As our first day came to an end, we attended another fantastic Houston World Affairs Council event at the Amegy Tower featuring Joel Simon, who discussed topics from his book Infodemic regarding censorship associated with COVID-19. As a nice bonus, we also had a chance to meet former LEAP Ambassador Esme Mata, who after graduating from SHSU, went to the Bush School at TAMU, and is now working for Harris County. And we had a chance to see Amegy Tower for the first time!
As we know, COVID-19 is still a very controversial and confusing topic, but Simon–with skillful moderating by Ronan O’Malley–was able to articulate how the COVID-19 pandemic led to various types of censorship across the globe.
The most fascinating subject Simon talked about was how some countries installed tracking apps on their subjects’ phones, so that they could see where they travel, whom they interact with, and whether they have potentially been exposed to COVID. If a person has interacted with a COVID patient, that individual is given mandates to stay at home or go to quarantine, and if they don’t, they can be fined or otherwise penalized. In some cases–as in Russa–individuals were given notifications in the middle of the night, and if they did not respond in time, they were assumed to have broken quarantine, and fined.
It was interesting to learn more about how other nations responded to the pandemic and how censorship policies, in most cases, hurt their country.
One item of particular interest was the importance of local news and leadership. National news figures and media have the “reach,” but they lack the trust, the sense of shared identification with locals. Local newspapers, local reporters, and local leaders share that identity, but almost thirty years after the advent of the internet, they no longer exist in many communities. They lack the reach. So, citizens were not getting information from people they trusted in many cases, and they also lacked information that the national media could not give: such as where to go locally for vaccines, or where medical supplies could be purchased, and the like.
The whole experience was very informative and easy to understand and Simon’s answers to our questions were very knowledgeable regarding censorship, which I appreciated.
After Simon spoke, we were able to get a signed copy of his book, followed by a picture! It was a great opportunity to see old friends (LEAP students and WAC staff), learn something new (from Joel Simon), and make new friends (Esme Mata).
Every spring, the LEAP Center works with Lt. Col. David Yebra to bring in Judge Alberto Gonzales to speak with students, and every year the event is informative, entertaining, and rewarding.
Judge Gonzales obtained his undergraduate from Rice University and his J.D. from Harvard Law. He became the first Hispanic partner at Vinson & Elkins, Texas Secretary of State, TX Supreme Court Justice, White House Counsel, and Attorney General of the United States. He is now Dean of Belmont University’s Law School.
One of the things we learned, which might seem small, is that typically you refer to a person by his highest office. In Gonzales’s case, that would be “General Gonzales,” but since Gonzales was in the military as a Private, and because he doesn’t want anyone confusing him as a military General, he prefers “Judge Gonzales.”
Out of all the advice about life and law school he provided us with, the most impactful one was on how to approach difficult situations or problems. He told us that “if you ever go to someone with a problem, you should always have a solution.” Even if the solution is not the strongest, it is a starting point which can serve as a starting point for improvement. This advice is vastly applicable, whether it is a situation with our families, jobs, or even life changing decisions.
Of course we also enjoyed hearing about his time as White House Counsel, Attorney General, and Dean of Belmont Law. But it was his advice that likely stuck with us the most: “you should be happy when you are pursuing your career and navigating through life because you cannot be as helpful if you are not happy.”
We are very appreciative and fortunate to have been given this opportunity to meet Judge Gonzales and we hope to have him visit Sam Houston State again in the near future!
The OKC National Memorial Museum is laid out in such a fashion that reminds visitors of what happened on that day, April 19, 1995, but also stands as a tribute to both those who survived and that were lost.
The Museum unfolds in chronological fashion, beginning with the background of the tragedy, and going through almost minute-by-minute on the day of the bombing.
April 19, 1995 was just a nice spring day, a completely normal day in Oklahoma. One of the most difficult experiences on the tour was in the meeting room, where the Water Resource Management Committee began their meeting at 9:00am–a meeting which was recorded.
We listened to that recording, hearing the explosion, and also the screams, fear and confusion among those attending the meeting.
The lights dimmed as the explosions and screamed sounded, and then their was silence, leaving us to ponder the aftermath of that day.
The aftermath was also vividly displayed at the Museum. Artifacts included a pile of keys, glasses, desk items, and shoes: the remains of a tragedy, forever encased in this Museum–preserved, much as people’s memories of the bombing will last forever.
The lives of the innocent are memorialized in so many ways throughout the museum, but the most impactful is the wall of pictures with personal belongings that they were able to identify as belonging to specific individuals.
As we moved through the timeline, we were then shown the backstory of Timothy McVeigh and what he was doing leading up to the incident.
The stories of those who passed, those who died, and the heroism of the rescuers was emotional.
McVeigh was charged with 15 counts of murder, and he was represented by multiple attorneys, including with Chris Tritico, who is an SHSU Alumnus.
As we made our way to the outside part of the building, we experienced a great contrast to the tragedy we walked through. We breathed a sigh of relief at all the vivid fall colors of the trees and relished in the natural beauty that I believe we all needed.
The path leads up to a single American Elm tree that is known as the Survivor’s Tree. This Elm stood through the bomb and remains strong to this day. Each year the seedlings are harvested from the tree and given in remembrance to the families impacted by this event.
An offspring of this tree was even planted at the White House.
The grounds also are home to other memorial features. There is an East Gate displaying 9:01am, a reflecting pool, and a West Gate, displaying the time 9:03am.
South of the walls, the lawn is lined with 9 rows of chairs representing the nine floors of the Murrah Building.
There are 168 empty chairs, representing the lives lost, including young children (which are represented by smaller chairs).
Surrounding the grounds, there was a fence with mementos that people have placed in memory of loved ones: teddy bears, bracelets, photos, and such.
We also went across the street, where a nearby church created a statue of Jesus, with an inscription of the shortest verse of the Bible: “And Jesus wept.”
This was a tour that almost brought me to tears at several places, and our hearts were heavy as we left.
Shortly after our somber but educational tour at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, the LEAP Members coasted off to the Oklahoma State Capitol. The chilly weather and beautiful sunset allowed us to better view the magnificent and historical site.
The intricate architecture of the landmark included Greek Corinthian columns, and Greek Meanders which symbolizes and means movement. The Greco-Roman structure of the state capitol was complemented with the displayed Tribal flags from Native American Peoples who have such a rich history in the 45th state.
The Oklahoma State Capitol is further enhanced with the sculpture of a Native American woman, designed by Allen Houser, which stands in front of the Capitol.
The peak of the capitol’s dome is adorned with a 17.5-foot sculpture of a Native American called “The Guardian,” by Enoch Kelly Haney, and a version of the statue is also located inside the building.
We learned the history behind some of the Oklahoma tribes as we observed the painted murals on the third floor of the capitol.
Oklahoma’s historic significance of the “Sooners” is also integrated into the state building through some of the murals. We all learned about how the name came to be and why it was such a vital point in OK history. Oklahoma State University later adapted “Sooners” as their team mascot to exemplify their patriotism towards the state.
Probably the highlight of the Capitol Building is the interior dome, which is beautiful.
The LEAP Members grasped a better understanding of not only the political aspects of the Oklahoma State Capitol, but also the history and cultural diversity within the building itself and the state of Oklahoma throughout the tour!
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
With the night still young-ish, we decided to go to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. As we walked in, there was a fifty-five feet glass sculpture towering to the right of us, one created by renowned artist Dale Chihuly.
Yvette, a born trouble-maker, immediately got into trouble for standing on a wall so that she could better pose with the sculpture…
This Museum helped expose us to various types of art: impressionism, regionalism, modern, sculptures, and many other styles and artistic media. It helped me learn what type of art I most enjoy. In particular, I liked the sculptures, especially those of Chihuly. Saara also liked Chihuly, but was also drawn to the impressionists.
The museum is separated into four floors. On the fourth floor, our favorite artist, Dale Chihuly, work is featured in a way that flows cohesively leaving the viewer to almost forget they are in an art museum. The dark room, allowed for the lights that were strategically placed to catch the art at different angles to illuminate it differently.
We found this exhibit to be exceptionally fun and dynamic to photograph. As a person new to cameras, it offered the opportunity to experiment with photography. The low light was a challenge, but the subjects were beautiful! We particularly enjoyed walking under Chihuly’s Persian Ceiling, which creates all sorts of interesting shadows and colors.
And we also had the opportunity to see some of Chihuly’s paintings–one of which, we learned, Stephanie actually owns!
Outside of the fourth floor, there’s a video of how Chihuly gets his glass done for his art. This was very interesting. We often found ourselves asking in amazement on how he accomplished such great works, so the video was insightful.
We even found another of his chandeliers in another part of the Museum, which was also beautiful.
Of course, we didn’t just see Chihuly. For some of us, it was our first time to see a Thomas Moran painting…
…and Alex Katz…
…and although all of us had seen a Georgia Okeeffe…
…it was our first time to see some other Southwestern artists, such as Ernest Blumenschein…
…and Fritz Scholder…
We also saw one of our favorites, which was a piece by the African-American artist Henry Osawa Tanner.
As we took one last gaze upwards at the towering Chihuly we left awed by the amazing art.
But, of course, our favorites were the various Chihuly pieces, including the largest of these, the 55-foot piece at the front of the building. This time, however, we took the photo according to the rules of the Museum, forcing Yvette to comply.
The Wedge Pizzeria
To conclude our first eventful day, we opted for a quiet, carryout dinner. We selected The Wedge Pizzeria, which was Oklahoma City’s first artisanal brick oven pizza. Among the pizzas we selected were: The Perfect Margarita, Brisket, and we built our own Hawaiian Pizza. As we sampled each pizza, we all found we had different favorites, but we liked them all. Saara’s favorite was the brisket pizza; she described it as having the right amount of spice from the Jalapeños, and a great flavor from the brisket.
My favorite, and Erin’s favorite, was the Hawaiian Pizza. Although Hawaiian Pizza might be controversial among the general population, it has a place amongst this group of LEAP Members.
Overall, it was a great dinner and we enjoyed each other’s company as we ate.
To kick off the new semester, Heather Barodi, Jocelyn Vazquez, and I traveled to The Woodlands representing LEAP and Sam Houston State University for the first event of the year hosted by the World Affairs Council (WAC). This event showcased the journey of an immigrant into America featuring Roya Hakakian, an Iranian immigrant and her experience into the “land of the free!”
Upon our arrival to the venue, the LEAP students were greeted by the always-friendly, always-professional staff of the World Affairs Council! In fact, we were given a copy of Hakakian’s book, A Beginner’s Guide to America.
Considering that Ms. Hakakian a Guggenheim Fellow and Lesley Stahl referred to Hakakian as “the most eloquent interpreter of ‘the immigrant'” writing today, this was a real treat.
After introductions from the WAC staff…
…Ronan O’Malley moderated the event, asking questions about Hakakian’s experiences on her journey to–and in–the United States.
At the age of 19, Roya came into the U.S. with the hope of becoming successful in this large and unknown land. Ms. Hakakian explained her perceptions of the differences between the US and Iran and why it was such a cultural adjustments.
These observations spoke to us, particularly since of the three of us, one is a first-generation immigrant, and two are second-generation immigrants. We could all identify with at least some of what she had to say.
Toward the end of the session, the Mr. O’Malley took questions from the audience, and Ms. Hakakian responded to two LEAP questions! The insight into immigration and its challenges opened up many doors to knowledge and allowed us to see this process in a new light!
Roya Hakakian met with the LEAP students after the event and kindly signed our copies of her book A Beginner’s Guide to America. The LEAP students were thrilled to hear from her and learn from her experiences!
On Tuesday evening, the LEAP Center and City Fellows students were given a wonderful tour of the new Huntsville Police Department (HPD), on 2821 FM RD West, by Corporal David Warner.
The tour began as soon as we stepped foot through their double door security to get to the waiting area, where Corporal Warner discussed the history of the HPD, its previous chiefs, and the new things that were incorporated to the new building in comparison to the old building, which was once a bank!
In contrast to the old building, they now have a cool-off room, a gym…
showers, a garage, more security (bullet proof glass and reinforced walls), and overall, much, more space.
All of which allows them to perform their job duties more efficiently, such as conducting meetings, training, and more. In this “backstage” tour, we had the opportunity to see most of the rooms and offices: such as the interrogation room…
…supply room, and new additions such as a school resources officer office, evidence room…
…the chief’s office, narcotics office, and the detective offices. While in the supply room, we got to pass around the two kinds of vests that the officers use, the day-to-day basis one and the one they use before arriving at a “dangerous” crime scene.
The former of which was as light as a feather when compared to the latter of which weighed about ten pounds. Our tour then continued inside the patrol officers’ “office”, where we were able to see the TV that tracks where every officer is located- from the moment they report to an incident scene to the moment they leave the scene.
To put it in perspective, if a police officer was on duty at a high-school football game, we would be able to see the name of the officer, the location of the high-school, and the duration of time they have been there. It also shows how long it has been since any one of them has responded or reported to a scene.
Some of the more popular and favorite parts of the tour were the evidence, supply, and interrogation rooms. We were amazed by how the architect built and designed each factor and detail of the building to where no one can tamper with the evidence lockers or hear anything outside of an interrogation room. Another favorite aspect of the tour was Corporal Warner: he a great tour guide, very knowledgeable, and really illuminated the role and practices of the police.
On behalf of the LEAP Center and the City Fellows, we would like to thank Corporal Warner for taking the time to give us a tour of the new building….
…and even more thankful for everything that Corporal Warner and the rest of the officers do to keep us and the community safe.
It may be summer, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t learning, and for the next two weeks, we plan to learn a lot, while also having some fun. This opportunity comes from the LEAP Center and the Southern Legislative Conference, with the latter hosting their annual conference in July in Nashville, TN. We are expanding that a bit by also visiting Asheville, North Carolina and, Atlanta, GA.
First Flight, Jessica Cuevas
It was early in the morning and the sun had not risen yet, but the LEAP students were all on their way to their closest airport, each departing from their hometown, (Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas) to catch their early flight and embark on their new journey that would begin in Atlanta, Georgia.
Having never stepped foot into an airport or airplane, I was feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed. Thankfully, there were signs all over the airport directing me, and I also had my Morgan (flying out of DFW) and Yvette (flying out of San Antonio) as resources, and, of course, I could ask airport staff.
I made it through the luggage check, then to security, all the while experiencing a bit of anxiety and feeling a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, I was not selected for additional screening by TSA, and I made my way for some coffee. After purchasing a tall drink at the price of a grande (airports mark up prices, I learned), I settled in to wait on my flight.
As I went through the process of boarding the plane, bit became surreal, and I thought, “I really am doing this all on my own and for the first time.” I listened more intently to the safety protocols and paid attention to the plane (a Boeing B737-900), and sat in wonder during takeoff, the flight, and the landing.
It would be two hours before I stepped foot on the ground
Georgia’s State Capitol, Yvette Mendoza
Although it wasn’t my first time in Atlanta, it was my first time to really put my feet on the ground and explore, and the first place in this exploration was Atlanta’s Capitol grounds.
Part of our education as LEAP Ambassadors includes the basics of architecture, and the Capitol building was a great school room in that sense. The capitol dome is covered in 24K gold leaf, symbolizing the fact that Georgia was the site of the country’s first gold rush–in 1828 in Dahlonega. Apart from this piece of “bling,” the capitol was nicely configured in traditional Greek and Roman architectural features–pediments above entrances, grand columns (corinthian, mostly), and arched windows.
Continuing our walk into the capitol we first caught our eye on the circular, golden plate Great Seal of Georgia that displays three pillars stating their motto “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation” and the year of the Declaration of Independence, 1776. Then, walking up the staircase we finally entered one of the grand wings of the capitol.
Seeing the overly-sized painted portraits of former Governors dating back to the 1800s was astonishing. Not only did we admire the portraits, but we took a closer look at the numerous chandelier dispersed throughout the interior, which, built in the 1890s, were designed to be used by gas or electric methods.
As is true in most capitols, the rotunda was both literally and figuratively the center of the building. This rotunda was a bit more subdued, but nice nonetheless.
In addition, we were able to stand on the glass flooring, which allows light to spread to multiple floors.
Surrounding us in the rotunda are the portraits of the founding fathers that were placed there because Georgia was a part of the 13 colonies. Walking around seeing more portraits we learned that Jimmy Carter was not only a president but a former Governor of Georgia. Alongside the portraits are offices for the Governor, secretary of state, House of Representatives, and many more.
We enjoyed the large spaces in the capitol, as well as the details amidst the largeness. The doors, for example, have the state seal intricately carved into the knob, and the seats in the House and the Senate include original desks provided to the members.
On the top floor, the Capitol have displays capturing the history of Georgia, as well as facts about the state.
Everyone knows, for example, that the official state fruit is the peach, but did you know its official bird is the brown thrasher?
Wrapping up our tour, we came across a photo opportunity: a podium with the state seal.
For a moment, we had a chance to be Governor and host our own press conferences. It was a fitting end to a fun and educational tour.
High Museum of Art, Yvette Mendoza
As we transitioned from politics and architecture to art, a heavy rainfall began, but it was unable to wash away the LEAP Ambassadors’ excitement to the works on display at the High Museum of Art. At the entrance, we were hit by an optical illusion created by Roy Lichtenstein, called House III. Painted in primary colors and in a triangular shape, the perspective changes as you move alongside it, from convex to concave and back again. This was a great introduction to the fun and engaging art in the building–and the building, by the way, was its own piece of art, designed by Richard Meier.
As a further introduction to the High, we were greeted by a lady wearing a dress clearly inspired by Piet Mondrian, with its grid and primary-color design. All of this, intriguingly, was before we got inside!
Inside, we saw work by Ellsworth Kelly and other major artists, but we beelined it to the Picasso-Calder exhibit. While their art is not typically seen as similar, their grandsons created this exhibit, which emphasized similarities in the artists’ approaches, subjects, and output. The exhibit featured dozens of pieces, including pieces large and small by both artists.
We took turns posing in front of our favorites. Morgan’s, for example, was “The Acrobat,” by Picasso…
…mine was “La Grande Vitesse” by Calder…
…and Jessica’s was the simple “The Bull,” by Picasso.
We didn’t have time to explore all the floors, but we got our fill of Picasso and Calder!
And we did see their American collection, which included many of the “decorative arts,” including works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, and Isamu Noguchi.
We also saw paintings by John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Among the modern artists, we were particularly struck by Anish Kapoor’s untitled piece, which had interesting aural and visual effects. This was the most popular piece in the museum.
Our last stop in the museum was the gift shop, where we continued to learn about great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Grant Wood. We bought magnets, flower vases, and postcards to help us remember the beautiful High Museum of Art!
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Morgan Robertson
The SHSU Leap Ambassadors started the afternoon off with a caffeine jumpstart from Caribou Coffee. The coffee house on Peachtree St. offered a wide variety of drinks including drip coffee, cold brew, mochas, lattes, teas, and for non caffeinated options, smoothies, shakes, and pastries. The coffee house served as a good break before heading to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The 30-acre garden strategically lays out pathways leading you past countless landscape features and works of art (this would be a good introduction to landscaping architecture, which will learn more about at the Biltmore Estate, landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted). Upon entering the garden, the bright gradient canopy created by Shearn looks as though it is suspended by nothing as it guides your walk on the Kendeda Canopy walk.
The hand-tied streamer-like pieces (more than 79,000 of them) flow with the wind while simultaneously curving with the treeline and the path of the 40 foot tall walkway.
The art and architecture work together in order to create vivid movement through the garden.
One of the major and most memorable works of art employs the use of 18,000 different kinds of flowers to create the Earth Goddess.
Lounging with complete serenity, the Earth Goddess extends a hand pouring water into the pond.
Taking advantage of the scenery, LEAP Ambassadors posed for a picture, some poses emulating the Goddess herself.
The garden is also home to a large collection of Dale Chihuly glass and painted pieces in the botanical garden.
After learning and hearing about his works on past trips, this was our first time seeing a Chihuly in person and our expectations were exceeded. The glass blown into shapes of flowers and different spirals and sprigs creates a mass of individual pieces working together, which fit perfectly within the garden itself.
The botanical garden mission is “to develop and maintain plant collections for the purposes of display, education, conservation, research and enjoyment.” This mission statement is employed in every aspect of the garden, especially through the most obvious way: the plants. From edible gardens, to neon flowers, and trees that make you want to guess their age, the botanical garden is a place to get lost in wonderment and adoration of something that has been around since the beginning of time.
My personal favorite collection of flowers stems from the orchid conservation lab and greenhouse.
This fragile, common house flower dominates in the climate-controlled greenhouse (72 degrees during the day, 52 degrees at night). Orchids growing in every imaginable way from wall hangings, to in the ground the collection brings a new appreciation to the flower.
Keeping with the colorful flower trend, Yvette’s favorite plant was the hydrangeas.
Commenting on how the color did not even look real, Yvette was able to snap some pictures of the beautiful flowers.
The tropical greenhouse gave an impressive depiction of a rainforest complete with the sounds of frogs and birds. Jessica admired the edible garden in which visitors are able to smell herbs such as rosemary, mint, oregano, basil, and marigolds, but have to imagine what the sweet snap peas or the juicy tomatoes would taste like.
We also had an opportunity to see 16 separate installations by Jason Gamrath, a glassmaker from Seattle–he studied art at Dale Chihuly’s school.
His pieces were large, and they complemented both Shearn’s work and the garden itself.
Between Shearn, Gamrath, and Chihuly, we were in good company throughout our walk.
The floral and green experience creates a longing to step back into nature. And even for some LEAP Ambassadors a desire to develop a green thumb.
Jackson Street Bridge, Morgan Robertson
A little while after sunset, the LEAP Ambassadors walked across the Jackson St. bridge for a picturesque view. Most known for its appearance in the tv show The Walking Dead, The Jackson St. bridge plays a distinct role in the post-apocalyptic show. As a single sheriff trots, he passes by hundreds of abandoned cars toward downtown Atlanta on a horse. The shot is taken from Jackson St. Bridge.
The bridge allows for an excellent shot of the skyline of downtown Atlanta, and a nice teaching experience for photography. Experimenting with different shutter speeds, angles and other functions, we were able to capture several images of the skyline.
Other sightseers had the same ideas about the bridge as we did. Upon walking up to the bridge there were several groups snapping always on cameras, phones, and even drones.
Culinary Adventures, Jessica Cuevas
Although we rest our legs while taking a break for meals, we don’t stop exploring. Thus for lunch, we were treated to Mediterranean Food at a small local restaurant La Shish Kabab in Atlanta, Georgia. Having only eaten this cuisine twice previously (both times with LEAP), I tried the Chicken Shwarma, a simple chicken dish with rice served with pita.
Yvette got the Gyro meat platter, which had beef and lamb….
… and Morgan ordered the Beef Kafta.
Many of the flavors are not in our day-to-day diet, so it was an enjoyable experience comparing each other’s choices. It was a nice meal to tide us over for the next couple of hours.
It was past 10:00 PM and we were arriving dangerously close to not finding any open restaurant that we could dine in, with most kitchens being closed for the night early. Thankfully, we eventually found The Corner Tavern. We made our way to the restaurant where we were greeted with rain (in the parking lot) and a friendly staff (in the restaurant). To start, we ordered chips, queso, garden salsa, and fried artichoke hearts. For our entrees, Yvette ordered a burger with French fries…
…Morgan had the tavern club sandwich with Pimento mac and cheese, and I had the buffalo chicken burger with tater tots. This last meal wasn’t particularly adventurous, but by the time we were able to find an open restaurant, we were pleased just to have food before bed.
And thus with full stomachs, following a full day, we began to burn the midnight oil blogging about our day of adventure…
This February, we had our first LEAP LIVE of the semester with Veronica Lockett, whose compelling story was an inspiration to all of us.
One of 13 children, Lockett spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, eventually went to prison, and has since graduated from college, earned an M.A. in Social Work, and recently graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.
Ms. Lockett’s mother suffered from mental health issues, having ended up in foster care and been the victim of a number of assaults while in the system, and found solace in drugs and abusive relationships, and therefore struggled to raise her children.
Lockett recalled for us a tense and scary moment from her childhood. She told us that she once watched her mother’s boyfriend at the time hold her mother in the air and threaten to throw her off of the balcony. She said that she and her siblings slept in the bathroom that night in fear of him.
After years of falling behind in school, living off of food stamps, and being hungry to the point of malnourishment, Lockett entered the foster care system at the age of 9, where she would live in a number of foster care families and group homes.
She explained that she learned about college from one foster care family, and decided she definitely wanted to go to college while with another family. When she started college, she found she struggled to find a place to live.
After transitioning through a number of poor living situations, she ended up in an abusive relationship. While dating this individual, Lockett picked up several charges, and was frequently in trouble with the law. She described an instance when the man held her down in the bathtub and told her he had a gun to her head. There was another time that he choked her until she was unconscious.
A few times, Lockett retaliated, cutting her abuser with a knife and burning him with an iron. Eventually, she had had enough. When she was tired of fighting, she ended up calling the police. Knowing she had a warrant out for her arrest for previous charges, she turned herself in to get away from him. Lockett wound up in prison for two years.
She then described her prison experience, which was tough for us to hear. We learned that the facility she was originally kept in was called the “dog pound,” which was where she was held until the prison assigned her to a specific unit. Once she was placed in a unit, she was placed on the “hoe squad,” where she and other inmates were required to do manual labor.
In spite of the challenges prison presented, including violence from guards and stints in solitary confinement, she was eventually able to get to know her mother, who was moved to her unit, and in the cell next to her.
Lockett told us that they finally reconnected, and she asked her mother all the questions she’d had over the years, about why her drugs and alcohol was more important than her children. Her mother explained that she was trying to cope with the pain of her mental health issues through drugs and alcohol.
After she got out of prison, Lockett went on to finish college, earn her M.A., and would eventually apply to law school at University of North Texas, which was the only school in Texas that would admit her in spite of her criminal record.
She then gave us some advice regarding law school, reminding us that it can definitely be a challenge, and we might not all get the best grades, but that does not mean we should give up. She told us to figure out a system of studying, get to know people who have similar priorities as us, and get as much experience as we can.
Lockett now works at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit which strives to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential.
After the LEAP LIVE, a few of us were fortunate to have a one-on-one with Ms. Lockett, where she answered our more specific questions. We want to sincerely thank Ms. Lockett for sharing her time and honesty with us as we learned about her inspiring story of overcoming obstacles.
I think it best to close with a quote from Veronica Lockett which I found very moving:
“I think that the legal profession is all about helping people, it’s just how we choose to help people.
Inauguration Day: The Peaceful Transfer of Power (Kiara Williams)
This inauguration day involved a figurative transfer of power inasmuch as President Trump was not on hand to officially “hand over” the reigns of power. Nonetheless, Joe Biden assumed the Presidency at noon on January 20th, giving an inaugural speech calling on the nation to unify. Biden emphasized the difficulties in our history, particularly regarding equity, but equally emphasized the barriers that have been broken.
As he touched on these topics, President Biden also referred to Vice President, Kamala Harris, highlighting the advances made by women, and to Martin Luther King to highlight progress made in racial equality.
In doing so he indicated how things can change, how the nation has progressed, and how the Vice President of the United States- the first black, South Asian, and female VP in American history- is a living testament to that progression. This momentous event, regardless which side of the aisle one claims, is a statement to women and people of color everywhere that there is power in our voices and we are capable of exceeding our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
In the President’s speech he addresses the societal issues that recently arose: such as the pandemic and its effects on the American people as well…
…as the economy; the attack on the Capitol 14 days prior, and the racial tensions that have plagued this country from its inception. As he addressed these problems, he promised to work to resolve these concerns and advance the nation in his tenure. Biden’s speech continuously emphasized unity and progression of the nation, and with his Vice President, he intends to repair the country for all Americans.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to be there in person, but we made the most of it by watching it in a collective group.
It just wasn’t quite the same as the last time we were there!
Melrose Plantation—Ilexus Williams
After nine days on the road, the LEAP students have come to our final destination: The Melrose Plantation. The Melrose Plantation is located in Natchitoches Parish in north central Louisiana, which is the largest parish in Louisiana. The Melrose Plantation history began in 1742 when Marie Thérèse Coincoin was born a slave into the plantation of Louis Juchereau De St. Denis, who is the founder of the city of Natchitoches. When Marie was approximately 26 years old, St. Denise leased Marie to a French merchant by the name of Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. Marie and Pierre Metoyer formed a relationship, which resulted in 10 children. Marie never returned to St. Denise. Instead, Pierre Metoyer purchased Marie and their children and granted them their freedom.
After gaining her freedom, Marie began harvesting tobacco, bear grease, and raising cattle. With the help of land grants and the purchasing of slaves, Marie and her sons became known as the most prominent free people of color plantation and slave owners. In 1796, Marie’s son, Louis Metoyer was granted 911 acres of land, with this Melrose Plantation was born.
However, the Metoyer family had financial debts that resulted in losing the prized Melrose Plantation in 1847.
The most notable time period of Melrose Plantation was under the ownership of John Hampton Henry and Cammie Garret Henry. More specifically, Cammie Garret Henry took the Melrose Plantation to new heights by making renovations to buildings on their property and allowing artist and writers to live on her property for free as long as they did their work.
The first structure that we visited on the plantation was the Yucca House, which is a large white home with teal-colored doors and walls made from bousillage, which is a mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and horsehair.
The Yucca House was used as residency for artists and writers while they worked on their books and paintings. The first most significant resident in the Yucca Home was Lyle Saxton, who wrote the book Children of Strangers, which is a novel centered on the lives of the Cain River People of color, Creoles. Additionally, Francis Mignon was a Frenchman, who is well known for his book Plantation Memo: Plantation Life in Louisiana. More importantly, he is the best friend of Clementine Hunter. Clementine Hunter was a self-taught folk artist, whose art depicted life on the plantation.
She created her first piece in 1939 on a lamp shade. Her long-time friend, Francis Mignon, encouraged her to continue painting, which she did until her death in 1988. Because of her persistence in her craft, Clementine Hunter became one of the most two-or-three noteworthy folk artists of the 20th century.
Clementine Hunter’s work is displayed in the most remarkable structure on the plantation, the African House.
This hut-like building is the only one of its kind in the United States. The building is made of African bricks and cypress beams, and its main use was to store tobacco and other lucrative crops. Now the building is home to beautiful murals by Clementine Hunter. The murals cover the walls of the African Houses second story. Although we were not permitted to take photos, we did find some online.
These murals show images of cotton picking, which was an activity that Hunter loved. Also, we recognized that religion was a consistent theme in Clementine Hunter’s work. Through her art, Hunter portrayed church revivals; with people catching the holy spirit, plantation baptisms, and funerals, which showed the importance of religion to the African American community.
Interestingly, Clementine Hunter’s art mostly used women as the subjects in her art because she was not very fond of men. Women were often depicted as hardworking in the field, while the men were depicted enjoying idle tasks such as fishing or drinking.
Next, we viewed the Big House where we saw the living quarters of Cammie Henry and her family. The building also included a library with writings from many of the authors who complete residencies at the Melrose Plantation. Also, the Big House dedicated a room to Clementine Hunter’s art and her Honorary PhD from Northwestern State University.
Lastly, to conclude our tour, we visited Clementine Hunter’s home, where she produced most of her work from 1954-1977. On the front porch, was a sign that read “50 Cents to Look,” which Hunter used to entice people to view and purchase her art.
Hunter never became wealthy from her work, and she never quiet understood the impact of her art. However, she is considered “the most celebrated of all Southern contemporary painters.”
Clementine Hunter’s continuous dedication to her craft is inspiring and is an attribute that LEAP students can use a model and inspiration in their future occupations.