A Defender Special

These are the stories that captured our interests all year long.

In 2022 we said “Goodbye” to individuals who played important roles on the local, state and national levels. They included activists, athletes, ministers, educators and entertainers. Though they came from different backgrounds, they all made an impact in one way or another.

Stephen “Twitch” Boss

The longtime dancing DJ on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” died on Dec. 13 at age 40. The Los Angeles coroner ruled his death a suicide. He started his tenure on DeGeneres’ show in 2014 and was promoted to co-executive producer in 2020. He was a runner-up on “So You Think You Can Dance” and later judged season 17. He appeared in the films “Step Up: All In” and “Magic Mike XXL.” He posted dance videos on TikTok with his wife, also a professional dancer.

Ken Burrough

The former Houston Oilers receiver died on Feb. 24 at age 73. Burrough spent 11 seasons in Houston, where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1975 and 1977. Burrough led the NFL in receiving yards in 1975 with a career-high 1,063. He piled up 6,906 yards receiving and 47 touchdowns with the Oilers, helping lead them during their Luv Ya Blue period, where they twice reached the AFC championship game. He played football and ran track at Texas Southern University.


The rapper, who was among hip-hop’s biggest names in the 1990s, died Sept. 28 at age 59. He won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the film “Dangerous Minds.” His career first took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” Its opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. His real name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr.

Lamont Dozier

The songwriter-producer and member of Motown’s celebrated Holland-Dozier-Holland team died Aug. 8 at age 81. The trio wrote and produced dozens of hits for the Supremes, Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye, including “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and “Heat Wave.” From 1963-67 Dozier and his brothers, Brian and Eddie Holland crafted over 25 top 10 songs and mastered the blend of pop and R&B. Dozier later found success in the music industry.

Clarence Gilyard

The co-star of the hit TV series “Matlock” and “Walker, Texas Ranger” died Nov. 28 at age 66. His death was announced by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he taught stage and screen acting. His career began in the 1980s with appearances on “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life.” He appeared in two of the biggest movies of the decade, “Top Gun” and “Die Hard.” His other credits included “The Karate Kid: Part II” and a stage production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Mattelia Bennett Grays

The longtime Houston educator and administrator and the 18th international president of Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc., died Nov. 3 at age 91. In 1968 she became the youngest person ever elected AKA president and led the sorority from 1970 to 1974. Her accomplishments included leading the sorority’s effort to purchase the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to teaching in Houston public schools, she served as principal of Rogers Educational Enrichment Center and HISD District III superintendent.

Cheryl Hickmon

The 27th national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., died on Jan. 20 at age 60. Hickmon had been a devoted sorority member since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, regional and national levels. She was elected national president and chair of the National Board of Directors in 2021. Hickmon was a licensed clinical laboratory technologist at an institute for reproductive medicine and health in Hartsdale, N.Y. and supervised the invitro fertilization laboratories for andrology and endocrinology.

Dorothy Pitman Hughes

The pioneering Black feminist, child welfare advocate and activist died on Dec. 1 at age 84. Hughes toured the country speaking with Gloria Steinem in the 1970s but her work was always rooted in community activism. She organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development to broaden childcare services in the city. She established a community center on Manhattan’s West Side offering daycare and job and advocacy training.

Barbara Jacket

The Prairie View A&M University women’s track and field pioneer and coach of the 1992 U.S. Women’s Olympic team died on Jan. 6 at age 87. Jacket, a Port Arthur native, attended Tuskegee Institute, where she was a thrower. After graduation, Jacket earned a master’s degree at PVAMU, and started the women’s track and field program in 1965. Her teams won 10 NAIA national titles, nine SWAC indoor titles and five outdoor crowns. She was named PVAMU athletic director in 1990.

Max Julien

The star of the classic 1973 film “The Mack” died Jan. 1 at age 88. In it he played Goldie, an ambitious Oakland pimp. The film first screened in mostly Black markets, where it was a huge hit. Julien, a classically trained actor, began his career in off-Broadway theater. His other film credits included “Psych-Out” and “Getting Straight.” Julien co-wrote and co-produced another popular Black film, 1973’s “Cleopatra Jones.” He made guest appearances on such TV series as “The Mod Squad.” 

Cheslie Kryst

The 2019 winner of the Miss USA pageant and a correspondent for the entertainment news program “Extra” died on Jan. 30 at age 30. Her death was ruled a suicide and police said she died after jumping from a Manhattan apartment building. Her family said she “embodied love and served others,” whether through her work as an attorney fighting for social justice or with her entertainment career. Kryst, a former Division I athlete competed in the Miss Universe pageant after winning the Miss USA title.

Ramsey Lewis

The renowned jazz pianist died Sept. 12 at age 87. Lewis’ career spanned more than 60 years, beginning with the Ramsey Lewis Trio. The trio’s first record was “Ramsey Lewis and the Gentlemen of Swing” in 1956. Lewis was revered in music circles for hits like “The ‘In’ Crowd,” “Hang on Sloopy,” “Wade in the Water” and “Sun Goddess.” Lewis earned three Grammy awards and seven gold records. He performed with stars such as Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Al Jarreau.

Roger E. Mosley

The actor best known as helicopter pilot T.C. in the 1980s TV series “Magnum, P.I” died Aug. 7 at age 83. He also guest-starred on episodes of the recent reboot. Mosley acted in dozens of movies and TV series, including “Sanford and Son,” “The Love Boat” and “Roots: The Next Generations.” After “Magnum, P.I.,” Mosley continued building his TV resume with recurring roles on such shows as “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” Mosley’s film credits included “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.”

LOS ANGELES – MARCH 29: Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in the STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES episode, “Assignment: Earth.” Season 2, episode 26. Original air date was March 29, 1968. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Nichelle Nichols

The actress who broke Hollywood barriers as Lt. Uhura on the original “Star Trek” TV series died July 30 at age 89. Her role in the 1966-69 series earned Nichols a lifelong position of honor with fans known as Trekkies. She also broke stereotypes that limited Black women to acting roles as servants. Nichols appeared in six big-screen “Star Trek” spinoffs and frequented fan conventions. She served for many years as a NASA recruiter, helping bring minorities and women into the astronaut corps.

Allen Parker

The former city and state official who was active in Houston politics and the Acres Homes community died Aug. 20 at age 81. Parker was assistant deputy director of the City of Houston Department of Planning & Development and retired in 2008. Earlier in his career, he was a labor leader with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 15 Union, which led to his appointment by Gov. Mark White as a commissioner with the Texas Department of Labor and Standards.

Sidney Poitier

The groundbreaking actor who transformed how Black people were portrayed on screen died on Jan. 6 at age 94. Poitier was the first Black actor to win an Oscar for best lead performance in 1964’s “Lilies of the Field.” In 1967 Poitier became the top box office draw with three popular movies, “To Sir With Love,” “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” and “In The Heat of the Night.” He directed and starred in such films as “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Buck and the Preacher.”

Bill Russell

Nathaniel S. Butler

The 11-time NBA champion and the league’s first Black head coach died July 31 at age 88. Russell was the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics dynasty in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He carried the team to the NBA Finals 12 times and won two titles as a player coach. Russell was an extraordinary shot-blocker who revolutionized NBA defensive concepts. As a civil rights activist, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and supported Muhammad Ali’s opposition to being drafted into the military.

Earnie Shavers

The hard-punching boxer who fought Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes died Sept. 1 at age 78. Shavers fought from 1969 to 1995 and compiled a record of 74-14-1 with 68 knockouts. Shavers lost a unanimous decision to Ali in 1977 for the heavyweight title. In 1979 he beat Ken Norton in the first round in what was considered one of his finest victories. Shavers later faced Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title in 1979. Holmes won the bout in the 11th round.

Bernard Shaw

The former CNN anchor and a pioneering Black journalist died Sept. 7 at age 82. Shaw was CNN’s first chief anchor and was with the network when it launched in 1980. Shaw reported on some of the biggest stories of the time, including the Gulf War in 1991 and the 2000 presidential election. He retired from the network in 2001. His first TV job was with CBS, where he covered the Watergate scandal. He later becomes ABC’s Latin America correspondent and bureau chief.

Paul Silas

The former NBA champion and coach, National Basketball Players Association president and father of Rockets coach Stephen Silas died Dec. 11 at age 79. Silas spent 16 years as a player, winning championships with the Celtics and Seattle SuperSonics. He coached with the San Diego Clippers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Hornets. He led Charlotte to four playoff appearances, including two trips to the Eastern Conference finals. Silas coached the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2003-2005 and was LeBron James’ first coach.

Andre Leon Talley

The towering figure in the fashion world died on Jan. 18 at age 73. Talley was a former creative director and editor-at-large at Vogue Magazine and fashion editor at Ebony Magazine. He stood 6 feet 6 and was often dressed in sweeping capes and colorful caftans. He was a regular in the front rows of fashion shows in New York and Europe. Talley served as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” and appeared in cameos in the “Sex and the City” movie and on “Empire.”

Joseph “Joe” Thomas

The well-known Acres Homes barber, mentor and family man died on Jan. 1 at age 94. Generations of customers frequented his shop and Mayor Sylvester received his first haircut from Joe’s. Thomas began cutting hair on West Montgomery Road and later purchased property on Ferguson Way. The shop was a haven for many boys and young men in the area. Thomas was often honored for his community involvement and Turner said he “touched a lot of people’s lives along with their heads.

Yvonne Washington

The noted Houston singer died Feb. 23 at age 72.  She could sing jazz, blues, gospel or pop music with ease, whether performing before presidents or at a piano bar. She sang internationally, sharing the stage with saxophonist Grady Gaines in the Netherlands and with her ensemble, Yvonne Washington and the Mix, in China. Her recordings included “Autumn in New York,” the title tune from the movie starring Richard Gere, “Trust Me” and a tribute to Billie Holiday.

Michael P. Williams

The founding pastor of Joy Tabernacle and former pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston died on March 4 at age 70. Williams was a third-generation Baptist pastor. In 2011 Joy Tabernacle rebranded The Genesis Church. Williams ministered on television and radio. In 1999 he was elected to the Houston Community College System Board of Trustees and twice served as board chair. He served on the faculties of the Houston Graduate School of Theology and the University of Houston.

Rayfield Wright

The Hall of Fame offensive tackle died on April 7 at age 76. Wright played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and was the backbone of the offensive line during the team’s rise to glory in the 1970s. Wright appeared in five Super Bowls and won two (VI and XII). He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2004. Wright was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s.