Valiant Women Then and Now — a Women’s History Month virtual art exhibit featuring illustrations by Kathy and Lionel Sosa and photographs by Nicole Marie Moore — runs March 19 to April 30.
Nicole Marie Moore (B.A. ’02)
Photographer, St. Mary’s University alumna
Nicole Marie Moore is an evolving photographer with a formal education in the liberal arts, including a B.A. in English Language and Literature from St. Mary’s University, and an MFA in Creative Writing Poetry from Texas State University-San Marcos.
Her poetry and writing have been published in The Texas Observer and The Southside Reporter, and she has been a guest poetry editor for the San Antonio Express News. In 2016, she was commissioned to design a CD cover for Latin jazz marimbist Alfred “Toro” Flores’ album Zarabande: El Toro, and in 2018 she had a solo photography exhibit—Along the Way: Moments Captured in Nature, Dance & Life—in the Louis J. Blume Library. Most recently, her work was displayed at Equinox Gallery in La Villita (2020–2021), and her images are on permanent display in the café windows of Carmens de la Calle, a local jazz and world music venue.
I am passionately engaged in social and artistic endeavors, which include educational publishing, writing, and photography, and the appreciation of literature, music, and art. I believe that we can help shape the environment in which we live by focusing on the beauty that transcends us, and by addressing the injustices that impede us. This active expression of value is often shared through the creative arts.
While working on this project, Valiant Women Then and Now, I realized that many of the women I photographed were expressing their activism through art, be it poetry, music, dance, or public murals. Others were leading, organizing, and participating in demonstrations and foundations. All were concerned with how people treat one another.
Though I often photograph live dance or music performances, and I tend to focus on capturing moments in time—to try to preserve the fleeting beauty of this transient world—this project allowed me an opportunity to focus on people.
While photographing these social activists, I had time to speak with them and to learn more about their lives. I not only realized I was enjoying, immensely, getting to know these amazing women better—who are very active in our community—but each time I left a session I, too, felt more connected to this city, to the people, to my place here, and to this sober and complicated time in history, and to the issues that we are grappling with as a society.
Texas and San Antonio have been shaped by some very powerful women, and it continues to be shaped by those who are, at this very moment, concerned about the health and vitality and safety of their communities. Whether their activism is expressed by caring for others, by creating and leading organizations, by demonstrating and making their voices heard, by beautifying this city, by photographing it all, or just by allowing the very act of living to be their necessary statement and stance in these challenging times, each of these women is a part of the social fabric of San Antonio, Texas.
They are the ones to watch, to talk with, to engage and interact with, to listen to, because they are the ones who are shaping our history, be it in grand or more subtle ways. These women are making a difference, today—they are improving our city, now.
Kathy Sosa (B.A. ’74, M.A. ’01)
Artist, Marketing and Political Design Consultant, and St. Mary’s University alumna
Katherine Sosa is an independent marketing, political design consultant and artist. She was the only woman on George W. Bush’s gubernatorial race in 1998, his presidential campaign in 2000 and re-election bid in 2004. Her creative work has earned national awards for advertising excellence in both television and print. Current clients include Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, Public Service Credit Union, and Sul Ross University.
Prior to forming Sosa Consultation & Design with her husband, Lionel, Sosa served as president of Garcia•LKS, the Southwest’s largest independent Hispanic ad agency, which she founded as KJN in 1987.
In her over twenty years in marketing, most of them as an ad agency principal and entrepreneur, Sosa has worn a number of hats, among them strategist, planner, creative director and copywriter. In addition to commercial advertising experience on accounts from Dr Pepper and Mexicana Airlines to Sî TV and Budweiser, she is experienced in both education-related marketing, public service communications, and is a veteran of over 25 political media campaigns.
Sosa holds bachelor’s and masters degree’s in Political Science, both from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. With education an important focus for Sosa, she currently serves on the Generation Texas Board of Directors. She was appointed by former Governor George W. Bush to the Children’s Trust Fund of Texas Council, and by Governor Rick Perry to the Founding Board of The Texas Conference for Women. Sosa was named by Inc. magazine as an Entrepreneur of the Year.
A renowned artist, Sosa was commissioned by the Texas Women’s Conference to do a portrait of keynote speaker Martha Stewart, to whom the artist personally presented the work. She received national recognition for her traveling exhibition Huipiles: a Celebration, which debuted at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C. as part of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s 2007 summer season before traveling to the Museo Alameda in San Antonio in 2008. Currently, she mounts shows in New York City and Tulsa. Her work has been featured on CNN, in FiberArts Magazine, in Skirt! San Antonio Woman, Country Lifestyle, Destinations, and is available in San Antonio through AnArte Gallery and the Regalo Gift Gallery at the Museo Alameda. She is also represented by galleries in Boerne, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Most recently, Sosa, and her husband Lionel Sosa, created and produced the critically-acclaimed documentary titled Children of the Revolución – How the Mexican Revolution Changed America’s Destiny, a 20-part storytelling series which chronicles never-before-told American history of the Texas/Mexico borderland.
Portrait Artist, Marketing Consultant
Lionel Sosa is an independent marketing consultant and nationally recognized portrait artist. He is the founder of Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates, which became the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the U.S.
Sosa is an acknowledged expert in Hispanic consumer and voter behavior and was named “One of the 25 most influential Hispanics in America” by Time Magazine.
Sosa has authored three books and co-author to two others. He is author of Children of the Revolucion — How the Mexican Revolution Changed America, distributed by Texas University Press, Think and Grow Rich, a Latino Choice published in by Random House, The Americano Dream: How Latinos Can Achieve Success in Business and in Life, published by Dutton. He is co-author of El Vaquero Real — The Original American Cowboy published by Bright Sky Press and was a contributing author of Latinos and the Nations Future, edited by Henry Cisneros and published by Arte Publico Press, University of Houston.
Sosa was media consultant for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. He has served on the teams of eight national Republican presidential campaigns.
Sosa is a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and has served on the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System, the Board of Trustees for the University of the Incarnate Word, the Boards of Sesame Workshop, creators of Sesame Street, ACT (American College Testing), PBS, the Public Broadcasting System and NCLR, National Council of La Raza. He chaired both the United Way of San Antonio and the San Antonio Symphony and was Executive Director for the grassroots foundation, Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together (MATT).
In 2001, Sosa was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of the Incarnate Word. His portraits in oil have been exhibited at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, The George H.W. Bush Library at College Station, Texas and Texas A&M University San Antonio, among others.
Porch Photography Portraits
By Nicole Marie Moore
The backdrop for the porch photography portraits is the book Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico: Portraits of Soldaderas, Saints, and Subversives, edited by Kathy Sosa, Ellen Riojas Clark, and Jennifer Speed; with a foreword by Dolores Huerta and an afterward by Norma Elia Cantú. The portrait sessions are meant to celebrate these women as active and valuable members of the local San Antonio community. The work they do and the reason they care about the health of those around them makes these women modern-day soldaderas, saints, and subversives. They are recognized for what they do and the porch portrait is a way to document, celebrate, and show appreciation for their community activism. They work with honor and bravery. They are relevant to the community. They are accomplished women.
Organizer for 100 Thousand Poets for Change
Viktoria Valenzuela is an organizer for 100 Thousand Poets for Change, San Antonio Chapter. 100 Thousand Poets for Change is a nationwide collective of poets, musicians, and artists promoting peace, sustainability, and justice in cities all over the world (100tpc.org). Valenzuela got involved with 100TPC in 2011, due to the BP oil spill, and during a period of time when she was relocating from upstate New York to San Antonio, Texas. Valenzuela felt it was vital to join a global movement, as the planet is being affected by climate change and pollution. The BP oil spill was the catalyst for a call for policies of change. “Poetry, music, and art are the first mediums to call into awareness that which needs attention in society,” explains Valenzuela.
She had just reached out to 100TPC founders Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, who were thrilled she would organize in south Texas. Still new to San Antonio, in 2012 she contacted the Southwest Workers Union to hold a collective event with musicians, poets and artists, as well as nonprofit organizations and political allies, who were actively working for change in the community.
“When I got to San Antonio,” Valenzuela recalls, “I saw how segregated the city was and I found it very odd. I went to Spoken Word events to find political poets, and it was not an easy task. Many poets at the time were writing confessional and relationship poetry, as were artists and musicians.” So Valenzuela spent a year attending and finding artists, and with her friend and mentor Ernesto Olivo’s help, Valenzuela was able to organize and stage the first show. As Valenzuela explains, she “has dedicated herself to 100TPCSATX,” giving opportunities to other creative activists, and people of all races and religions in a collaborative effort, working in the name of peace, justice, and sustainability. People began participating globally, too. “In the spirit of inclusivity,” explains Valenzuela, “I always am sure to feature marginalized Black and Brown folxs of San Antonio. I have showcased people from the Quaker community and Muslim community, alongside The American Indians of Texas, and the LGBTQ community. It is vital to gather a truer picture of all of San Antonio’s people, in one space.”
Valenzuela has also been able to work with the Arts and Culture Department of the City of San Antonio for some of the events, which lasted six hours and featured forty-five poets and three live bands, as well as 2- and 3-dimensional artworks. As Valenzuela explains, all the artists were “calling for a common theme of peace, justice, and sustainability.” At the event, which usually occurs in September, poets take the stage for 3–5 minute segments, one after the other, and perform live. The performances are simultaneously streamed on social media or recorded and posted to the global event website. “This is what includes our city in the largest poetry reading in the world,” she explains. And once the readings are online they are archived, too. But, due to coronavirus in 2020, the event had to be cancelled.
Rather than slowing her down, Valenzuela stayed busy writing poetry and papers. She’s midway into a Master of Arts/Master of Fine Arts Degree in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice at Our Lady of the Lake University. As well as working on her own school work, she and her husband—published poet Vincent Cooper—help their three little ones with their virtual school work, a task that has transitioned from classroom, to homeschool, to zoom, and now, somewhat, back into the classroom. All the while, Valenzuela stays connected with her writing community, taking every opportunity to expand her involvement in social justice issues and the poetic word.
After completing her degree, Valenzuela hopes to take a leadership role in a nonprofit or remain active in academia as a professor of English. “I am writing several books and will look to have these published, as well. My activism is in all that I do. Every aspect of my work is a political stance, taken. I am a m(other)writer who advocates for peace, justice, and sustainability in every avenue of society.”
Valenzuela is a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, and she served as an advisory ad-hoc board member from 2018–2020, as well as being the San Antonio Chapter Lead of Women Who Submit, a group of BIPOC LGBTQ women and nonbinary people that meet periodically in order to polish and submit their work to top-tier literary journals for publication.
Privately, Valenzuela advocates for undocumented people and has composed narratives for those trapped within the system that can be presented for bail bonds fundraising or used to present themselves in court for release or asylum seeking efforts.
Singer-Songwriter, Musician and DJ
In a society in which the word queer too often devolves into questions and speculation about people’s sex lives, Alyson Alonzo is determined to teach and show others that being queer has everything to do with being yourself—that it’s about living your most amazing and beautiful life. “Every day, living as a queer person, is a form of activism,” she says.
Alonzo is well-known as a songwriter and beat creator (soundcloud.com/alyson_alonzo), and she is a technologically curious person who taught herself to use music software and develop loops as a youth. Being an early user of social media platforms gave her an outlet to share her creativity with others. She noticed how her beats received positive feedback. Then, when she added lyrics and her voice, the positive feedback increased, exponentially. By the time she was a few years out of school, she was getting calls by established musicians to sing in their bands.
In the early days of public performance, she was reserved, perhaps a bit shy, though her voice belied any insecurities. Alonzo credits being a woman in the music business as the reason she had to build confidence, explaining, “It took a while to come out of my shell, but being a woman in the music business, you have to stand up for yourself, you have to be more talkative.” One reason for this necessary engagement is that Alonzo is the main person booking her gigs and communicating with venues and other musicians. She must put herself out there and vocalize her needs to achieve the goals she has. “It’s definitely a learning curve,” she explains, though she has clearly come into her own.
Alonzo performed on four of YOSA’s wildly popular concerts, featuring music from iconic albums—Radiohead’s OK Computer (in 2015), The Beatles’ Abbey Road (in 2016), Prince’s Purple Rain (in 2017), and Michael Jackson’s Thriller (in 2019)—during which well-established local bands and singers performed select songs with the youth orchestra.
“I still get scary stage fright but I push through it. The stage will always be something that is never fully comfortable for me. I always get nervous but then after a song or two, I get into the swing of things,” admits Alonzo. She wasn’t one of those kids that was raised to perform on the stage, she explains. She wanted to be a scientist. But her parents have supported Alonzo no matter the endeavor. “I couldn’t have asked for more supportive parents.”
Her parents bought her first keyboard and guitar for her, which was the outlet she needed as a youth. She’d spend hours just learning songs. In fact, Alonzo is mostly self-taught and plays and sings by ear. “It’s helped me and held me back a bit,” she admits. “I sight read very slowly.” She laughs when she recalls attending two classes during one summer at San Antonio Academy: a piano class and a dinosaur class. But what she remembers most about learning music is listening to a couple CDs, on repeat. “It was the year when Seal was nominated for a grammy,” she recalls. One CD had the songs of the grammy award winners, and she’d play it over and over, especially Seal’s song “Kissed by a Rose.” Then, she’d work it out on the keyboard.
It’s not surprising to see Alonzo so wholly embracing and enjoying her craft as a performing musician, maturing from a girl so afraid to sing in choir that she’d simply mouth the words, to a woman being written about frequently for her soulful voice, after she reveals a bit about her family background. “My godfather was in the Royal Jesters and my godmother would play music, too.” The Royal Jesters, a Chicano band formed in 1958 on San Antonio’s Westside had several hits and successful albums throughout the decades, incorporating multiple genres, including doo wop, soul, rock, Tejano, and Mexican folk, and writing songs in both English and Spanish (allmusic.com)
In fact, it’s family that has most inspired Alonzo in her own activism. “My grandma and great grandma and mom were always the type of people to give the shirt off their backs to anyone in need.” Her great grandparents were Gold Star parents, that is, immediate family members of a fallen service member who died while serving in a time of conflict (hopeforthewarriors.org). Alonzo’s grandmother opened the Gold Star chapter in Laredo, Texas. She, too, was a musician. “She was always the woman to call to sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’” says Alonzo. “She loved her community; if someone got married, she’d write a song, if someone had a baby, she wrote a song. She sang songs in English and Spanish. And she did taxes for the people in the community, too, even when they couldn’t pay her. They [the women in her family] were always just kind women and genuinely cared about their community.”
Alonzo’s lyrics and music are just one avenue in which she expresses her own brand of activism, now. Organizations such as the Martinez Women’s Shelter and the P.E.A.C.E Initiative are dear to her heart, and she’s participated in Fiesta Cornyation for the past four years it was produced (barring, of course, cancellation in 2020). The proceeds from the popular satirical comedy show are donated to the San Antonio Aids Foundation (sanantonioaids.org) and Thrive Youth Center, “whose mission is to provide a safe, effective, and supportive center for homeless LGBTQ youth, so they may become productive, skilled, educated, and successful adults with the ability, opportunity, and possibility of achieving their dreams” (thriveyouthcenter.org).
Alonzo has also taught keyboard for and volunteered at the San Antonio Girls Rock Camp, since its inception in 2016, a non-profit that “empowers girls to cultivate self-confidence and freedom of creative expression through music and art” (sanantoniogirlsrock.org). And she DJ’d events for M.O.V.E Texas — Mobilize. Organize. Vote. Empower — an organization that advocates for “underrepresented youth communities through civic engagement, leadership development, and issue advocacy” (movetexas.org).
But Alonzo also works as a teacher’s aide for special needs children in an elementary school. She says she works with children who already express their unique personalities and she wants to be a part of providing a safe and protective space for her students to continue expressing themselves. She’d like to pursue a teaching certificate, when she can, to teach in the classroom—or zoom rooms, as is our current situation.
Musically, Alonzo has more recently performed a handful of times at The Witte Museum for the event Cocktails and Culture. “They’re good with social distancing,” she says, “and I get to sing in front of a T-Rex, so that’s pretty awesome. It’s one of my favorite things to do, every couple months, just to be able to perform.” And, while waiting for vaccines to roll out and venues to reopen, Alonzo focuses much of her time, now, on modular, pop, dance, and synth music, with different kinds of beats. “All we can do right now is hone our craft, so I’m honing my craft.”
She notes a project she did back in December and then for February, where she offered to write commissioned songs. The public response was immediate. She says she wrote 40 songs in December and 20 songs for February. It was challenging, she admits, to “pop out tracks like that” but she likes to improvise and she’s starting to learn how to improvise with lyrics. “It’s been an interesting process to learn about myself — I was writing 10 or 15 songs in a day — it was rough, but it was fun.”
Founder, High Voltage Music Program
Bell Solloa comes from a family of entrepreneurial women, so developing an after-school organization, High Voltage Music Program, for the Southside was, perhaps, predestined. Bell’s father, an immigrant from Mexico, a Lucha Libre wrestler and a tailor, quickly became known in their humble community as the person to see when a stitch or press was needed. But, it was Bell’s mother that helped turn Mr. Solloa’s craft into a profitable business that would fully support their family, which included their four daughters.
As Bell explained, Mrs. Solloa got her husband set up in a small tailoring shop inside their first duo business, which was Glovers Cleaners and the alteration shop, then helped to procure a contract with the military. Tailoring requests quickly multiplied, so Mrs. Solloa then procured a larger workspace on Nogalitos St. in San Antonio as Alamo Uniforms. They employed several women as seamstresses from Mexico to help sew his hand-cut uniforms.
Even before the tailoring businesses, Mrs. Solloa co-owned a grocery store, ran concessions at wrestling matches, and was a successful real estate agent. Then, in the late 80s, not long after West Point admitted the first women, Bell’s mother submitted a contract proposal. Her father made a uniform from the pattern sent by the military, and the Solloas were awarded the contract. This attracted the attention of high ranking military officials who flew in to get measured and have their uniforms made or altered by Mr. Solloa, specifically. Other local organizations, such as a mariachi group, and King Antonio and his court, also enlisted the Solloas’ services and expertise.
When an order for West Point was fulfilled, and the completed custom uniforms were shipped in groups, in extra large coat boxes, upstate, the military would fly the Solloas out to make any needed alterations for each of the cadets, individually. Bell remembers traveling with her parents on these trips; on each trip, which occurred twice each year, their parents would take a different sister to help with the family business.
So when Bell had a son of her own, and when Jeremy became a teenager, she was well-equipped with the knowledge and determination needed to found and make successful the High Voltage Music Program.
Solloa is an avid music lover and had already established herself as a stage manager and booking agent for local clubs, venues, and organizations. In the early 80s, her love for rock music was ignited when her older sister, Nora, returned from New York after visiting an avid punk rock friend. Bell recalls how her sister brought back suitcases of records of punk bands that were (at the time) hardly known outside the big city.
Immediately, Solloa and her sisters ignited a youthful punk rock trend throughout their Southside community. Music appreciation had come early for Bell. Then, when Jeremy’s Uncle Ruben gifted him a drum set when he was four, and when Solloa put the drumsticks into her young son’s hands, he took to them immediately. “He can play several instruments and has a knack for just figuring them out,” she explains (a talent likely cultivated by advice and lessons from many of the musicians Solloa has managed on stage, or provided advice to). In fact, having a place and peers for her son to perform with was her main inspiration. As she explains, Jeremy met all the members of his two current bands through the High Voltage classes and open workshops.
And High Voltage is very much a program that has evolved from the convergence of many crossroads: from there being a specific need, at a specific time, when that need could be recognized by a specific school, and with Bell having the right skills to organize it all—thus, opportunity was a boon.
As Solloa explains, there weren’t any music programs on the Southside and certainly no rock music programs. She wanted to create a safe space for kids to gather, especially kids that might be more isolated at school or home. But she also wanted to provide the students an opportunity to not only learn music but to cultivate playing with one another. Performing together is a cornerstone of the program. It’s what she and the other instructors—such as Buttercup Bassist Odie Cole, who has been with High Voltage since day one, and Patrick Pena of Harvey McLaughlin and Echo Ozuna—have cultivated. “As working musicians, they understood the challenges that the youth might face in today’s climate, and how music could be a great escape,” Solloa explains.
So in 2017, Solloa asked the principal of IDEA South Flores if she could “borrow a classroom to teach some kids music lessons after school.” The principal thought it was a great idea. Within a couple of weeks a grant was offered to continue and to expand to a second class—thus High Voltage was officially born. The program continues to organically grow and thrive and is now expanding to other IDEA schools, with free workshops during the summer for any San Antonio teen.
Solloa has been able to attain additional grants from Rackspace and Guitar Center, which she uses to procure instruments and pay instructors. The program has also received instrument support from local businesses, such as Robot Monster Guitars, and donations from local musicians, since its inception. The young musicians in the program do not pay to participate or for the instrument they choose to learn. This was an important detail for Solloa. She wanted High Voltage to be accessible for students who would not usually participate in extracurricular activities due to equipment costs. She also knew that this program might attract students who are non-conventional, or who desired to learn but did not have the means.
Before the nationwide shutdown from the ongoing pandemic, the students of High Voltage were performing at events regularly at some well-established venues around town, including The Paper Tiger on the St. Mary’s strip; Francis Bogside, which hosted the High Voltage annual Spring Break concert; and the Rock Box, which hosts “Teens on a Mission,” an event also produced by Ms. Solloa to expand the realm for talented teens, including having teen vendors, artists, and of course the High Voltage bands, as well as other area teen bands. Once again, Solloa’s experience booking local bands meant she had the right professional connections to procure venues for her burgeoning students.
And students love High Voltage so much they hate to leave it after high school graduation. But, as Solloa tells them, they are always welcome to come back to share their experiences and to help new students, as alumni.
For now, the students of High Voltage are still practicing—by Teams. But they are all eager to get back to playing in person, as a band, the way they were meant to perform. “For our students, we will continue to regroup and be here, until it’s clear to turn it up, and rock out together in-person, once again, even if it’s at a distance, and while wearing masks. We will roll with technology and live stream, record, and do what we can, as long as we can, because for some it’s all they want, it’s what they do, and it’s who they are—they are musicians,” says Solloa.
In 2020, her son Jeremy graduated from IDEA South Flores, receiving a full scholarship to St. Mary’s University, where he is studying for his music degree. He has even started teaching in the High Voltage program, himself. And that’s exactly what Bell wanted for her son and the other students participating in the program. It is an opportunity to cultivate their skills and to position themselves for future success.
Professional Artist and Founder, Alta Vista Arts Committee
Jennifer Khoshbin, a longtime resident and professional artist in San Antonio divides her work into a personal and public space on her artist site (jenkhoshbin.com), but she also has a vibrant community space where the two converge.
With a background in sociology and an inclination for art-making that was fostered by family at an early age — both her grandfather and uncle are master carpenters; her mother is a ceramic artist; her brother a curator; and her sister is a new media artist — Khoshbin explains how these are just a few of the seeds that when planted have made her who she is today.
In her neighborhood community, just north of downtown, she has been integral in getting a verdant community garden thriving (before the polar vortex hit South Texas, that is—but, it will most certainly thrive again). She also started the Alta Vista Arts Committee for the neighborhood association, and, most recently, spoke with neighbors via Zoom to organize a wildflower initiative (another project emblematic of seeding and growth, a theme that runs throughout her work).
Her work is dedicated to bringing art into the community, outside of the traditional gallery settings, including: public art murals; public art sculptures; temporary poetry sculpture signs; and audio works heard over the telephone, among others projects. “At the heart of my art and community building,” Khoshbin explains, “is an emphasis on a healthy community and creating uplifting, meaningful spaces for all to enjoy and flourish in. Art often transforms us, sometimes briefly, sometimes for a lifetime. Successful projects that excite and inspire through narrative depth and visual beauty both honor and unite a community.”
In 2019, through the San Antonio Street Art Initiative, Khoshbin created a mural on the side of the Janal Wholesale building along N. St. Mary’s St. called “Sisterhood,” in which 11 women of various ages and ethnicities sit with or lean upon one another. The 8′ X 20′ piece is painted with vibrant hues of pinks, yellows, and blues, and the women present a sense of universality, as well as individuality: universal in that facial features are purposely absent; individual in that each figure has unique traits, style, or dress — such as the girl with long, auburn pigtails; or the woman with hijab draping upon her shoulders; or one woman with her hair pulled back in a playful pouf; and another with a Rastafarian tam cap; along with some who have flowers tucked above their ears.
But to say that Khoshbin is simply an artist or a citizen occasionally engaged in her community would be a wild understatement — her work meets at the cross-section of activism and well-honed skill. She explains that her public works are intended for a broad audience of all ages, interests, cultures, and economic backgrounds. She takes into account inclusivity and positive messaging in all her works.
In developing her murals, in particular, Khoshbin explains, she begins by creating an image, small-scale, before projecting it onto paper on her studio wall. She then cuts out the dominating shapes and sections to use at the physical site. The process allows her more time to work in solitary contemplation with a design, in a comfortable space, before going out into a more demanding and public environment.
In a mural located downtown, titled “Interwoven,” Khoshbin painted five refugee and immigrant women — from Afghanistan, Turkey, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti — that are based on seamstresses all living in San Antonio.
She has been working with the San Antonio Refugee Center for the past four years, collaborating with women in a variety of fundraisers and ongoing public art projects exhibited at Artpace, in NYC, and in Washington DC. “Working with the diverse communities helps highlight the cultural richness of San Antonio,” she explains, “and allows often marginalized communities to have a voice.” Khoshbin is able to employ several refugee seamstresses who collaborate by sewing sections of an ongoing series of tapestries. And she is able to pay the seamstresses as much as high profile collaborating artists. In this way, she ensures there are no unfair hierarchies, as she says.
Sometimes to see a project to completion, Khoshbin engages not only in art making, organizing, and community outreach, but she invests a significant amount of time researching opportunities, gathering relevant materials, undertaking grant writing, and submitting proposal after proposal to unearth funding that is often competed for by a multitude of working artists.
But it is this dedication, determination, and concern for her community that keeps her seeking out opportunities to not only create art but to promote equality, justice, and kindness through her art.
Khoshbin exhibits in galleries, museums, and public spaces throughout the United States. Her work has been published and written about widely, including Newsweek, Readymade, House Beautiful, Glamour, HGTV, and published in six different art and craft books.
Licensed Master Social Worker; Co-Founder and Director of P.E.A.C.E. Initiative
As Patricia Castillo cultivated her porch space at the Westside home she grew up in (but no longer resides in), she pulled from a festive floral bag three books, a Sanctuary candle, a clay copal burning dish called a Sahumador, and a clay turtle. Castillo, born into the Westside, has had that local Westside pride—she says “you can take the girl out of the Westside but you can’t take the Westside out of the girl”—from the beginning.
The turtle, Castillo explains, reminds her of her 2nd boss Charles Middleton, now deceased, who was the Executive Director of the R.O.B.B.E.D. organization, which stood for Residents Organized for Better and Beautiful Environmental Development. She worked as a community organizer there. Middleton kept a small turtle village in an aquarium in his office to remind him of his purpose. He used to say, “Every time a turtle moves, it sticks its neck out to move forward—that’s an organizer, there’s risk involved!” But turtles also make progress steadily, and with determination, even if it seems to take more time to those moving faster in a thrill-seeking world. Castillo explains, “It’s taken 40+ years to work on this issue of domestic violence in San Antonio, speaking truth to power, progressing steadily, and with determination, for my life’s work.”
The books Castillo has included—Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky; No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder; and The Courage to Heal Workbook by Laura Davis—are ones that have helped with community activism, and helped when working through the emotional fallout that occurs from being a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, which Castillo has experienced in her own life. “Taking on the new job at P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, to address domestic violence and the deeply rooted power structures undergirding its practice in the community, meant I had to go inward. I had to deal with my own demons first, to not be vulnerable to whatever might have been used to discredit or challenge my work on behalf of women and families. I knew I had to heal myself first before I was in a position to heal others and my community,” she explained.
Domestic violence was something Castillo was familiar with, as it was all around her growing up. Statistically, there is a clear correlation between educational opportunity, economic stability, and the rise in violence. And in the Edgewood district, where Castillo went to school as a youth, students in the 8th grade were reading with 5th grade level materials. As Castillo recalls, a teacher told her parents, “‘If you don’t get her into a school that challenges her, you’ll lose her to the streets.”
“Getting lost to the streets” is a frequent refrain for many young people growing up in economically and educationally under-served areas—of any city. Castillo was lucky in that her parents acted. They were able to move to a north side school district, where Castillo completed her formative education. But, many kids and families are unable to make such a change.
Now, to know of Patricia Castillo’s activism is to think of her as larger than life, and she is!—with a vibrant, verbose personality. At the same time, the petite-in-stature S.A. native is one of the founders, along with Jane Shafer, then the director of the Center for Women in Church and Society-OLLUSA, and now board president of the P.E.A.C.E Initiative, an organization created as a response to domestic violence (thepeaceinitiative.net). P.E.A.C.E. stands for Putting an End to Abuse through Community Effort. As Castillo explains, “The name derived from the fact that survivors who informed the Initiatives work, at the time, strongly suggested they just wanted to live in peace.”
The P.E.A.C.E Initiative is the organization Castillo may be most well-known for and one which she has worked on since 1990. It was originally founded under the auspices of the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne and through this non-profit, Castillo speaks to organizations, “and anyone who will listen, about violence against women, family and relationship violence prevention and intervention, calling for the ‘systems change work’ needed.” As Castillo explains, “For the community to effectively respond to this pervasive and often deadly social ill, efforts must be collaborative, comprehensive, and complementary. This is especially true now due to domestic violence impacting communities at pandemic levels never before seen.”
And the use of the term “pandemic” is not flippant. There has been much discussion about the rise in violence during the pandemic, with families now more restricted in living spaces, while schools, libraries, and many workplaces are closed. As noted on the website for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Before the pandemic, a survivor or victim could flee a violent situation or file a protective order with the police. For many, such options aren’t easily available right now. A stay-at-home order can force victims to stay in a dangerous situation” (samhsa.gov). Now, there is, at least, more information and acknowledgement of potential circumstances for violence. There are more resources available for people who need help.
In the early 90s, Castillo explained, domestic violence was often unseen and overlooked in San Antonio, and Castillo has worked diligently and tirelessly to get the necessary eyes focused on the significantly high domestic violence cases in Bexar county. Most recently, under a previous administration, points out Castillo, it was discovered that only 2% of cases were being prosecuted in Bexar County. Nationally, it was considered a failing rate when only ~40% of domestic violence cases were prosecuted. This sort of failure on the part of the city and county is no longer the case, and this is the kind of ‘systems change work’ now happening, Castillo explains.
Castillo explains that oversight, when it finally began in the early 1990s, had a lot to do with a particular case that caught the attention of media, city officials, residents, and activists, alike. “During a presentation before City Council where we were asking for a reallocation of funds to address domestic violence by way of increased police training, personnel growth, and added prioritization, a murder-suicide situation occurred at the Alamosa Café and Bar,” a long gone bar and eatery on the St. Mary’s strip—the popular and busy entertainment district in midtown (close to the current and well-known Pearl Brewery area). It was the scene of a very public incident when the husband of a woman who had just applied for a protective order the day before and was planning on filing for divorce, arrived at her work. The woman planned to tell her estranged husband to leave, explaining to her boss that she would be right back. When she stepped outside of the establishment, her estranged husband shot her and then shot himself. For seemingly the first time, city representatives took notice. A violent domestic murder and suicide had just taken place in an economically thriving area where locals and tourists alike frequented. It was a situation that could no longer be ignored. Castillo explains,
“Due to all the proceedings that happened that day, the City voted to reallocate half a million dollars from their human and social services resources to establish a specialized unit within the police department to specifically focus on domestic violence. This was not a welcomed decision by the powers that be, but it happened, nevertheless.”
According to the American Psychological Association (apa.org), “More than 4 million American women a year are physically attacked by their male partners.” Castillo points out that according to the Texas Council on Family Violence, “In Texas, 1 out of 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime, and 74% of all Texans know someone who lives with violence in their family.” And, though domestic violence occurs in many different types of relationships, including same-sex partnerships, as well as against men in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, women are more likely to be the victims. During the same period of time as the case at Alamosa, “From 1990 through 1994 the deaths of nearly 11,000 people age 18 and over resulted from one partner killing another, with women almost twice as likely to be victims of such fatal partner violence as men” (apa). Today in the U.S., 20 people experience intimate partner violence every minute — 10 million annually (NCADV).
The numbers are staggering. But Castillo has dedicated her life to decreasing those numbers. It’s a career path that may have been very different had a very specific and unexpected opportunity not been presented her. Even with a better educational opportunity during high school, when Castillo considered her future, she didn’t see a lot of opportunity. College seemed out of reach, the costs too prohibitive. She considered joining the U.S. Army, instead. As Castillo explains, she no longer wanted to be a burden to her parents and wanted to be able to see the world too. “Military service was part of the family history, so why not? It felt right to make [my] own way,” she recalls. She had completed all the requirements to join, save for the final signing of her contract to enlist; unbeknownst to her, her father, at the very same time, had been speaking with the bursars at Our Lady of the Lake University and had secured a scholarship for his daughter. Castillo knew nothing of the scholarship, until, walking across the stage at her high school graduation, it was announced. As Castillo explained, “My dad saved my life!” And, laughing, she continued, “Can you imagine me in the army? I would have questioned too many orders in a career field where that gets you nothing but trouble!”
And with the recent wave of sexual abuse allegations that have come to the forefront of military society, it is not hard to imagine how Castillo’s determination to root out and abolish violent assault would have gotten her reprimanded in an environment that has seemed to squash allegations more often than investigate. In a report by ABC News (“Military sexual assault victims say the system is broken,” August 28th, 2020), in which figures were obtained from the Department of Defense “there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault in all branches of the military . . . during 2019.”
Castillo and other activists against domestic and sexual violence and assault still have much to do. But getting domestic violence cases prosecuted is often wrapped in a political quagmire, very much dependent on the priorities of different administrations and appointments. As Castillo notes, some “4,500 cases of domestic violence were backlogged while Nicholas LaHood served as District Attorney [in Bexar county from 2015–2018].”
And with another mayoral race on the horizon, Castillo is reminded of the previous one, when she worked with Ellen Riojas Clark, Kathy Sosa, and Norma Cantú, the author of the afterward for Revolutionary Women of Texas and Mexico: Portraits of Soldaderas, Saints, and Subversives, and numerous other women, to prevent a candidate with a documented record of domestic abuse from winning. “The struggle is never over,” says Castillo, but she continues to strive and work toward that better society in which violence in families, among partners, between people will decrease.
According to the World Health Organization, “There is growing recognition that violence against women is not about random isolated events but a well-documented pattern of behavior that violates the rights of women and girls and limits their participation in society. It damages their health and well-being. When looking at all its intersections, it becomes clear that violence against women is a global public health problem that affects approximately one third of women globally.” Castillo adds, “Women as the mainstay in most families, need to be safe, healthy, educated and respected as part of their success.”
She maintains an unrelenting commitment to this work, considering a recognition that “domestic violence will not end within my lifetime. But the work that I do now will affect the next seven generations that come after me, as a Chicana, indigena, aware of the intergenerational rippling power we all possess to transform, recreate, and heal our lineage and that of those who live amongst us.”
The following websites provide statistics and information about domestic violence and resources about prevention and assistance:
Certified Dementia Practitioner, Speaker for Autism Awareness, and Former Director of Activities at The Lodge at Leon Springs
For Nakita McClure, it’s all about family. Home is where the heart is and it’s home where her activism starts. McClure is also an organizer, poet, and business woman, as well as the director of activities at The Lodge at Leon Springs, a large care senior living community. She’s been involved in community care for decades. As McClure says, with a laugh, “I’ve been an activities director since high school, calling out those bingo numbers. . .”
But, in true earnestness, it takes a special person who not only will provide consistent care and attention to our elderly populations but who wholeheartedly enjoys taking care of people—while also bringing joy to their lives.
McClure was just about to make a long-time coming transition from director of activities at the senior living community to owner of a small-group memory care establishment, a plan she has been working on with her husband. They intend to use the house they own in a Northeast neighborhood of San Antonio to care for a handful of residents. Nakita is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, as well as having studied political science at UTSA, and business management at the University of Houston. Her daughter is a comfort aide and plans on becoming a nurse to help with their assisted living clients, once their home is ready.
But just as they were finishing up the details of opening their private healthcare establishment, everything was placed on hold, while Covid-19 swept the globe. In the meantime, the McClures are continuing to renovate the four room house to allow for additional ease of wheelchair movement.
The transition to small group care is something Nakita still plans to do—when things begin to open up—because she feels it will be best for her and for her family, as she is herself immunocompromised. The forty-six year old mother of three is a cancer survivor. She understands how important it is to have good care while the body is being uncooperative. At 27, after having two of her children, she underwent chemo treatments for cervical cancer. When the cancer spread to her uterus, the situation led to an emergency hysterectomy. But McClure knew she wanted more children, so she and her husband adopted their third child, a son who is now 15 years of age.
During those school years with her children, McClure focused her time and attention on teaching others about autism awareness. Her older son, now 22, is her inspiration for speaking at schools in San Antonio about the challenges of certain developmental skills but also about the unique and endearing perspectives her son expresses—the way, for example, he can wholly embrace and emulate all the characters in his favorite movies.
“I speak at schools about his journey,” Nakita explains. “The principal of my son’s elementary school had asked me to speak at assembly to help bring awareness to autism and mental retardation. My son is on the spectrum for both disabilities.” Then, two years ago, she spoke at the Harmony Science Academy, as well. “My motivational talk is called ‘Join Them On Their Journey’,” she explains. “My saying is do not let your child’s disability define who they are. Join them on their beautiful journey of life.” Mrs. McClure’s journey with her son led her to volunteer her time to the Special Olympics, as well.
And, while waiting for the time she and her family can open the doors to their small-home health care business, McClure is acting in a movie, currently being shot, which is based upon a play titled Only God Can Change Me. The movie, written and directed by Jerry Weekly, shows the struggles of a family. The matriarch, Charlene—who Nakita plays—turns to her faith in God to deal with the issues her family is facing.
In her downtime, though, it’s all about her grandson, who she loves spending time with and for whom she is often inspired to write poetry.
Tamara Adira Say
Founder and Artistic Director of Arte y Pasión: Flamenco and Spanish Dance Company
Tamara Adira Say is a modern-day Renaissance woman. Her talents, interests, and skills span multiple disciplines, including not only flamenco dance—for which she is best known—but also architecture, as a former officer with the United States Air Force, to program management, to human rights activism. She’s been listed as Texas’ “Top 50 Women to Watch,” speaks multiple languages, and is the founder and artistic director of Arte y Pasión: Flamenco and Spanish Dance Company, for which she’s been recognized as an Artist Foundation of San Antonio Award Winner for both “Original Theatrical Production” (2010) and “Original Choreography” (2015).
Adira Say held certifications from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and the American Institute of Architects, and she holds a BS from MIT and a Masters in Architecture from Tulane University. She’s also chief executive officer of SAYTR Advisory & Assistance, a management consulting firm, as well as being a grant, proposal, and technical writer. She volunteers in her community and knows a wealth of talented souls with whom she works on a consistent basis.
But those descriptions only scratch the surface of what this entrepreneurial woman does in her community and as an activist through the arts. Many of the flamenco productions Adira develops are meant to provide social commentary on or the recognition and reckoning of social issues.
For example, in 2019, Adira produced Mantas de Luz (Blankets of Light), which “explores political and human rights themes.” The story is told through vignettes in the form of a flamenco opera, from the perspective of a 12-year old girl, Ana, who lives in an unnamed detention camp at the U.S.-Mexico border. As explained in the production notes, “While we do not know if she is still in the detention center, her writings are marked with her hope in humanity, and hopes for her own dreams and future.” It is easy to see the way this story mirrors another well-known story of persecution, that of Anne Frank, a young Jewish diarist who hid with her family, beginning in 1942, to avoid persecution in Germany. The operetta by Arte is “dedicated to those who have to endure life in detention camps at the border” and “refers symbolically to the silver aluminum foil blankets: what purports as a symbol of protection becomes instead a symbol of exposure.”
In this production and all the others, Adira is active in each and every aspect: developing storylines, envisioning costumes, sketching scenes with watercolors and colored pencils, contacting fellow artists to perform, writing program notes, submitting grant proposals, preparing press kits, engaging the media, securing venues and holding rehearsals, as well as practicing for and performing in the productions, herself.
But, she’ll also be the first to tell you that it is wholly a group effort. While she puts in a huge amount of time ensuring a performance can take place, she also collaborates with the singers, musicians, artists, poets, and other dancers, with whom she works. She listens to suggestions, incorporates ideas, gives of her time and attention, and allows space for people to cultivate their own crafts, as part of those productions.
Even when not overtly addressing issues of social injustice, Adira is contemplating, through music and dance, the emotions and interactions, hopes and joys, sadnesses and complexities of being human. In 2014, Arte’s production of Angel of Gravity explored “the dynamics of the most catalytic of relationships that occur in human experience” and the production of Algoritmos (Algorithms) explored “juxtaposing flamenco with modern movement and fine art to explore the beauty of math in movement [also as a way of acknowledging that] art is the act of re-creation of the Human Spirit.” In 2016, Arte’s production of Colores (Colors) at the Carver Community Cultural Center, explored “the stories of where we come from, the colors of all of us” bringing together musicians and dancers from San Antonio, New Mexico, San Francisco, Spain, and France. Also in 2016 was Arte’s performance of A Glass of Wine, in response to the recent election that had shocked so many people in the creative world, which explores “the intimacy of a moment, escape, and frivolity of guilty pleasure in light of a world of growing alienation and violence.”
In 2017, Arte performed at San Antonio College for the Multicultural Conference Opening Ceremonies with a ceremony of dance, music, and poetry for the interment of a musical time capsule marking the San Antonio Tricentennial. In 2018, Arte performed at the San Antonio Museum of Art in the production of Siete Aguas (Seven Waters),which focused on the way water draws or moves cultures into communication, forming a “cultural reciprocity,” such as when the art of Flamenco gathered influences from “Spain, the Moors, the Jews, and the Gypsies who originated from India and traveled to San Antonio by the same thread of culture.”
Recently, Adira has been working with San Antonio’s Poet Laureate, Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson. For February, with sponsorship from DreamWeek/DreamVoice and Carmens de la Calle, and in honor of Black History Month, they produced Grito de los Árboles (Scream of the Trees) for the 2021 DreamWeek/DreamVoice vision of “Revealing the Genius Within: A More Equitable and Enlightened Society.” The mission of DreamWeek/DreamVoice is to “celebrate our humanity by creating environments for civil and civic engagement to embrace ideas and dreams for the common good.”
Grito de los Árboles was performed and recorded at Adira’s outdoor stage, which she had built in response to the pandemic, due to venues being closed and performances being cancelled. The repurposed stage is actually part of the former outside stage from Fitzgerald’s Bar and Live Music Venue, which had to modify their space during this past year.
GRITO culminated in Adira’s first full-length flamenco film. Due to social distancing, the project allowed for a collaboration with artists currently battened down in Spain, France, Los Angeles, and New York, including Jose Cortes, Manuel Gutierrez, and San Antonio’s own Darian Thomas who frequently found space with Arte to develop and polish his performance skills and who was recently mentioned in a New York Times article titled “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love The Violin.” GRITO included technique and choreography incorporated by Adira through training by masters of flamenco Daniel Caballero, Belen Maya, Nino de los Reyes, Triana Maciel, and Antonio Canales.
But that’s just it. Pandemics don’t stop injustice. In some places, they simply exacerbate inequalities and deplenish resources that are already scarce. And, artists don’t stop creating. Even during the ongoing pandemic, Adira continues to cultivate her art and spotlight issues affecting justice and equality.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, San Antonio State Hospital, Rape Crisis Center; Former Case Manager, San Antonio AIDS Foundation
Jamie Johnson, originally from Decatur, Alabama, is a social worker that has quietly and humbly served San Antonio for more than twenty years. She lives her life in service to others. She is the person that will never simply walk by an animal that appears lost, or sick, or in need. She will never forsake a person’s request for help. She’ll never turn a blind eye to those who are struggling.
But when I reached out and asked her to participate in the porch photography session for the project Valiant Women Then and Now, Johnson was the first—and only—to decline.
She didn’t turn down the request because she thought the project was lacking in importance, she turned down the request because she felt there were so many other women who, as she explained, “have truly stepped up in the face of this crisis [during the pandemic].” She even offered to nominate other “very worthy women.” And, she confessed that lately she’d been struggling with the motivation and passion that she is used to bringing to her work. The burnout, she explained, is real, a sentiment we’ve all heard expressed by those working in healthcare this past year, struggling to keep their patients, themselves, and their families safe against a virus so devastating that it has swept the globe and taken over 500,000 lives, in the United States, alone.
But this project isn’t about women who never feel down, or never question what they are doing, or never feel overwhelmed by the seemingly invincible obstacles they encounter on their journeys and through their activism. This project is about women who continue the difficult work because it’s important, no matter how tired, or helpless, they may feel at certain points.
Because doing social work is hard. It requires resilience over the long haul. It requires caring for people day in and day out who may be extremely ill, with those facing the end of their lives, those grappling with debilitating diseases or mental illnesses, or with those who are struggling to keep going.
Fighting for the rights of others, protecting those rights, can seem a never-ending battle. And it’s understandable that some of our best social workers are struggling right now. They are the ones who have dedicated their lives to helping people, to fighting inequality and injustice, to serving their communities, which are in crisis. So naturally, those who care so strongly for people will feel the weight of the crisis even more strongly.
Ms. Johnson finally agreed, as a personal favor, perhaps—we’ve known each other for at least twenty years, as we used to be neighbors—to be a part of this project, but also because I expressed to her my sincerest belief that she is absolutely the right person to be included in this group of women activists; her partner believes it, too, and urged her to participate. And, I’m glad Ms. Johnson finally agreed.
The first thing to note about her dedication is her steadfast reliability for showing up to provide services for others. Johnson started volunteering at the Rape Crisis Center through AmeriCorps in 2005, which then transitioned into a part-time job, where she continues to work. From 2007 to 2012, she was employed at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, doing case management. During this time, Johnson had also started out at San Antonio College and then transferred to Texas State to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. In 2018, she became an LCSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, after completing the required clinical hours. “I’ve been doing social work for about 15 years!” she says, thinking back to her journey along this path.
“I think the values of public service were instilled in me through having a father who was a public school teacher and a mother who was a speech pathologist within the public school system,” says Johnson. “My mother, through her own service to others, specifically shaped me into the person I strive to be and the type of work I do. Being a social worker and working with the populations I’ve served, people living with HIV/AIDS, people with mental illness, and survivors of sexual assault, has grown to be a core part of my identity and the part of me that I am most proud of.”
Johnson now works at San Antonio State Hospital as a Social Worker, Level II. “Currently, I am working with people with chronic mental illness, many of whom have been hospitalized for extended periods, and for whom discharge planning is extensive, due to them having multiple barriers and lacking the support they need to be successful in the community. I work with the recovery team to provide treatment and care, lead groups, assist with their daily needs, to help improve their quality of life in the hospital, and to work with them and their families, when involved, with the goal of being discharged to the community.
“It’s important to add that one of my limitations that I battle with and am self-conscience about, because I know many givers/care takers/service providers in our community whose efforts seem tireless, is being overwhelmed and burned out with meeting the demands of my work, my home life, and other passions that I pursue. While [this type of work] contributes to the burnout, it is also from [my patients] that I gain immeasurable fulfillment and meaning. It is such an honor and privilege to be a part of their lives and to bear witness to their resiliency.”
Briefly, Johnson did a stint at the Alamo Area Resource Center, where she had an opportunity to lead one-on-one and group therapy sessions with people living with HIV/AIDS, but the value she felt when working on a team of caretakers led her back to SASH. “I very much enjoy the collaborative nature of my work as a social worker on a recovery team,” she explains. “There is something powerful about being a part of a group or team who share in a common mission, and there is continuous opportunity for growth and learning when working with professionals with differing perspectives, knowledge and skills.”
One of the quotes Ms. Johnson keeps close is from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning:
Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
This quote, it seems, very truly touches on the cornerstone of what motivates Johnson in her life’s work. That it is through love, the giving and the receiving of love that we are saved, that life is worth living, that hope abounds, that the possibility of a future remains. And this is what, I think, Ms. Johnson provides to those she has counseled and cared for—love and salvation.
President and Executive Director of Black Freedom Factory; Co-Founder of #ChangeRapeCulture
Kimiya Factory is the President and Executive Director of Black Freedom Factory and the Co-founder of #ChangeRapeCulture. In each role, she helps to organize and lead discussions, teach others, and communicate her expectations and hopes for a more just society. As Factory explains, those hopes are to “validate the individual experiences of survivors, of entrepreneurs and professionals, and vulnerable communities for the future of diversity and inclusion.”
Factory is originally from Austin, Texas, where she served as the Assistant News and Arts & Life Editor and was an advice columnist for UTSA’s independent school newspaper, The Paisano. She moved to San Antonio to pursue a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Legal Studies from UTSA, and here she has made a second home (at least for the near future). While she has contemplated continuing her education and pursuing a law degree—studying Indigenous People’s Law, Civil Rights Law, and Criminal Justice—she has put that consideration on hold, while the nation grapples with the devastating effects of the pandemic. Factory is well versed, though, in policy and debate. She was a national contender on UTSA’s Debate Team, where she traveled around the nation and participated in CEDA, the Cross Examination Debate Association, and for several other tournaments, about policy, often being awarded first speaker for dialogue about anti-blackness and systemic oppression. As a CX Policy Debater, she learned how to make constructive arguments and rebuttals to her opponents’ arguments.
Factory currently serves on the Community Advisory Board for Pride Center SA, which is working to develop curriculum around LGBTQ+ Anti-Violence and Healthy Relationships. And she has recently participated in a talk, entitled “Being Black in the USA: The Crowns We Wear,” at A&M-SA with Valerie Reiffert, as well as being a part of the DreamWeek Panel for “Listen for a Change,” and the DreamHour Speaker Series (The Descendant Series).
Factory likely has a calendar peppered, already, for future lectures, discussions, and community dialogue for this year. She explains, “The most helpful aspect of participating in discussion is my experiences in community; the connections that I have made with people, and their stories, are the very thing that reminds me to be called to action. Issues of houselessness, discrimination, sexual assault and violence, all are very real issues that people face, and it is a privilege to be confided in and trusted with these stories. Participating in discussions is also a mutual form of education between myself and those I share a panel or forum space with. It’s always an opportunity to exchange understandings of lived experience.”
Factory’s website for Black Freedom Factory (BFF) is an all-stop station for information and resources for San Antonio. Some Pillars of Influence in the community are noted on the About page, such as Racism & Anti-Blackness, Public Health and Safety, Homelessness and Housing, Education Equity, and Food Sustainability. All city council members are identified in the section “Who Represents You?,” which includes an interactive city map. And the Blog space is grouped into four sections: News, Good Trouble, Doing the Work, and Re-defining Professionalism: Immigrants in the Boardroom Series.
Currently, Factory develops all written content for the site and curates the space but has plans for expanding the site to include additional voices from people of color and marginalized writers, focused through a journalistic lens. “We also will be releasing a space for ‘Community Data,’” she explains, “which will provide community resources and access to data that impact the districts and the city.”
A friend and co-advocate Sofia Zuani, the founder of Ojo Photography, takes many of the photographs for the Boardroom Series. Friend and co-advocate and photojournalist Bria Woods also collaborates on projects for Black Freedom Factory. “Woods is telling Black Women’s stories in the city,” says Factory. They often collaborate. In fact, Factory is featured for February’s The Black Herstory, a project in which Woods celebrates black women in the community, recording their voices as they speak about what brings them joy. In ‘herstory,’ Factory speaks, using a short poetic refrain, and ends her podcast with these words, “what brings me joy is the smile of a black baby, what brings me joy is the idea of constantly becoming a better me, what brings me joy is the kink of my curls, what brings me joy is ever having existed in this world.” *This exhibit is showing at the Impact Guild until March 31st.
Factory has also featured Woods in her Boardroom Series for BFF. Both women are highly engaged in promoting the empowerment of black women’s voices. And Factory is used to being one of those voices that gets heard. She has taken her ease and comfort in front of the media and the camera lens and used it to codify her position as a vocal activist for black lives and underserved populations.
And the Black Freedom Factory came about from a community ready to see justice, as well, for the unmediated killing of unarmed black men and other people of color. In a social media post on December 31st, 2020, Factory describes what she was feeling the moment a photo was taken of her, during the Black Lives Matter march that June.
In the photo, she is sitting upon the bottom sill of a cube-shaped stage that is painted black with white stars. Her chin is resting upon her fingers, grasping the mic she has been speaking through to the attentive (and masked) crowd, her face is angled down. Below her is a poster of George Floyd, with “Justicia” printed above him. Factory explains in her post:
To everything lost.
In this picture I was tired. And hot. And hurting. Thinking about how much more pain George Floyd was in as he gasped for air.
Then I got my ass up and kept marching because he couldn’t anymore. So many Black Lives couldn’t march, or laugh or live in this world anymore but the community that was left, could for them.
There is so much power in that. I didn’t know at that moment that Black Freedom Factory was born. I didn’t know that my oath to accountability began.
I guess all that I have to say about 2020 is that I’m nowhere near done yet. Change is nowhere near done yet.
The power of the people is the only awakening I’ll ever need.
And this awakening is her motivation for shedding light on injustices and inequalities within the black community. Her name has been popping up in multiple publications, for some time now, and her recognition and visibility is wholly due to, and well-placed, because of her complete engagement with and focus upon issues affecting the health and well-being of people of color and the LGBTQIA+ communities. As Factory explains, “The platform that I have is important because I hope that I may inspire the youth. It is important to me that Black children and children of Color see examples of their culture, background, and ethnicity wanting to make a change and challenge systems of oppression and institutional violence. The youth are the future.”
Kimiya Factory suggests the following readings for those willing and interested in learning more about black life, activism, women, people of color, marginalized communities, empowerment, and justice:
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E Anzaldúa
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E Anzaldúa
The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches by W.E.B. Du Bois
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis
Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis