Though 2022 had the promise of moving us past the COVID-19 pandemic and insurrectionists hell-bent on further suppressing Black votes, those realities remained with us, along with many more that showed themselves in the year’s big stories, city and statewide.
New leaders on college scene
There were several big happenings for area colleges and universities. Rice University, which was founded on the premise that no Blacks could enroll, welcomed its first Black and immigrant president, Dr. Reginald DesRoches. He was given the reigns of Rice, which had been dealing with the accusation that the school conspired to limit financial aid. Prairie View A&M University also welcomed a new president, Dr. Tomikia LeGrande, who is following in the footsteps of the incomparable Dr. Ruth Simmons. Before LeGrande started her tenure, Simmons represented PVAMU during the Defender’s premier HBCU Presidents Classic, a community conversation with Simmons and Texas Southern University President Lesia Crumpton-Young, facilitated by Defender Education Reporter Laura Onyeneho.
Few changes in politics
While the predicted “Red Wave” didn’t go down as planned nationally, it kinda did statewide, with incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott defeating challenger Beto O’Rourke and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick maintaining his seat. However, the O’Rourke influence helped facilitate positive election results for Democrats in Harris County, with Judge Lina Hidalgo fending off her Trump-supporting opponent. Additionally, State Rep. Ron Reynolds was named chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Jolanda Jones won the state rep. seat (District 147) occupied by Garnet Coleman since 1991 and Clifford Tatum came on to oversee Harris County elections. Still, during the November midterms, voters in Harris and surrounding counties encountered “issues” including voting machine failures and polling places opening up hours late.
Homicide rates rise and fall
In January, cries were heard over skyrocketing homicides in Houston, followed by the Mayor’s One Safe Houston plan to curb crime. By late May/early June Mayor Sylvester Turner and HPD were celebrating a dramatic decline in area homicides. However, road rage cases rose, as evidenced by the killing of Rev. Ronald K. Mouton Sr., pastor of East Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Though stats showed crime (including homicides) decreasing, high-profile crimes like the Galleria shooting, the murder of rapper Takeoff and even the Dallas-area shooting death of youth football coach Michael Hickmon kept the issue of “local” violence as the hot topic. Even efforts to curb violence, like the successful Houston Gun Buy Back events, were debated as either helping to reduce crime or hampering efforts to solve cases.
Social justice at the forefront
Again in 2022, there were far too many unarmed Blacks gunned down by local law enforcement, including Jalen Randle (April 27) and Roderick Brooks (July 8). Baytown officer Juan Manuel Delacruz, who shot and killed the grandmother Pamela Turner (May 2019) was tried this year, but to the dismay of Turner’s kin, found not guilty of first-degree aggravated assault. In the backdrop of these current cases remained Darius Elam, imprisoned for nearly 40 years, still fighting for his freedom. This happened as the paid HPD informant whose testimony against Elam was the deciding factor in his conviction of aggravated robbery recanted and said his testimony was a lie. Also, DNA evidence deletes Elam as a suspect. Still, the Honey Brown Hope Foundation and others are fighting simply to bring this case to the public’s attention.
K-12 education: Good and bad news
Across the state, 2022 witnessed a mass exodus of teachers from the classroom. Teachers gave various reasons for the move, including the stress of an increased workload, less support from administrators and parents and unrealistic expectations in the wake of lost student learning due to COVID. Racism reared its ugly head during Klein’s cheerleading tryouts. Also, student reading and math scores took a pandemic-related dive. But there was good news as well. HSPVA’s Black Alumni hosted a Homecoming extravaganza celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary, with guest artist Wynton Marsalis. . And several area students shone in their own way, including Claughton Middle School’s Nia Dyer who garnered the national gymnastics spotlight for her skills.
The May 24 Uvalde school massacre was a tragedy of immense proportions, and for several reasons. First, was the mind-numbing loss of life—19 elementary school children and two teachers. Then there was the epic fail of local law enforcement that saw nearly 400 officers stand around for over an hour while the shooter remained in the building with children who were continuing to call 911. The shooting also shined a light on Gov. Greg Abbott for 1) initially giving false information about the police response to the shooting and 2) his moves to make accessing military-grade weapons even easier for Texans.
Business highs and lows
In business, the Houston Area Urban League (HAUL) received the largest infusion of funds in its history when philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gifted the organization $4,2 million to support its many economic-related programs. And Black businesses need all the support they can get, especially with the fact that Black businesses were totally excluded from Harris Health System contracts. This “Blackout” is similar to the lack of contracts for Black businesses via Metro and the Port of Houston in 2021. It’s one thing to brag about Houston as the most diverse city in the nation. But to do so without diversification of contract dollars should be considered criminal.
Communities make headlines
In community news, Emancipation Park celebrated its 150th anniversary. Right across the street from the park, Project Row Houses is leading renovations of the iconic Eldorado Ballroom. Also, the Pleasantville Apartments, a space that specifically housed seniors for decades, had new ownership that moved to kick those seniors out. However, public pressure helped them remain housed. Another victory came as Freedmen’s Town won its battle to stay in 4th Ward. And St. John’s Downtown celebrated the 30th anniversary of Dr. Rudy and Juanita Rasmus’s powerful ministry. Yet, the struggle continues, as Fifth Ward residents are still fighting to get polluters to clean up their act. And though Houston’s Black maternity crisis persists, the Shades of Blue Project remains on the frontlines to provide solutions.
GLO guilty of flood relief funding discrimination
The U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that the Texas General Land Office discriminated against Houston/Harris County regarding the distribution of flood relief funding. Though Houston/Harris County suffered the bulk of the damage from Hurricane Harvey ($125B), the Texas agency led by George P. Bush, initially gave Harris County $175K and Houston received $0. The GLO funneled the lion’s share of the $2 billion to rural (read white) counties that barely suffered any Harvey-related damage at all.