Gender Infinity Conference’s Planning Committee, Montrose Center’s Women’s Programming Task Force, and NASPA’s Trans Inclusion Work Group.


Iris Gonzalez

Community Development Officer, Houston Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

Houston_Iris_Gonzalez_-_Iris_Gonzalez.jpgAs Community Development Officer, Iris oversees Houston LISC’s Great Opportunities (GO) Neighborhoods initiative, with a focus on leadership development, technical assistance and grantmaking. Under her leadership, the network of neighborhoods where LISC invests has expanded and has more intentionally integrated themes of health and equity. She has experience in community development, environmental and public health initiatives, community engagement and financial literacy work. Previously, she worked for the Department of Environmental Health at a community health center in Milwaukee, WI. There she led community engagement & organizing efforts to support environmentally-oriented revitalization projects with the goal of improving health outcomes, connecting people to water, watershed planning and building coalitions that spurred investment in under resourced communities. Iris has experience in asset-based community development strategies, specifically the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative model. She also served as Program Manager at a NeighborWorks America non-profit housing counseling agency, where she established a city-wide program to provide counseling and education to families facing foreclosure. Iris loves to cook, teach and visit her amazing family in Mexico. In her free time, Iris spends time bicycling with her partner, Zac, who is a writer, and her cat, named Pequena.


Porschia Harris

Area Manager, Amazon Logistics

Houston_Head_Shot_Photo_-_Porschia_Harris.jpgPorschia is a social advocate with a deep commitment to voter empowerment and civic engagement in communities of color. She is a native of Flint, Michigan and has been a member of the Houston community since 2015.

Porschia received a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Michigan University in 2011 and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration from Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs.

Since moving to Houston, Porschia has continued a near decade long membership with the NAACP which she began as an undergraduate, serving as member and now co-chair of the NAACP Houston Branch Young Adult Committee. While serving with the young adult committee Porschia has played a vital role in numerous efforts to help hundreds of Houstonians register to vote and provide them with the tools they need to make their voices heard on issues they value and support, her primary focus has been on youth and young adults.

Currently, Porschia works as an Area Manager for Amazon Logistics, a last mile delivery portion of Amazon order fulfillment. In this role Porschia is responsible for ensuring that orders are scheduled and dispatched from the Amazon delivery facility with couriers by their estimated delivery date.

In addition to NAACP, Porschia is also a member of The Church Without Walls and the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals.


Mohamad Maarouf

School Leader/Principal, KIPP Houston Inc.

Houston_Mohamad_Maarouf_-_Mohamad_Maarouf.jpgDeeply committed to ensuring that every student receives the quality education they deserve, Mohamad graduated from Duke University and joined KIPP Houston High School (KHHS) as a first- year teacher and Teach for America (TFA) corps member. Since beginning his work at KHHS, Mohamad has done everything in his power to disrupt the systems and structure that perpetuate a cycle of poor education for students in Houston. He has taught a number of classes, including geometry, AP Statistics, student government, pre-calculus, and more and dedicated his energy to school- and community-wide educational efforts such as completing a Master’s in Education at the University of St. Thomas, acting as a Corps Member Advisor at TFA’s Summer Institute, and presenting instructional workshops (centered around academics, race and equity, and student support) for the KIPP network. In 2012, Mohamad took the year off in order to travel “around the world.” In his eight months abroad, Mohamad traveled to destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central America, and Africa. Since his return, Mohamad has been named Top Texan Under 30, participated in Teach For All's School Leader Community of Practice, helped develop aspiring principals across the country, and currently leads a campus committed to fighting for social justice and empowering students to be the voice at the table.


Deidre Mathis

Owner, Wanderlust Houston

Houston_-_Deidre_Mathis.jpgDeidre Mathis could be caught jumping from towers in New Zealand, bathing rescue elephants in Thailand, zip lining in a Mexican jungle or skydiving in the States. When she’s not trekking the globe, she is well known as a budget world traveler, author, and public speaker. She has traveled to more than 38 countries over all 7 continents. Her book, “Wanderlust: For the Young, Broke Professional” received great reviews and has been supported in countries such as the U.A.E., China, and Australia. Deidre's inspirational story has been featured twice in Black Enterprise Magazine, USA TODAY as a Modern Woman, and Essence Magazine’s, "" Top Ten Things We Are Talking About"" . Other publications that have featured Deidre on a local and national level include Forbes Magazine, Parlour Magazine, The Houston Chronicle, and Houstonia magazine.

Deidre is no stranger to television coverage, making appearances as the “go to” for travel advice and tips. She has graced the screens of Great Day Houston, First Coast Living, WBTV CBS, Houston Living and other shows as a budget travel expert. Women’s travel conferences and colleges and universities have welcomed Deidre as an expert keynote speaker in the area of travel.

Deidre is excited about her latest project, Wanderlust Houston. This hostel opening will make her a history maker, as she will be the first African-American female U.S. hostel owner.


Berlinda Mojica

Senior Linkage Manager, ProUnitas

Houston_-_Berlinda_Mojica.jpgBerlinda Mojica currently serves as Senior Linkage Manager with ProUnitas, INC, an education nonprofit. In her role, Berlinda coordinates community partnerships with over 20 local organizations and health agencies, which render services to over 500 students enrolled at Roderick Paige Elementary, a Title 1 school in the Kashmere Trinity Gardens neighborhood of Houston. Most recently, she secured special partnerships with the Young Audiences of Houston, the Houston Ballet, and Brighter Bites to increase access to the arts and nutrition education.

Berlinda’s career in education began in 2012 as a Teach For America corps member in Houston's East End. Her 4th grade students earned laudable academic achievements and were featured at a national conference for their analysis and representations of current and past Latino leaders.

Apparent issues beyond the classroom walls motivated Berlinda to co-found ONE Houston (Organizing Network for Education, Houston), a community organizing network of teachers, students, parents, and community members dedicated to ensuring educational equity for Houston students. For the past two years, Berlinda has volunteered as Communications Director for ONE Houston, expanding the social media presence, developing a website, and cultivating relationships with local and national news affiliates to cover pressing issues and actions brought forth by ONE Houston members. In 2016, ONE Houston successfully organized to end exclusionary discipline policies in schools and close Houston Independent School District’s alternative school, originally built and run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a United States private prison contractor. Berlinda’s contributions this past year, ensured continued coverage of the misuse public dollars and secured news and editorial placements with Slate Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Press, Houston Public Media, Univision, and KPFT News. Now as a self-proclaimed, community organizer, Berlinda’s growing understanding of the inequities faced by families in Houston and across the nation continues to motivate her to dedicate time and energy to ensuring that the bad policies go and that the community informs the ones to come.

Berlinda holds a BA in Spanish Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and plans to pursue a Masters in Education Policy in the very near future.


Belinda Moreira

Community Engagement Manager, BakerRipley

Houston_Belinda_Moreira_-_Belinda_Moreira.jpgBelinda Moreira is a passionate advocate for families and students. The native Houstonian currently serves as a Community Engagement Manager at BakerRipley. In this role, she works with community members to identify and create individual and collective actions that are of public interest through coordinated outreach plans, civic education, and strategy development. Community members need to understand the systems that exist around them, and Belinda works to connect them to those resources. Prior to this, Belinda attended Georgetown University and was a 2013 Teach for America Corps member in the D.C. Region. She taught high school English and coached tennis in Prince George's County Public Schools and worked with many students who were immigrants and refugees. She was able to witness firsthand how policies negatively impact these students and the challenges that students faced. This led Belinda to become an advocate for educational equity and she was a founding member of the D.C. Education Coalition for Change, an educational equity organizing network in Washington. After six years in Washington, Belinda wanted to take all the passion and skills she developed and return home to work with other leaders and be closer to family. She continues to organize and is a Regional Strategy Team member at ONE Houston. In this role, she advocates to help end systems of inequity in education, including more support for immigrant, refugee and undocumented students, end the school to prison pipeline, have more equitable resources across campuses, and adequate services for all learners.


James Nortey

Associate, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Houston_James_Nortey_-_James_Nortey.jpegLike the armada of Ghanaians before them, James Nortey’s parents immigrated to the United States from Accra, Ghana in search of a better quality of life. James was born in Dallas, raised in El Paso, and attended Baylor University in Waco where he studied Philosophy and Criminal Justice. Afterwards, James graduated from Harvard Law School and earned a graduate business degree from the University of Texas.

Today, James is an Associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Houston. His practice includes commercial litigation, employment law, and energy matters.

James is an attorney, advocate, and activist. In these roles, James is empowered to reinvest the blessings bestowed upon him to help open doors of opportunity for others. James serves as Treasurer of Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural District and was a former Chairman of the Mueller Neighborhood Association. He has also served as a member of the City of Austin Planning Commission and the Zero Waste Advisory Commission. He has devoted himself to improving our children’s educational opportunities by serving as a reading coach for second graders at local elementary schools. James also serves on the Board of Directors for Austin Achieve Public School, AustinEd Fund, Barton Springs Conservancy, and PeopleFund.


Naushaba Patel

Women's Health Education and Outreach Specialist, Montrose Center

Houston_Naushaba_Patel_-_Noshu_Ali.JPGNaushaba works at Montrose Center to expand health access, advocacy and education for queer womyn and anyone trans and nonbinary. Previously, Naushaba gained hir Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University and Bachelor’s in Chemistry from Rice University. Naushaba is deeply passionate about using the frameworks of human rights and intersectionality to advance health access for every individual. As a queer Pakistani Muslim immigrant who has traveled and lived in multiple countries, Naushaba loves finding the human connection in every encounter, and also empathizes with the unique strengths and challenges that come with navigating life as a minority.


Liz Peterson

Community activist and volunteer

Houston_Liz_Peterson_-_Liz_Peterson.jpgLiz Peterson is a community activist who helps white people understand racism and unlearn white supremacy. She believes in empowering individuals to uncover and reject their internalized biases as they confront the ways structural racism pervades their daily lives. She helped found a new racial justice committee at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, where she has designed and led workshops on grappling with racism as followers of Christ. She is also a member of the Education Working Group leadership team for SURJ-HTX, a group focused on organizing white people for racial justice. Additionally, Liz volunteers with the Houston Museum of Natural Science through her involvement with the Junior League of Houston. She is assistant chairman of the league's efforts at the museum and has overseen the revitalization of a project that equips volunteers to provide hands-on science lessons in socioeconomically disadvantaged Houston schools. She is also a member of the Board of Stewards at Memorial Drive UMC and of the Crosswalk Houston steering committee. A Pittsburgh native, Liz holds a master's degree in education from Houston Baptist University and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She spent 8 years as a reporter for the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle, covering state and local government, K-12 and higher education, and health and human services. She also worked as a grant writer for Child Advocates, Harris County's Court Appointed Special Advocates program.


Isbah Raja

Director of Operations, Strong Strategies, LLC

Houston_Isbah_Raja_-_Isbah_Raja.pngIsbah Raja was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to Houston with her family when she was 2 years old. She is currently Director of Operations at Strong Strategies, LLC, a political consulting firm in Houston, TX. With her experience in campaign fundraising and political consultation, Isbah worked on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s campaign in 2015 and has since then worked on numerous races across Houston and Harris County, ranging from school board to congressional campaigns. Isbah is deeply passionate about healthcare and reproductive justice work as it intersects with racial and economic justice and LGBTQ issues. As such, Isbah currently serves as a Board Member for the Lilith Fund, an abortion fund that serves Southern Texas. Furthermore, she is a member of the Network Design Team for the National Network of Abortion Funds, working on values alignment and strategic planning across the national network. Isbah graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in Arabic, Middle Eastern Studies, and Plan II Honors. While in school, Isbah was an advocate for healthcare reform, doing press conferences on both a local and national level, and serving as a student organizer on campus around the Affordable Care Act. In her spare time, Isbah works on creative organizing in minority communities across Houston. Most recently, she worked with a cohort of peers to address issues of toxic masculinity within POC communities through storytelling and moderated discussion. Isbah is also a creative writer. She was a participant in Voices of Our Nation in 2016, a competitive week-long workshop cofounded by Junot Diaz that works with writers of color from across the nation to highlight the political underpinnings of their creative work. Isbah’s short story, “The Threads That Pull,” was recently featured in The Missing Slate, a digital literary magazine.


Jeremy Rankins

Hospital Case Manager, Sun Behavioral Houston

Houston_Jeremy_Rankins_-_Jeremy_Rankins.jpgJeremy Rankins was born in San Antonio, Texas but has traveled to several areas of the lone-star state to pursue his academic career. Jeremy is an alumni of Angelo State University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in clinical psychology. After graduating from Angelo State University, Jeremy moved to Houston Texas where he would then marry Claudia Pasillas-Rankins in the fall of 2017. Since then he has recently completed the clinical psychology program at Texas Southern University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern. Jeremy has served the mental health community in the hospital setting, in the community (homes), residential treatment facilities, and detention centers. After gaining experience in several different settings, Jeremy identified troubled youth as being the population that would most benefit from his services. Jeremy has the ambition to change the way traditional talk therapy is provided to youth in the current day in age and he has every intention on spreading research based techniques to the world in the recent years to come. He is a strong advocate for helping the underprivileged youth community, but holds a burning desire to spread the innovation of therapeutic interventions specifically catered to troubled teens. Jeremy is the managing partner of Minor to Major PLLC “Where we turn minor setbacks into major comebacks.” This small agency provides 24 hours of residency and treatment services to youth that are currently in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services serving the surrounding areas of Harris County. The youth receive both one to one and group therapy services in addition to trauma and addiction treatment in an environment that is therapeutic and supportive for change. Jeremy has the aims to make a positive impact on a large scale by reaching out to troubled youth and changing their lives for the better. Jeremy enjoys traveling, the Texas country, spending time with his family, and exercising as much as possible.


Neal Sarkar

Associate, Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C.

Houston_Neal_Sarkar_-_neal_sarkar.jpgNeal Sarkar is an associate with the Houston trial litigation boutique of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi, and Mensing. Neal’s practice focuses on commercial litigation, and, in three years at AZA, he has opened at a jury trial and cross-examined fact and expert witnesses. Prior to his litigation practice in Houston, Neal was a litigator at large law firm in Chicago, and, before then, he was employed as a management consultant with Fidelity Investments. Neal has also been employed in internships at the United States’ Attorneys’ Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the New Jersey Public Defenders’ Office, and the United States State Department.

Neal also is a strong supporter of progressive causes. First, he is the Chair of the Houston Lawyers’ Chapter of American Constitution Society. The American Constitution Society is a progressive legal organization whose mission is to the “promote the vitality of the U.S. Constitution and the fundamental values it expresses: individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, access to justice, democracy and the rule of law.” Through activities over the course of the year, the organization promotes and facilitates discuss and debates of progress public policy ideas and issues.

Neal is also involved in the South Asian Bar Association of Houston, as the current Vice President of CLE and Outreach. The South Asian Bar Association is dedicated to the needs, concerns, and interest interests of lawyers of South Asian heritage by promoting the professional development of the South Asian legal community through networking, advocacy, and mentoring. Neal was recently recognized as a “Rising Star” for the South Asian Bar Association. Neal is also active in the Houston Committee on Foreign Relations, the Texas Bar Foundation, and a number of local progressive political campaigns.

A native of New Jersey, Neal is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Law School. He resides in Houston, Texas.


Kristen Schlemmer

Environmental Attorney, Irvine & Conner PLLC

Houston_Kristen_Schlemmer_-_Kristen_Schlemmer.jpgKristen Schlemmer, a Houston native, is an attorney dedicated to protecting Texas' environment and wildlife through strategic, high-impact lawsuits. A lifelong environmentalist, Kristen became particularly enamored with how the law can be used to achieve environmental justice while earning her JD at Tulane University. Living and learning in post-Katrina New Orleans illuminated the interrelationship between environmental law and policy and social justice and set Kristen on the path toward becoming a full-time environmental advocate. First, after graduating, Kristen honed her legal chops by completing two federal clerkships and working for four years as a trial lawyer at Susman Godfrey, the nation’s top litigation boutique. Among the highlights of her time at Susman Godfrey was defending the City of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance from attack and serving on an advisory role for the then-new Houston office of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Since 2016, Kristen has been an environmental attorney at Irvine & Conner PLLC, where she works with individuals and non-profit organizations to improve quality of life in Houston, promote environmental justice along the Gulf Coast, and protect Texas’ endangered species and natural spaces. Outside of her legal work, Kristen serves on the leadership committee of the Animal Law Section of the Texas State Bar, leads the Throw v. Wade bowling team to raise money for abortion access in Texas, and organizes a reading series for the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Kristen lives in the Old Sixth Ward with her boyfriend Chris Valdez (NLC ’17) and several furry creatures and enjoys gardening, reading voraciously, and writing when she can. As an NLC Fellow, she looks forward to collaborating with others in her cohort to effect positive change in Houston and along the Gulf Coast.


Sarah Syed

Project Manager, ScribeAmerica

NLCHoustonChapter_Sarah_Syed_-_Sarah_Syed.jpgSarah Syed is an Ivy League graduate student by day, and a grassroots community organizer by night. She has contributed to the success of multiple international organizations by developing a thorough understanding of objectives and protocol—and then becoming a hub of incoming and outgoing information—linking people together in multiple locations and cultures. Key areas of focus throughout her career have included healthcare management and quality assurance. Identifying needs and to provide solutions, planning, and implementation are her driving motivations. She is working towards a career in medical jurisprudence and would like to work within the government, in an official capacity, as a medical provider in due time.

Syed can be found collaborating with marginalized communities on any given day, to increase civic and community engagement in her age bracket. She has always aimed to fix broken social systems, bringing meaningful changes to peoples’ lives, and empowering vulnerable or oppressed populations. This is evident in her community service as an international humanitarian aid worker, assisting with emergency relief efforts directly facilitating health and human services to advance access to quality healthcare to undeserved areas. Sarah hopes to continue capacity building to progress young and inclusive millennials, particularly young immigrants, especially for increasing peaceful interfaith dialogue as it relates to public deliberation.


Chloe Walker

Senior Staff Attorney, Children's Immigration Law Academy (CILA)

Houston_Chloe_Walker_-_Chloe_Walker.jpgChloe is a social worker and lawyer by training who currently works as an attorney at the Children's Immigration Law Academy (CILA) providing technical advice and training to lawyers who represent unaccompanied immigrant children. Her roots and love for Houston are deep; she was born and raised just outside the hedges of Rice University where she eventually earned her bachelor's degree. After serving two years with AmeriCorps in Austin, Chloe returned to the Bayou City to pursue her social work and law degrees at the University of Houston. Humbled to have worked for and with residents of Texas from all walks of life and all parts of the world, she thrives when she is collaborating with and connecting people to each other because she loves to think about how individuals, including herself, relate to the inter-connected systems, tiny and massive, that make up the world that we live in. Her eyes were opened to the inner workings of our legislative system when she worked as a policy analyst for State Representative Garnet Coleman during the 2011 legislative session alongside a cohort of social work students from UH. Since then, she has worked to advocate at every level: for her legal clients in both the private and non-profit sector; for the reproductive rights of all women as a member of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders; for social workers on the Board of Directors and TPACE political action committee of the National Association of Social Workers-Texas, and for herself through a (still blooming) mindfulness and self-compassion practice. In Fall 2017, her roots came full circle with the opportunity to teach a policy course for MSW students at UH. Chloe exercises her right to vote at every opportunity afforded to her and dreams of a world in which everyone is able to do the same. To get away from it all, she loves to dance with her Cuban salsa group, Rueda Houston.


Steven Wu

Facilities Engineer, Chevron

NLC_Houston_Steven_Wu_-_Steven_Wu.jpgSteven Wu is currently a Board Member of OCA-Greater Houston (OCA-GH), just finishing his last year as the Festival Co-Director of the Houston Asian American Pacific Islander (HAAPI) Film Festival hosted by OCA-GH. Steven first joined OCA-GH as a volunteer for the HAAPI Film Festival when he moved to Houston from Atlanta, but soon discovered love for the cause to take on a larger role and begin new initiatives (e.g. festival program restructuring, new marketing campaign strategies, increased local filmmaker development). Besides the Film Festival, Steven also co-founded and currently leads the TEA (Together Empowering All) Talks program in OCA-GH to facilitate community discussions on intersecting issues that affect marginalized communities in hopes to build sustainable coalitions. This past 2017, Steven began participating and leading more of OCA-GH’s civic engagement efforts to turn out more AAPI voters. With critical elections coming up in the next few years, Steven plans to educate the electorate on key public policies affecting our daily lives and why civic consciousness is vital in both our democratic process and in our own personal career development. Outside of OCA-GH, Steven sits on the Houston Grand Opera Cultural Advisory and the Harris County Democratic Party AAPI Committees. While a Chemical Engineer by degree and traveler at heart, Steven’s true passions lie in advancing racial equity through the power of media, storytelling, and civic engagement.


0fdc3b9.jpgMaria De La Cruz
City of Houston’s Health Department
Since officially moving to Houston September of 2014, Maria De La Cruz was worked in various capacities at the City of Houston’s Health Department (HHD). In her current role, she provides program development, coordination, and management for HHD Director’s Office special projects. Recently she has supported programs which expand access to health care, assist victims of Human Trafficking and creates a plan on how the city should aid residents with Sickle Cell. 

Maria received her Master of Public Administration degree through the National Urban Fellows (NUF) program at Baruch College in the City University of New York. An extensive leadership development training program, NUF, provides fellows the expertise in the public sector, contributing their newly acquired leadership skills to public service for the betterment of their communities and nation. Prior to her acceptance in a full-time position at the department, Maria served at HHD as a fellow for nine months in the director’s office. 

Maria’s first experience serving her community came from her time at the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement--a mission-driven organization that connects students, colleges, non-profit entities, and local governments to improve communities and promote social justice. Maria worked with the Bonner Center at both The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and Middlesex County College (MCC). 

Maria started her journey with the Bonner Program as a student at MCC. As a Bonner AmeriCorps Member, she gained the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to promote positive changes within her community while simultaneously receiving an academic scholarship. She became one of the first Bonner students to transfer from a community college with an associate degree to a full tuition scholarship at a four-year university. At TCNJ, Maria started the Immigration Team, which taught English as a Second Language to adult immigrants. In her senior year at TCNJ, Maria was asked to become the Bonner Program Coordinator for MCC. This led to becoming the Program Director the following year and ultimately returning to TCNJ to manage the Bonner Center’s budgets and grants. Through her work with Bonner, she created teaching and learning opportunities that simultaneously built the capacities of students and the local communities focusing on the issues of immigration and juvenile crime. Through these opportunities, students became more knowledgeable, skilled, and civic-minded while community partners gained additional resources to effectuate positive and sustainable change.

Maria was born in Spain and is half Cape Verdean.

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