April 2024

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STAFF PICKS Admired woman-identified activist
FROM THE DESK OF Becky Bullard
GIVE BACK Tracy Frank
BY THE BOOK Terry P. Mitchell
MENTAL HEALTH IS WEALTH Sheroes of Social Change 48 HEALING Meme Styles 50 ON THE MONEY Save Money While Giving Back 52 LEADING GREEN BY ECOBRANDI Carmen Llanes Pulido 54 I AM AUSTIN WOMAN Sophia Strother 55 ARTS IN REVIEW Liz Carpenter 22 18 20 54 16

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D ON AT IO N S Shopping and donating at our home improvement stores helps Austin Habitat for Humanity partner with families to build or improve a place called home. Shop in-store or online at ShopAustinReStore.com! shop ReStore. SPRING SAVINGS with a cause.

4.30.24 / 6 - 9 P.M.

You're invited to an evening for all of Austin!


Austin Community Foundation envisions a vibrant and equitable community for everyone—we need all of Austin to make that vision a reality. Join us at Austin in Common, an evening of connection, celebration, and looking ahead to an Austin we all want. Together, we'll enjoy music by DJ Mel, local eats from primarily BIPOC- and woman-owned vendors, and powerful storytelling by an array of prominent Austinites.

Visit AustinInCommon.org to learn more and get your tickets today.



CY WHITE Managing Editor

NINA GLORIA Production Manager

JAIME ALBERS Creative Director


SHANNAN HALE Community Engagement Manager


VP of Business Operations



Marketing and Events


Media Sales Director

Media Sales Executives





Editorial: : Becky Bullard; Brandi Clark Burton; Deborah Hamilton-Lynne; Jenny Hoff; Bella Larralde; Isabel Neumann; Hannah Nuñez; Sophia Strother; Meme Styles; Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.Sc., Ph.D.(c); Cy White

Art: Sadé Lawson; Nicki Lemon; Carmen Llanes Pulido; Mia Olea Garza Photography; Romina Olson; Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.Sc., Ph.D.(c); Erin Walter


Bella Larralde, Isabel Neumann, Hannah Nuñez


MELINDA GARVEY Co-owner/Co-founder










This month, we asked our contributors: Who’s had a deep impact on you?


Stylist, “Aligning with Influence,” Pg. 32

• She is super into chemistry and biology.

• She loves going to the park to feed the ducks.

• Her favorite movie is Back to the Future. “My mom and grandma are two very important women who’ve shaped the woman I am. My big sister, Kween, has always been my shero and the one person who always takes up for me. A few more women to note: Louise Harris, Rose Smith, Terry P. Mitchell, June Ambrose, Lauren Messiah and Earlene Buggs.”


Writer, “Aligning with Influence,” Pg. 32

• Her favorite movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon

• She’s never seen Citizen Kane.

• She loves to cook, and especially to bake. “Nina Simone, as an artist and as a woman, has impacted me so deeply with her courage, her wisdom and her fearlessness.”


Photographer, “Aligning with Influence,” Pg. 32

• She is a fourth-generation Austinite.

• She shares the same birthday as Leonardo DiCaprio, on 11/11.

• She loves cloud watching with her two sons.

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“Any mother I meet always has a positive impact on me in one way or another.”


This letter has been harder to write than any, dear reader. So bear with me. Content warning for those sensitive to depictions of assault.

April is upon us, and with it, Austin Woman focuses on social impact. Particularly, we’re focusing on women-identified activists who have constantly and with little recognition altered the landscape of this city. Our cover woman, Pamela Benson Owens, is a storied activist, with years of experience fighting to protect and preserve the history of Black Austin. Allies Against Slavery have come together in the name of protecting and advocating for victims and survivors of modern-day slavery, including trafficking. For animals, who have no voices to raise, SARA founder Tracy Frank has ensured that those abandoned and traumatized find shelter, peace and a new lease on life. So many women within these pages have fought, stood strong in the face of ridicule and oftentimes violent pushback.

Activism, though incredibly rewarding, is heavy, frightening and very often lonely work. It doesn’t necessarily allow room for perceived weakness, vulnerability, grief. Many creatives, like myself, wouldn’t want to disrespect the work by calling ourselves activists. We’re relatively safe from repercussion, certainly in most instances from the threat of harm. It’s scary to put yourself out there, but it has to be done for the sake of everyone around you. So now I have o tell my story. I’m terrified, but it’s necessary.

During SXSW this year, I was verbally sexually assaulted. Five men surrounded me, and two of them wouldn’t let me leave. They didn’t take no for an answer; they ignored me telling them I had no money to give them. When I tried showing proof of this, they began to make vulgar comments about my body, then propositioned me. I won’t get into the details here, but every single word they said, every smile and chuckle, every time I tried to walk away and they wouldn’t let me, everything still lingers. I didn’t even know if I should tell this story because, listen, I know and love people who have suffered far worse. Physically, I’m fine. But I’ve never been surrounded by five people who just wanted money from me. When they confronted me, they had all the audacity in the world to believe they could say anything and treat me however they chose to get the reaction they wanted.

Listen, I know what my body looks like. I know that I’m an easy target. I’ve dealt with harassment, unsolicited touching. I’ve been threatened while on the job. I’ve been in situations like this where I’m stopped in broad daylight and nobody helps, I mean nobody. Why does this one affect me so much? Because in the moment, anything could have happened to me. What I do know is that in that moment, I was by myself and these dudes had all the control. Until I satisfied (or bored) them enough, I was stuck.

Why did I even tell this story? Because I don’t know if people get it yet. For us, this is almost as commonplace as tying our shoes. It doesn’t matter what job you have, how much money you make. It doesn’t matter if your sole purpose is to bring stories of strength, resilience and success about the women-identified folks of this city. At the end of the day, unless the culture shifts, nothing will. I was working as press at SXSW, my badge on full display with my name and the publication I work for: Austin Woman magazine. It didn’t matter.

I tell this story because I want every woman-identified person who sees this to understand that you are valued, you are seen, you are in a safe space when you read these pages. More importantly, if you’ve dealt with this kind of thing, you are not alone. I will continue to fight for you, and I’m sure I can speak for everyone at the magazine when I say we are all here for you. Do not hide anymore. Do not let the actions of disgusting people stop your light from shining. Speak loudly and in your truth.

I don’t know if this grimy feeling will ever fully go away, but when I get to speak to women like Pamela Benson Owens, when I get to read the incredible stories of women-identified activists who are making this city (the world) a better place for every living creature to exist, I know that I am surrounded by amazing people. I thank them, and I thank you, dear reader, for indulging a Black girl nerd’s story. Be careful, everyone. Love yourselves, love each other.

10 | AUSTIN WOMAN | APRIL 2024 Publication of Austin Woman would not be possible without the support of our monthly advertisers and sponsors, who believe in the impact we are making in the Austin community. The team at Austin Woman is grateful for these businesses that have shown their commitment to the advancement of women in Austin and hopes you, as readers, recognize their efforts and support these businesses.
Editor’s LETTER


Explore the transformative journey of Jennifer De Leon, known as Jennun, from her small-town roots to the vibrant SXSW stage.


Spotlight illuminates Latina artists of multiple genres in credit to SXSW’s Latinapalooza.


Documentary Diane Warren: Relentless, helmed by documentarian Bess Kargman, dives into the life of one of music’s most enduring creators.

Win This:

Two tickets to Candlelight spring:

A Tribute to Taylor Swift

Fever’s Candlelight concert series are bringing special spring shows to Austin. Evoking the most floral of the seasons, a limited number of performances hosted in the city will feature the spectacular display of blossoms. Illuminated by thousands of candles and flooded with a sea of colorful artificial flowers, The Mansion – Austin will host Candlelight Spring: A Tribute to Taylor Swift on April 21 at 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., with the Listeso String Quartet. For a chance to win tickets to this incredible candlelight experience, leave a comment and like on Instagram @austinwoman, and follow Candlelight Concerts by Fever @candlelight.concerts

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“Jennun: Small Town Roots, SXSW Dreams” photo by @bellevuepictures. “The Relentless Spirit of Diane Warren” photo courtesy of XTR. “Latinapalooza Shines at SXSW” photo courtesy of The Tiarras.
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Who is a woman-identified activist you admire?

Women are at the forefront of activism, and the Austin Woman staff reflect on those who have inspired them.


This is almost an unfair question. (And I’m the one who made it up!) There are so many women-identified activists leading the charge for equity and justice in Austin that to single out just one person or organization seems just wrong. Today, however, I’m going to talk about two women who led the charge for accountability and protection of the AANHPI community in Austin, co-founders of Asian Texans for Justice, Lily Trieu and Alice Yi. The reason these two incredible women were even on my radar is because of their work during the height of a recent wave of anti-Asian violence and discrimination. Back in April 2021, led by their fearless leaders Trieu and Yi, the Asian Texans for Justice organized more than 1,000 people from across Texas in the largest #StopAsianHate rally in the country. These two women created a safe space for their community that doesn’t have an equal in the entire state of Texas. It’s incredible how much work, dedication, sweat and emotion equity they’ve put into ensuring that the people of AANHPI communities, in Texas and nationwide, are protected, safe and feel heard.


The large-scale, vibrant mixed media and collaged art by Austin-based artist Xochi Solis was the first thing that captured my attention. As I learned that Solis was the founding board president at Future Front, a nonprofit collective of activists, artists and organizers in Austin, focused on communitybuilding and advocating for social change, I became a fangirl. Future Front connects women and LGBTQIA+ communities through a biannual marketplace, an annual festival in the fall and their Future Front House, a community space for hosting workshops, pop-ups and art shows. Solis also spins vinyl records as DJ Mira Mira, with the goal of preserving and celebrating Tejanx culture. Solis’ art and music literally make Austin a more colorful city. I deeply admire and appreciate her commitment to providing creative platforms for women, women of color and the LGBTQIA+ community to shine.



Kindness might not be what initially comes to mind when you think of activism—defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one.” After meeting Andra Liemandt and watching her build The Kindness Campaign out of a passion for and recognition of the need to teach our next generation of leaders what it means to make an impact on our community, I, too, began to realize that although kindness could be seen as a “soft” skill, it is really a core skill, one that is sorely needed in our world today. All of the activism, social justice and social impact work in the world will not realize the desired impact unless it is paired with the art of kindness. Check out tkckindness.org to get involved.


Keep Austin Fed is a volunteer-based nonprofit that gathers surplus food from restaurants, grocery stores, etc., keeping it out of the waste stream and delivering it to area charities serving people in need. Their mission is to reduce hunger and help the environment by connecting surplus food with our neighbors in need. Volunteers rescue thousands of meals each month, feeding hundreds of our neighbors living with food insecurity and putting a dent in the amount of food in the U.S. that ends up in a landfill and produces harmful methane gas.


Wisdom From Our Texas Foremothers

Victories of the past empower us to shape the future.

As a pleasure activist and the founder of Democrasexy (making democracy sexy so more people do it), I work to address the emotional and psychological barriers that prevent people from attempting to make change. Our current political moment can feel discouraging, especially for women. So I often look to those before me who, despite powerful forces working against them, managed to bend the arc of the moral universe a bit closer toward justice. Here are five lessons from my chosen ancestors of Texas politics.

What is right and just will not stay “fringe” forever.

In 1938, 12,000 pecan shellers in San Antonio—mostly MexicanAmerican women—went on strike. Led by 21-year-old Emma Tenayuca, they were protesting long hours (10 hours a day, seven days a week) and low pay ($36 to $54 a week, in today’s dollars). Tenayuca’s success as an organizer made her a threat to the patriarchal status quo, and in 1939 she fled town when an angry mob stormed the auditorium where she was speaking. Tenayuca’s ideas were seen as fringe at the time, but now we recognize what she was fighting for—minimum wage, equal access to education, disability benefits—as basic building blocks of a functional society.

Underestimated? That can be its own kind of power.

Lady Bird Johnson became first lady of the U.S. during the same year that The Feminine Mystique inspired many women to begin rejecting their narrowly prescribed societal role as demure helpmates to men. But second-wave feminism was still new, so if onlookers noticed Lady Bird taking copious notes when her husband LBJ was deep in a presidential discussion, they assumed she was his secretary. In fact, she was his top adviser. When it was deemed too dangerous for LBJ to campaign in Southern states after he passed the Civil Rights Act, Lady Bird took his place. Her femininity and gentility were a kind of Trojan horse for the social justice message she brought to Southerners who would have shouted down her husband.

It takes true self-possession (and sometimes self-sacrifice) to change systems that were designed to keep you out.

To maximize her impact as a changemaker, Barbara Jordan kept much of her authentic self hidden from the public, especially her 20-year partnership with a woman. But at 5’8” and 175 pounds with dark skin, she still couldn’t help but stand out amongst her pale male colleagues when she became the first Black person to serve in the Texas Senate since 1883. Undaunted, she was confident in her belonging and her equality, managing to charm some of the biggest racists in the Senate.

Her confidence continued to carry her through barriers, as the first Black woman from a former Confederate state elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972, and the first Black woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

Just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean you won’t be wildly successful.

Sarah Weddington was the Texas attorney who argued and won Roe v. Wade in front of the U.S. Supreme Court when she was just 26 years old. It was her first time ever litigating a case. Less than a month later, Weddington won her election to the Texas House of Representatives, becoming the first woman ever to represent Austin and Travis County in the house.

Be aware of the contours of your power so you can wield it most strategically.

When Ann Richards served as governor of Texas, she was clear-eyed about the limitations of the position. Unlike the lieutenant governor who sets the legislative agenda for the Texas Senate, the governor has less power to create law. Richards instead focused her ability to shape state government through appointments, putting more women, people of color and openly queer folks in leadership positions than any other governor. She used her power to make the government of Texas look like the people of Texas for the first time.

You can find Becky Bullard online at democrasexy.com Email her at becky@democrasexy.com @democrasexy

From the DESK OF
Photo by Nicki Lemon.
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Music: The Sound of Activism

Multifaceted activist Erin Walter highlights social justice issues through the language of music.

What started as a simple jam session amongst advocate Erin Walter and her neighbors has since transformed into an activism movement that echoes off the walls of the Capitol (quite literally). Parker Woodland is the bridge between an activist’s mission and her fight for justice.


Growing up in the Travis Heights neighborhood of Austin, Walter was raised in a musical family. Her grandpa was a piano teacher, her cousin a choir director and her uncle had a bar band that played all around Texas. With music no stranger in her life, it prompted Walter to adapt her musical capabilities herself and start singing in church. Attending Northwestern University and majoring in journalism, she found that it was the ultimate segue between her passions.

“I was a city reporter for the Statesman. I did some music and feature writing, and it connected my passion for writing and music and justice,” Walter explains.

Life led her in a different direction when she became the minister and executive director of the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry. As a result, her focus shifted to mobilizing people of faith for justice causes in Texas.

“Since I am a minister, I remember my mentor saying to me that I needed to find a way to express myself about both the pain that is in my life and the joy,” recalls Walter.


Walter focuses on racial justice, health care access, environmental justice, economic justice and voting rights, to name some of the causes closest to her heart. Every legislative session, Unitarian Universalists from all over the state gather and have a legislative action day, where they speak on issues that matter.

“I reserved the rotunda [in 2017], and they only let you have music,” says Walter. “They don’t let you get a mic and talk about your issues. So, I said, ‘Well, that’s great. We can reserve the rotunda, and we will sing civil rights music and make our hymns contextualize our issues.’”

A tradition was formed, and in 2019 and 2023, Walter continued to the Capitol and brought awareness through song.

“We had singing outside the house of chamber in support of transgender kids and LGBTQ+ rights,” Walter recalls.

Photos courtesy of Erin Walter.

Not only do they sing hymns and other songs at the Capitol, but Walter busts out single “I Am Willing,” a song created by her band, Parker Woodland.


Combining her new mission and her love of music one fateful afternoon in 2018, between the streets of Parker Lane and Woodland Avenue, a couple of neighbors and Walter decided to host a jam session, and Parker Woodland was created. Today, bandmates include Andrew Solin on guitar and Keri Cinquina on drums.

“I’d say we must have become a band and announced ourselves in 2019,” Walter says. “I wrote just at home the first nine songs that we had, over the course of a few months.”

Those nine songs became Parker Woodland’s first two EPs, Live from Love Hill and The World’s on Fire (And We Still Fall in Love), which were released throughout the pandemic in 2021.

“I like to say that I am joy and hope oriented,” says Walter. “But the fact that there is a lot that is wrong in the world; this became the spark for our theme song, ‘The World’s on Fire (And We Still Fall in Love).’ It is about us not turning away from injustice but also immersing ourselves in the beauty and joy of the community.”

Classifying themselves as emotionally charged anthemic rock, Parker Woodland combines multiple themes within their music. Spanning topics such as social justice, heartbreak, female angst, personal memories and patriarchy, Walter makes sure her music is listenable for everyone.

“My lens of justice and equity informs all the songs we make,” Walter explains. “I think about what gender or what pronouns I am using or what language is used trying to make sure that I don’t use ableist language.”

“I Am Willing” details the struggles of the community everyone, from youth to the elderly, goes through. This song demonstrated how Walter’s way of showing up musically for justice is interconnected with the music of Parker Woodland.

“I hope people feel uplifted and like they are a part of something, because Parker Woodland as a band, and our music, is really about community.”


Parker Woodland is set to release their first full album later this year. Walter offers a sneak peek of upcoming song “Makeup” when reflecting on her favorite track on the album. She described it as a way to honor transgender kids and their fight for equality and accessible health care.

“It means to know who you are and be who you are,” she proclaims. “While trans kids inspire it, I hope it’s a message that will resonate with anyone—women, people of color, queer people and the people who aren’t the dominant culture. Everybody struggles with what it means to be your full and true self in the world. I believe it, and I hope it’s a song that can speak to everyone.”

Just like reading between the lines, Walter’s lyrics expose both her dedication to her community tied with her connection to music. Other than being a rockstar activist, Walter is also involved in many organizations. Some roles include being the past board president of Girls Rock Austin—an organization targeted to help empower womxn, girls, trans and gender-expansive individuals through music education mentorship and selfcare—and currently residing on the advisory board for the SIMS foundation, which provides mental health and substance recovery for music-affiliated parties and their dependent family members. She also serves on the board of Texas Impact, an interfaith justice organization.

“I believe in inspiring and supporting young people in their musical journey and being a positive force in the community.”

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ERIN WALTER AND PARKER WOODLAND: TXUUJM: txuujm.org/about-us parkerwoodland.com

@parkerwoodlandband @parkerwoodland


From Classroom to Sanctuary: The SARA Legacy Unveiled

Tracy Frank’s journey with SARA is a testament to compassion and resilience in animal welfare.

Tracy Frank, the founder of Sanctuary for Animal Rescue and Adoption (SARA), has dedicated much of her life to the welfare of animals. SARA began as a response to Frank’s compassionate nature and the overwhelming number of animals that found their way into her life. “I used to be a teacher, special education, and on my way to work, I would find dogs and cats,” Frank explains. “Then, all the other teachers began to leave their little pets that they didn’t want anymore with me.”

Frank found herself caring for an ever-growing number of animals, juggling the responsibilities of teaching and the commitment to providing a loving home for abandoned creatures. The turning point came when she stumbled upon a magazine from nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, sparking an epiphany. “It was like that proverbial light going off above your head moment—an epiphany,” Frank recalls. This revelation led her to quit teaching and officially establish her nonprofit organization, SARA, with the help of Best Friends Animal Society. “This wasn’t something I set out to do, but once I realized it was something I actually could do, I knew I wanted to do it,” says Frank.

Photos by Sarah Throop.

The assortment of animals at SARA is as diverse as it is extensive. From dogs and alpacas to potbelly pigs, the sanctuary is a haven for animals of all kinds. “We have over 300 pigs, and a lot of those are feral pigs,” she says.

In addition to the wild inhabitants, SARA takes in domestic pets discarded by owners. “Constantly people are trying to get rid of their dogs and cats, I mean every day,” she explains. The organization actively seeks solutions for abandoned animals, working with rescue partners, fostering programs and adoption initiatives. The sanctuary, located on a 600-acre family cattle ranch, became the heart of SARA. Over the years, the sanctuary evolved from a humble barn to a more comfortable and functional living space for both humans and animals, allowing for Frank and other staff to live amongst the animals on the property.

SARA actively seeks community engagement and volunteer support to further its mission. “We need more foster people,” expresses Frank, emphasizing the critical role they play in caring for the animals. “[We] encourage people to volunteer and join the SARA community.”

The animals roam freely on the expansive property, creating a unique and harmonious living environment. A constant human presence in the sanctuary not only enhances the well-being of the animals but is also a precaution against potential danger.

From providing homes for hundreds of animals in danger of being abandoned to offering free spaying and neutering services for community animals, SARA continually contributes to Central Texas’ animal welfare. “We take in hundreds of animals every year that would otherwise not have a place to go,” Frank explains. The sanctuary also engages in adoption events, using social media, newsletters and partnerships with rescue organizations to find suitable homes for animals.

Tracy Frank’s journey with SARA exemplifies the profound impact that one person’s compassion can have on the lives of countless animals. The sanctuary continues to evolve, facing challenges with resilience and unwavering dedication. As SARA moves forward, Frank envisions a future where animals are not merely regarded as property but as sentient beings deserving of love, care and respect, insisting that “it starts with proving you can pay for the animal you’re adopting. Our adoption fee is $200 to ensure that.”

Running a sanctuary of this scale requires significant financial resources. SARA operates entirely reliant on donations. “We need financial support in order to care for these animals and, hopefully, build an indoor shelter for them,” says Frank. This is in order to sustain the sanctuary’s operations and fulfill its mission to help as many animals as possible regardless of species, special health needs or temperament.




To the Black Leaders of Tomorrow

Terry P. Mitchell’s upcoming children’s book, City

We Built: Black Leaders of Austin, highlights Austin’s historic Black leaders to inspire the next generation.

Releasing her first children’s book, City We Built: Black Leaders of Austin, activist and new author Terry Mitchell decided to give the audience a chance to immerse themselves in the history of Austin’s African American culture. The inspiration came from Black Leaders Collective, a nonprofit made up of about 100 Black leaders focusing on fixing prevalent issues within Black and Brown communities and assisting with fair housing, health, education and economic and workforce development. The birth of her daughter combined with her activism inspired Mitchell to focus her book on Austin’s youth. Reading to her daughter, Mitchell became fascinated by children’s books like Little Leaders and others, sparking the idea to give writing her own children’s book a shot, but on a local level. Including 26 Black leaders from around Austin, with a variety of backgrounds, and around three years of processing, the book is set for release on April 15.

Why do you think this book is important now?

Because of history, Black history is being scrutinized and even villainized. I think it is important to remember our past and for us to know how to move forward into our future. When you know those who come before you, it makes it easier for you to set an agenda for what is to come. I think the representation is important and that all children, especially children of color, need to see themselves as history makers, game changers and trailblazers. When you look at those who look like you and have already done it, it empowers you and inspires you to continue to do the work from that space of excellence. More specifically here in Austin, the Black demographic is declining, and so we must remember those who have built this city and come before us. They must be honored and recognized.

22 | AUSTIN WOMAN | APRIL 2024 By the BOOK
Photos courtesy of Terry P. Mitchell.

What do you hope the impact of this book will be in the future?

I hope that we see a surge of Black and Brown authors who tell our stories and archive our history. Black and Brown history is American history, and the parts that we play to lift this country are being shunned and washed away by different lenses that are not our own. I think it is important that we appreciate and recognize those who have come before us, those who have done the work and those who have paved the way. We are folk tellers and storytellers, but unfortunately, there are gaps. If you are only telling it through word of mouth, gaps appear in the stories, which causes gaps in the generations of youth learning these stories. So doing this work in book form, written form, ensures that it is here to live forever. The generations to come have a blueprint and a marker to move forward and continue reconstructing inequitable systems and making a way for all of us to live a decent quality of life.

Who was involved in the creation of this book?

The Black Leaders Collective produced this book, which is made up of more than 100 Black leaders who came together to work on quality-of-life issues and how to set a path forward for seven generations. We partnered directly with the George Washington Carver Museum Cultural and Genealogy Center, who did the research, archiving and fact checking. I am grateful for them and my co-author Carre Adams, who is the director at the Carver; our illustrator, who is a visual artist and muralist throughout the country, Sadé Lawson; and lastly our publisher, Arcadia Publishing. The honorable mention is my daughter Elle Mitchell, who has been the inspiration of the book.

On April 13 at 4 p.m., join us for a reading and signing of The City We Built, celebrating historic Black leaders of Austin. Illustrator and renowned visual artist Sadé Lawson will accompany the event with a live painting based on audience participation. Visit eventbrite.com/e/bookpeople-presents-the-city-we-built-blackleaders-of-austin-tickets-863160916537?aff=bp to RSVP. While the event is free for everyone, RSVPs are appreciated.

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26 | AUSTIN WOMAN | APRIL 2024 Our pages are full of stories of Austin’s most engaging, empowering and successful women, and this section is specially designed to provide you access to even more incredible role models and success stories. Be part of this amazing group and share your story with thousands of women. Contact us at sales@awmediainc.com or call 512.328.2421 for more information. ATX WOMEN to WATCH 26 | SPECIAL PROMOTION | ATXWOMAN.COM




Taylor Miller is the manager of Match Experience at Austin FC, where she oversees the matchday presentation and production for all Austin FC matches and other events at Q2 Stadium. Originally from Kansas City, Miller moved to Austin from El Paso to continue growing her career in the world of professional sports. She ensures that every home match at Q2 Stadium is an unforgettable event for fans and has helped build Austin FC’s reputation as having one of the best matchday experiences in Major League Soccer. Miller’s unmatched passion for the game and tireless work ethic fuels her, with a dedication to redefine what it means to create magic on and off the field.





Fely Garcia Amador is the VP of community engagement at Austin PBS, where she spearheads the community engagement and strategic partnerships between organizations with the mindset of serving and empowering the central Texas community. Dedicated to fostering collaborations that benefit the local community and contribute to the overall well-being of Central Texas, she works to ensure that Austin PBS plays a pivotal role in enhancing the lives of those it serves. Originally from Brownsville, Texas, Garcia Amador moved to Austin to attend UT Austin. Like many others, she developed a strong connection to the city and the community, making it her home with her husband and two children. Garcia Amador was named the 2024 Trailblazer of the Year for the Alliance for Women in Media Austin, which is a testament to her dedication, vision and impact in the realm of community engagement and media. austinpbs.org



A shley Hill had to make a choice: Either continue on a tiresome and uninspiring path, working in the corporate world, or take the bull by the horns and follow her passion. She chose the latter and, in doing so, created a brand that reflects her unique, savvy business vision. A born-and-bred Texan, she is the owner and founder of Branded Ash, an events, catering and boutique rental company. She began her business three years ago, launching it primarily in the charcuterie realm. Her business quickly expanded into a fullservice catering, event planning and rental company, skillfully streamlining the party planning process for her clients. Branded Ash has become more than just a reality. It is a reputable brand that directly reflects the hard work, dedication and imaginative energy of Ashley Hill. As her company’s motto states, “Creating Unforgettable.” Well, that’s where the magic begins.





Hannah D’Amico is co-owner and lead designer of Circle V Landscape Architecture in Austin. With more than a decade of experience in Central Texas, she has a diverse project background including master planned communities, multi-family, mixed-use, parks and civic work. Major contributions include high-profile projects like the Phase II Texas Capitol Mall Expansion currently under construction, and the Travis Club, a luxury Lake Travis community. D’Amico is a visionary, an excellent facilitator and steadfast in fostering a company that is intentionally small in order to partner with hand-selected consultants to create the ultimate dream team for her clients. She creates lasting relationships with teams to craft thoughtful, inclusive developments that enrich the lives of current and future generations. Along with her prominent role at Circle V, D’Amico takes pride in balancing her professional career with family life. She adores her husband, son, two pups and the great outdoors. circlevla.com





Nicole Turgeon, M.D., is a transplant surgeon and serves as the transplant director for the Abdominal Transplant Center, a clinical partnership between Ascension Seton and UT Health Austin. She also serves as a professor and the chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery for the Dell Medical School Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care at UT Austin. Turgeon joined UT Health Austin in 2019 and established the Abdominal Transplant Center in 2022. She has been recognized for changing the face of academic medicine in Austin through her leadership in founding the Kidney Transplant Program, Pancreas Transplant Program and Living Kidney Donor Program. Turgeon plans to expand her practice by developing programs for patients in need of liver transplants. “My hope is to establish closer connections with the transplant community in Austin through the incredible work we’re doing for both organ recipients and donors.” uthealthaustin.org


Aligning with influence

For Six Square Executive Director Pamela Benson Owens, activism is a constantly evolving fight for liberation.

There are days when the rainbow isn’t enough. When holding on to the hope of better becomes a bittersweet fight between your heart and your mind. Imagine standing on the precipice for years, hoping that this time won’t be the time when your legs give beneath you. For women like Six Square’s Executive Director Pamela Benson Owens, who are compelled to a life of service, activism must be so much more than the ability to stand on the front line and fight.

For this reason, the first question is, “How are you?”


Owens, a woman who has given so much of her emotional, physical and spiritual energy to the calling, speaks with brightness in her voice about her latest life milestone, one that has brought fresh perspective and a new journey.

“I turned 50 in October of last year,” she begins. “I started going into that with a little bit of dread. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be 50.’ It was almost like a time warp. I will say within a few short weeks, I got really comfortable and excited with 50.

“Fifty brings about the opportunity to speak shorter sentences about my decisions or choices,” she muses. “Now I’m almost 50 reckless.” A laugh that could only come from someone who’s had decades of having to overexplain herself and the realization that a lack of comprehension is more you than a dearth of information. This new lease on life comes with new confidence. It’s the confidence to speak with steel in your voice to those who you respect as elders. Activism is about boundaries.

“There used to be this kind of reserved piece around secrets, not

saying all the things and let’s just have a nice dinner,” Owens recalls. “[There’s] the generational trauma that comes with not saying it. Now, I am just not going to subscribe to that. I am fully committed to cycle-breaking in my own family and my own generational peace. It’s messy—I call it the messy middle—and I’m fine with that. I have kids who I brought into the world, and I’m building a world for them that I know I’m not going to be in. So now it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Uncle So-and-so. Don’t ever make a homophobic comment in my presence with my kids around. Ever. You just got gut checked, oh, ye elder.’ [Turning] 50 was like a permission slip.”


As with many Gen X and Millennial activists, Owens came from an era where the notion of rest was thought of almost in the pejorative. It’s often positioned as a sign of weakness or lack of commitment to the cause. However, at some point, the body will snatch the choice away from you. Owens embraces rest as an act of absolute protest.

“Rest as a right,” she says. “Comfort as something I have access to. By creating that space for other women specifically, I’m saying to women more, ‘Why don’t you not do that today? Why don’t you sit your ass down? Why don’t you take a break?’ That has been a real joy to go into that space unapologetically. This whole thing about being busy, it’s not effective. Black women specifically hold all of the pieces because we become good at it; we’re conditioned. Not every problem is ours to solve. Not every person is a project to take on. Not every argument we need to go to and fight. That’s the level of resistance I’m leaning in to.“












This dedication to rest as resistance is part of what inspired the methodology to personal and professional development at Edge of Your Seat Consulting, Owens’ consulting firm of more than a decade. She conceived of the “Percolate Method” after her body forced her to take a seat.

“I had a series of getting ill,” she says. “I was heading to do a speech, and I tore my ACL. Got back from that [and found out] that I had thyroid cancer. Then after that, just a series of things. I realized that I was addicted to two things: perfectionism and grind culture. I wore busy as a badge of honor.” A small bit of sadness creeps into her voice, her face momentarily clouded over with realization. “People ask me what I’m doing. I’m like, ‘I’ve done 75 things today.’ My body kind of being like, ‘We’re gonna ground you,’ was a wake-up call.

“‘Busy’ is a zero-sum game. Over-functioning is not effective. When I got to the other side of that, I had to admit to myself that my work was only landing as well as it was because I’ve been doing it a while, not because I took the time to really do quality work.”

There are few things capable of shaking someone so much they change their entire approach to life like the body breaking down. Living for the cause is an exhausting existence, one that hangs heavily on the body like a lead blanket. With Owens’ natural inclination to learn and grow, she started her own deep dive into the nervous system, how it reacts and responds to stress and trauma. This while learning that due to illness, her body no longer produces cortisol or serotonin. “It’s all synthetic,” she reveals. “A series of health crises [let me know] I’ve got to do something different. I don’t want to perpetuate that the only way to make an impact in the world is to wear yourself out.

“I started percolating around that time and started putting on my calendar 20 minute slots to stare at the wall to just bring myself down. I needed to practice not doing anything. I went to a recovery group to get over perfectionism. I spent a year just saying no. I have actively gone after it, being able to look myself in the mirror at night and like what I see, meaning I didn’t sell my soul to do it.”


This new perspective aligns so fiercely with Owens’ work as an activist. As someone who grew up surrounded by the literature and imagery of activism in her household, Owens recalls how natural it was for her to pour herself into a life of service to the community.

“My parents absolutely were civic-minded people,” she says. “I love that they were before their time. Volunteerism happened very early in our home; being in the community and understanding who we were came very early in the home. Both parents, but especially my father, spent as much time on nonprofit boards at the Urban League as he did doing his day job. I didn’t even know that you had an option not to do that. I watched my father’s letter-writing campaigns and him working on changing legislation.

“I have a picture of me holding a sign,” Owens says quickly, latching on to the fervor of the moment. “[The sign] says, ‘Mark White out.’ Mr. White was running for governor, and my mom was like, ‘This fool cannot possibly run our state. He doesn’t understand education.’ She explained on the way there what’s happening. I was at the Capitol picketing with the teachers. I don’t know if I conceptually totally understood, but what I did understand was the look on my mother’s face. That face will always be in my head because it was this face of, ‘We are not going to tolerate this inequity, poor treatment and the way teachers are not valued.’ I clearly got that message. I might have been 8 or 9. That told me I had a responsibility as a citizen to not be passive in my existence, in our community.


“Both of my parents were very active, kind of self-made activists. When my mom used to pick me up every day, it was never, ‘How was your day?’ It was always, ‘What questions did you ask in class today?’ It trained me to get curious in the classroom and ask the questions, and not settle for an answer that didn’t click. I have passed that on to both of my kids.” She pauses, recognizing a twin spirit in her own oldest daughter. “My oldest ends up in trouble a lot because of her style of questioning.” The laugh Owens lets loose is endearing, spiced with motherly pride. “But her intention is, ‘You didn’t tell the whole story.’ I really respect my mom and my dad for demanding that critical thinking be almost more important than the basics of reading, writing math.

“I don’t know if I woke up and was like, ‘I am about to do this peace and justice thing,’” she muses. “I think in every career stop, my posture was about how to create a space for clarity, how to create a space for learning to occur, how to create a space for somebody to trust themselves and their own skill. How to create a space for somebody to be strong enough to get rid of their inner critic. I think it was all activism to a certain point, removing an obstacle, creating a space for somebody to come into their own, whatever rendition that is.“


This affection for the building blocks of her call to action crosses over into something akin to awe at the realizations she’s gleaned from her lifetime of being a voice for those whose voices have been stolen from them. The act of listening is an act of rebellion. Sitting in silence to better appreciate the sound of a whisper is activism in its purest form. Listening activates the parts searching for a solution. Listening to understand the full scope of a situation allows one to really lean into finding the right course of action and executing it with intention and grace.

“There is a place for kicking ass,” she says. “I just don’t always think it’s the first lever to pull. Sometimes you have to burn the shit down so you don’t walk back over the dysfunction of it, but that’s not the first lever I pull. My levers are: What am I observing? What is the story I’m telling myself about what I’m observing? Do I have the courage to say that I was speaking from a less-informed place when I made that call? What is my role in either accelerating or stalling where we’re trying to go? Then if I get through all of that and the Choose Your Own Adventure book says, ‘Burn the shit to the ground…’”

The shrug isn’t one of apathy. Owens has seen so much in her journey to healing herself and the wounds of a shared societal past that this shrug reads like someone who’s gone through every option more than once only to find herself at a point of no return. “I’ve run into that,” she admits. “But I have to be willing to look at the ashes once I do, to take ownership of the ashes. A lot of people have burned [everything] to the ground and stepped over it, not taking ownership of ashes. I’m fine with burning shit down, but you’ve got to scoop those ashes up and say, ‘Now where do we go from here?’”

It’s her openness to incorporate lessons gleaned from older and younger generations that’s so fascinating. There are tenants of

activism that are stalwart, chief among them intentionally lending your service to those in need. However, her willingness to break down the crumbling structures of 1960s-era activism creates a sturdier foundation for future leaders.

“I absolutely believe activism evolves,” Owens says. “To me, part of the learning opportunity that I’m really vocalizing more is how acceptable it is to say, ‘I now have more information, and my perspective has adjusted.’ Sometimes we get clouded by the cause. Meaning, I’m so far out in the lake on it, I’ve committed so much to this, that even if I get new information, I can’t change. I think that’s harming us. Sometimes it should be, ‘I am fully committed to this cause, and I have now gotten more information and lived experience. I feel differently about some of the pieces of the work, and I have a right to change my mind.’”

Evolution can be another word for deconstruction. Something has to fall away, to destruct, in order to make way for something new that will take the movement to its next level. Evolution means inevitably something has to pass on in order for us to move on.

“I don’t think we postmortem ourselves enough,” Owens reflects. “We do it at events, but do we sit at the end of every day and go, ‘Was it a bad day, or was it a bad moment? Did I show up the best I could to speak on behalf of my people? Then what did I learn from that?’ I always tell people two things: a) whatever I think it is, that’s usually not it, and b) once you have the audacity or the arrogance to call yourself an expert, you’ve lost the activism fight. Activism is about the ongoing willingness to learn, grow, evolve and then implement what you’ve learned. If you stop learning, we’ve lost the fight. The minute you think you’ve conquered it, there’s an arrogance and ego that is counterproductive to the movement. When you decide that being right is more important than doing what is most effective and best for the community, we’re losing.”

Owens carries in her gaze a wisdom wrought from years of having to navigate her calling. Behind those bespeckled black-framed glasses, she has an intellect that leaves anyone motivated to conquer the world’s problems after a single meeting with her.

“To me, the two most critical leadership attributes, activist attributes, community citizen attributes: self-awareness and courage,” she says. “Can’t buy it. That is intrinsic. Giving people the space and the permission to do the deep-tissue work on self-awareness is half of it. It allows people who are not impacted by something to say, ‘Just because it’s not my experience doesn’t mean it’s not a valid experience.’”


It comes as no surprise that a large part of Owens’ activism involves education. After all, Six Square is the first Black cultural district in the state of Texas and the only cultural arts district in the city of Austin. The nonprofit’s sole purpose is to preserve the history of East Austin, that six square miles of pittance flung at Black and Brown families to move them out of Austin’s center in 1928. It’s work that continues to remain as (unfortunately) relevant and necessary as it was in its earliest days in 2013.

Education is as much a part of her role as executive director of Six Square as her own endeavor, Edge of Your Seat Consulting, a firm that unpacks the intricacies of evolving as a professional as well as an individual navigating complex sociopolitical conversations. Even her


Pamela Benson Owens is an accomplished author, penning such books as her most recent release, The Lesson of Lists, in which she’s created lists to help people on their own paths of self-reflection and healing. “I got that from my dad,” she says. “It’s now become a tool for me to check in, to make sure I’m okay. It simply means that there is a difference in happiness and contentment. I gave up happiness a long time ago, because happiness is fleeting and temporary. I want to be content in all these areas of my life, meaning it can be burning to the ground, but my peace is not thwarted. The lists helped me to check in and get rid of what I need to get rid of so I can move forward without the baggage of life.”

A list for Black and Brown women when the rainbow isn’t enough.

Get brave enough to look at the reality of your life and face it.

Get in the business of healing so you don’t bleed on other people.

Growth often isn’t loud, nor does it need to be announced.

Take time to reprogram your soul when you need to.

Know where the love is.

You can’t always play nice. Sometimes you gotta let people know how to treat you.

Don’t live in the house that fear built.

Survival mode is not sustainable.

Don’t let people be culture vultures.

Hold your ground; wear your hair [how you want]; dress like you want; do your thing.

Stop using self-care as an emergency tactic. It should be a daily practice. Don’t use it like triage.

Stop issuing conditional forgiveness. It’s holding us back. It’s impacting our ability to see each other.

Make sure the same people who are in the trenches with you clap with you too.











path to this point was deeply rooted in an evolution of thought surrounding how to help professionals develop.

“When I was working after I left teaching, I went to work in a corporation,” Owens says. “The president of the organization was a Black man, Milton, and very quickly, I was placed in rooms that I probably shouldn’t have been in, in my 20s. Milton one day says, ‘I know you want to be in leadership and be a VP. Not gonna happen. That path takes a while. I want you to be more worried about influence than I want you to be about title. I got an idea about an internal leadership program. What do you think?’ I went home that night and drafted an entire curriculum, came back the next day—which was supposed to be the end of my time there; I was interning. That program was born, and a couple years ago, they brought me back to give me an award as the first person that wrote the program. I quit that day,” she says.

The knowledge, though sudden, isn’t necessarily surprising coming from the woman who in the fourth grade was diagnosed with a brain tumor and still thought of others first. “The tumor grew internally at first, so wasn’t noticeable,” she remembers. “One day, it protruded outwardly and my mom recognized it while washing my hair one Saturday (that was wash day). I shared a room with [another girl], whose brother gave me a doll that pees on herself. I was so excited about it. I gave the doll to the girl I shared a room with.” Owens’ desire to provide comfort and kindness to others was as impactful then as it is today.

“I’d been married to my husband maybe 11 days, and we had just gotten back from our honeymoon,” Owens recalls. “I go home to the East Side, I walk in and I’m like, ‘Hey, you remember that dual-income family thing that we were so excited about? We’re not gonna have that. I’m starting my own consulting firm.’ I will never forget it. Arlyn looks up and says, ‘Awesome, I was waiting on you.’ Did I have a plan together? No. I had $300 in my checking account when I started. No plan, just started getting in front of organizations at luncheons. That’s how I got my chops in organizational culture, which is kind of the backbone of Edge of Your Seat—which, by the way, my dad came up with.” The enthusiasm when she talks about the very direct inspiration her father provides brings warmth to the chilly Hilton hotel lobby where this conversation takes place. “He had seen me do some presenting in that environment, and was like, ‘I was on the edge of my seat when you did that thing for the student lending group.’”


Owens’ work is necessary at a time where education has become dangerously devalued. Particularly, preserving the complete history of our nation continues to be heavy work.

Moving into 2024, major conglomerates, who in 2020, made pledges to increase efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion, have backtracked on those promises. This sudden retreat from intentional diversity efforts can mostly be traced to an increasingly turbulent political environment, which culminated in state legislators introducing more than 65 anti-DEI bills since 2023.

Affirmative action, whose first legislative use dates back to 1961, when President John F. Kennedy instructed federal contractors to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” is under attack with a fervor that, many say,

hasn’t been seen since Ronald Regan. The most recent study by jobhunting site Indeed shows that DEI-related job postings in 2023 declined 44%. In November 2023, “DEI job postings dropped 23% year over year.”

It seems targeted and quite violent.

“War-time level,” Owens says. “The strategies that throw something up in its place so quickly, the bright and shiny ball, people are sedated by it. But when I had to leave East Austin because I could no longer afford it, I was irritated at how much time we spent trying to stay at any cost. When I talked to the elders about not selling their homes to the developer, I had to reckon with my own hypocrisy. I left. Like, I left because it was just ridiculous. I look back on that and wonder, would I have made a different decision in my 40s and 50s than I did when I left in my late 20s and early 30s?”

The fire in her voice belies the very real sadness in her eyes. It’s an aspect of activism that few people pay attention to. Those dedicated to the call of activism are human beings fighting a seemingly never-ending war for equity. It is exhausting, grueling work, work that leaves little room for grief.

“It’s guttural,” she says. “It’s almost an out-of-body experience. My ears and my back get tight. It comes from a different place. It’s kind of like when you were growing up sitting in church, and you could tell by the way the gospel singers sang the song who had been through something. Like Mary J. Blige, for example. She’s been through something. It’s under the rib cage [kind of] pain, grief. I’ve really experienced that the last several years, and I’ve had to mourn what once was in order to even take the blinders off to do the current work. You can get so mired down in what once was and the past that you start admiring the problem, in a way, and you can’t move it. We’re so embedded in it. Without forgetting what that was, I’ve had to go through a grieving process.”


“In the last couple of years, it’s become a righteous anger around the erasure of my people and it being so bold and blatant,” Owens reveals. “I remember early on, not being able to sleep at night because I couldn’t shut my brain off from all the things that needed to happen to plug the drain of all the Black people leaving Austin. My body was tired, but my mind wouldn’t shut up. I think I discovered that activism is our responsibility and actively giving voice to it is our accountability.”

Activism in its boldest forms is about risk. It’s a lifelong adrenaline rush that keeps the pulse spiked, instincts on high alert. Much of the time, it’s women’s work, more often than not Black and Brown women’s work. A challenge that’s something like childbirth: the trauma the body and spirit go through to conceive of the notion of equity and peace. The back bends, the knees get weary, the voice often trembles (after too many hours of screaming, sometimes crying). But when it’s ideal, activism births a tender kernel of optimism for us to nurture and give room to grow.

“I wish that we would demystify the word activist so that people weren’t afraid of it or that it wasn’t associated with something negative and divisive. Activism is just the pathway to liberation and equity and inclusion for everybody, and we should have space for all the ways in which that might show up. We’re trying to figure out how to make a shift, and the answer might be in one of us. I’ve spent a lot of time [thinking], ‘What do I need to surrender?’ Every time I do, it ushers in something more beautiful than I ever imagined, more astute, more comprehensive, more specific, more aligned with what the community needs.”

That small speck of hope is a raindrop that once given light explodes into a rainbow. And most days, that is enough.


Preventing Sex Trafficking

Through Data

Allies Against Slavery is setting a new standard for how data interacts with sex trafficking.

When presented with the term “human trafficking” oftentimes popular action movies like Taken come to mind, but that connection couldn’t be further from what trafficking has evolved into. These films often neglect to mention organizations and people, like those who are part of Allies Against Slavery (AAS), who are fighting every day to eradicate trafficking for good.

Allies Against Slavery is an organization that uses software data to both prevent human trafficking and reinvent the idea of what it can look like in a modern-day environment. Gathering since 2010 and officially established as a nonprofit in 2014, the organization is determined to provide more factual information on the world of modern-day slavery through their Lighthouse tool. While the group is officially classified as a nonprofit, their blend of technology and community creates a much more complex team than what meets the eye. “Our goal is that every community has the data it needs to combat human trafficking,” says Chief Product Officer Becky Austen. “The heart of what we do is around tech and data, but we are mission driven, and technology is a part of what we do to enable our mission in order to succeed.”

Allies began simply in 2010 as a group of community advocates who recognized sex trafficking’s prevalence in Austin and were determined to make a change. Acting as a spearhead of the grassroots movement, Founder and CEO John Nehme began to question just how much of a difference their work made. This pivotal question motivated the team to transition into a registered nonprofit in 2014. Through a partnership with The Central Texas Coalition of Human Trafficking, the organization was connected with researchers at UT Austin where a prevalence study was then conducted. The study, “Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas,” tracked whom human trafficking affects in Texas and how often. The results illuminated a whopping 79,000 estimated victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.

This new data was very disturbing for the teams, but Nehme’s concern laid in the fact that while thousands of victims were suffering, the community was just now becoming aware of their existence. The prevalence study instilled Allies Against Slavery’s core mission to use data as a way to bring awareness to and combat human trafficking.

“As a group, we now have an understanding of what human trafficking looks like, where it’s happening and how we can best respond, ensuring that no one is going unseen in this system,” says Director of People and Policy Torey Tipton. The determination behind their values has only strengthened as time has passed and can be tangibly recognized through their groundbreaking software.





Lighthouse illuminates the problem of human trafficking, empowewing partners to identify victims, track survivor outcomes and see trends in data.


If you know someone who you suspect might be a victim of trafficking, please get in touch with the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Call toll-free 24/7 at 1.888.373.7888 or text your concern to 233733. You can also chat with someone at the National Human Trafficking Hotline by visiting humantraffickinghotline.org/chat. To learn more about the National Human Trafficking Hotline and how you can help, visit humantraffickinghotline.org.


Similar to the organization’s history, their screening software has faced many changes as time has passed in order to properly meet the community’s needs. “In the beginning, we were looking for others to build off and potentially enhance what had already been done, but we soon realized no one was doing this type of work,” says Austen. “The notion of actually aggregating data and using it to inform decision making [regarding human trafficking] was somewhat novel, so why not be the ones to lead this?” The original tool was known as Tier One and acted as a way for service providers to have a better understanding of their clientele and their safety. “It included a series of indicators and risk factors associated with trafficking. If a practitioner observed those certain indicators within an individual, they would check the boxes. The more indicators, the higher the likelihood that the individual was a victim of exploitation,” explains Austen.

After receiving a grant in 2019 from the Child Sex Trafficking Team in the Governor’s Office of Texas, AAS had the opportunity to elevate their tool and create the first edition of Lighthouse. Transitioning from a “paper tool” to a digital software allowed the nonprofit to adopt the Commercial Sexual Exploitation Identification Tool, providing a much more universal lens to their original screening. At this time, AAS decided to partner with AnnieCannons to perfect Lighthouse’s coding, as well as represent the organization’s mission from the inside out.

AnnieCannons is a nonprofit that trains human trafficking victims on how to code and properly reacclimate to a professional workforce. Partnering with the organization inspired AAS to take their software a level further and integrate even more data sources, in order to solidify their growing hub of information. “Everything from service providers to law enforcement to The National Human


Caption: (l to r): Dr. Vanessa Bouché, Eva Garrido, Tally Jorn, Becky Austen, John Nehme, Quinn Pierson Kenney, Grace Dai, Laura Hackney (CEO of AnnieCannons),Torey Tipton and Lori Hutchison (Google partner)

Trafficking Hotline was integrated,” says Austen. “By collecting all these data sources from different lenses, Lighthouse will be more useful than ever before.”


While the work being done at Allies Against Slavery centers prevention, their data also spreads awareness on what human trafficking realistically looks like in a modern-day city. “The majority stand by one of two preconceived notions: Human trafficking is a physical bondage that involves people being chained up and locked away, or it simply just doesn’t happen here,” says Senior Director of Operations Grace Dai. “We often hear things like, ‘That’s happening in foreign countries or closer to the border, but not here in Central Texas,’ and that couldn’t be more wrong.”

With such a dated perception of modern-day slavery, an alarming number of victims are being overlooked and invalidated. “The idea of chains and shackles is very misconstruing to what human trafficking is visually,” says scholar-in-residence Vanessa

Bouché. “It’s much more of a mind control than it is a physical control. People are not stuck in physical bondage; they’re stuck in psychological bondage.”

The definition of human trafficking is broken down into three segments: the acts that take place, the means by which they take place and the purpose, all under force, fraud and coercion. While trafficking can truly happen to anyone, minority groups and underage individuals are more likely to be at risk.

“Oftentimes, these are kids and young adults who no one’s looking for, such as kids in foster care or not in school. Traffickers are smart; it’s a business for them,” says Tipton. “They’re always going to go after the least risky option for themselves. It’s not as black-and-white as many people perceive. Oftentimes, a victim’s experience is that they meet someone who’s kind to them when no one has been kind to them in a while. A trafficker will treat them very well and work to get their basic needs met as a way to gain trust and have victims become more and more dependent.”

According to Bouché, the seemingly harmless misconception

The idea of chains and shackles is very misconstruing to what human trafficking is visually. It’s much more of a mind control than it is a physical control. People are not stuck in physical bondage; they’re stuck in psychological bondage.

can quickly result in victims being trapped in a system they were forced into. “We still have people using the term ‘child prostitute,’ which legally speaking does not exist. When asking adult women who engage in commercial sex acts when they started, the response is typically when they were underage. They start as a victim, yet as soon as they turn 18, they begin to be treated as a criminal. These are things the public doesn’t really understand, and it’s becoming harmful.”

The perception we have about human trafficking is dated and no longer fits within the circumstances of our environment. Traffickers have ridden alongside Austin’s evolution in order to hide in plain sight, but so much of the population has yet to catch up. By becoming familiar with proper perceptions and jargon, we educate ourselves as well as respect victims’ experiences.

What began as a simple in-hand screening tool has become a statewide integrated software that is spreading quickly to other areas of the United States. For example, Allies Against Slavery has been providing their work to Louisiana for three years, and just recently created a partnership to implement their software in Florida. By displaying constant evolution, the organization is only further proving how their work is solely community based. “We use the people to guide what we do; what they deem as needing attention is where we focus,” says Tipton. “The overall end goal is to have Austin be a slave-free city, and we’re working toward that by continuously striving to be better.”




Sheroes of Social Change

Women are building mental health and community wealth in Austin and beyond.

In the bustling heart of Austin, a city known for its vibrant culture and pioneering spirit, a remarkable movement is underway. A movement propelled by women who have decided to turn their backs on passivity, opting instead for active participation in the shaping of their communities and the wider world. This narrative is not just about socializing or networking, in the traditional sense; it’s about leveraging those connections for the greater good, transforming lives and societies in profound ways.

Social interactions, the fabric of human existence, play a pivotal role in our well-being. Neuroscience tells us that engaging with others helps in the development of neural networks, essential for combating mental health challenges such as loneliness and depression. These interactions trigger the release of endorphins and oxytocin, fostering feelings of happiness, trust and love—critical components of a healthy, thriving society.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the imperfections within our social structures, which sometimes fail to include or adequately support various groups, including women, children, people of color, rural populations or neurodivergent thinkers. These systemic gaps in education, finance, health and social support create barriers to equality, equity and progress.

Former Mayor Steve Adler declared March 3 as Courtney Santana Day to honor her contributions.

Austin is also home to community leader and coach Rose Smith, acclaimed for her dedication to serving the community. She is renowned for coordinating meal deliveries for seniors and leading yearly initiatives to donate school supplies, benefiting thousands of children. On a global scale, tech entrepreneur and women leader Ingrid Vandervelt aims to empower a billion women financially, demonstrating the vast scope of these endeavors.

Futurist and educator MacKenzie Price, the visionary behind Alpha School in Austin, is transforming conventional education through an innovative two-hour academic teaching model. This groundbreaking approach, which has been shown to double students’ learning capacity in comparison to a traditional sixhour day, nurtures their passions in areas like fashion, film, invention and computer science. This shift is particularly significant in response to the pandemic and the surge in online learning, addressing the challenges posed by limited teacher availability.

Yet amidst these challenges, there are luminaries who refuse to stand idly by. In Austin, and across the globe, women are making significant strides in closing these gaps, championing causes that resonate deeply with their personal convictions and professional expertise. These women are not only making a difference; they are redefining what it means to impact society positively.

Social impact efforts in Austin span across diverse sectors, from Texas Rep. Barbara C. Jordan passionately defending the Constitution during the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings, championing fairness and laws for marginalized communities, to Councilwoman Kimberly Holiday’s dedication to housing the unhoused. Find inspiration in trailblazers like Dr. Roz Oliphant Jones, who through her annual African American book festivals, perseveres in safeguarding African American literature despite book bans.

Courtney Santana, a prominent musician based in Austin, wholeheartedly supports abuse survivors through the Survive2Thrive Foundation, which offers housing and vital resources to those in need.

These women are reshaping the narrative of what’s achievable. Yet such monumental tasks are not shouldered alone. Behind every successful initiative is a team of volunteers and collaborators, embodying the essence of teamwork and empathy. Studies, including those reported in the Harvard Business Review, highlight that women, in particular, excel in team leadership roles, thanks to their innate abilities for empathy and collaboration.

The ripple effects of these endeavors contribute to a form of wealth that transcends mere financial gains. By nurturing a solid foundation of mental, emotional, educational and spiritual well-being within communities, these women are building a legacy of prosperity that will endure for generations. Their work, often unseen and unsung, represents the epitome of dedication and perseverance.

So, to those making waves in the realms of social impact, know that your contributions are invaluable. Your work, often behind the scenes and beyond the limelight, is creating a cascade of positive change that reaches far and wide. Let this article serve as a tribute to your dedication, a source of inspiration for others to follow in your footsteps, and a call to action for everyone capable of contributing to this noble cause.

Illustration Courtesy Of Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.sc., Ph.d.(c).
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Finding Renewal and Rest: My Sabbatical Story

Founder and president of Measure, Meme Styles, reflects on her revolutionary act of rest.

Picture this: a year filled with relentless challenges, from organizational transformation to the complex web of personal responsibilities. As a Black woman, I wear many hats, including serving as the founder and president of Measure, a research and data-activism organization based in Austin. I am also a Just Tech Fellow, a project of the Social Science Research Council.

Juggling my mission with the demand to lead in our community, the delicate reality of my oldest son struggling with mental illness and the fun and messiness of motherhood to a 3-year-old dynamo named Joy had left me emotionally stretched thin. To top it off, my youngest son was ready to spread his wings and venture off to college. So, when May 1, 2023, rolled around, I embarked on a sabbatical journey that would be nothing short of transformative for me and my organization.


My journey began with recognizing the need for renewal. We in leadership roles often do not give ourselves the grace to acknowledge the toll that our multiple roles and responsibilities take on us personally, physically and professionally. It was time to take a break.

I brought my Measure team to my home for a backyard picnic the Friday before my sabbatical began. As we enjoyed one another’s company, I set my expectations for myself and them as I prepared to take my leave. I knew I had to ensure everyone was on the same page and that my absence wouldn’t disrupt the organization’s operations.

During our time together, I explained that I would not lead Measure for the next two months. I would not answer emails. I would not “jump” on a Zoom or get 10 minutes “more of my day” should a meeting end early. For eight weeks, I was resolved to relax and reject productivity culture. Setting these boundaries was vital for truly disconnecting and recharging.

While the world around me was spinning in my personal life, the professional environment I cultivated as a nonprofit leader was secure enough for me to step away from Measure without causing instability in the organization, reflecting the trust and psychological safety cultivated within my team.


My sabbatical was a profound rebirth, offering me a treasure trove of benefits that extended far beyond what I could have initially imagined. As I embarked on this time, I immersed myself in a world of self-discovery and rejuvenation, both personally and professionally. It allowed space for renewed vision. The distance allowed me to rediscover the spark that led to the creation of Measure in the first place. It was a journey back to my roots, rekindling the fire within me.

One of the most precious gifts of my sabbatical was the opportunity to reconnect with my family. The demands of my role as president of Measure often took me away from quality time with my loved ones. During those two months, I rekindled the bonds with my children and provided much-needed support to family members struggling with mental illness. This period of healing and closeness was invaluable.

Amid the whirlwind of daily responsibilities, I had lost touch with my own aspirations and passions. The sabbatical allowed me the time and space to rediscover my own identity. I explored new hobbies, delved into personal interests and reawakened my love for old movies, writing and random nap taking. This self-renewal process was like a breath of fresh air, invigorating my spirit.

Stepping away from the day-to-day operations of Measure provided me with a unique perspective. I saw the organization from a distance, gaining clarity on its strengths and areas for improvement. This newfound clarity of purpose helped me refine our strategic direction and identify innovative approaches to our mission.

Rejecting the productivity culture during my sabbatical also gave me a fresh perspective on work-life balance. I realized that actual productivity isn’t about working long hours but about working efficiently and purposefully. This insight has not only improved my personal well-being but has also influenced the way I lead my organization.

48 | AUSTIN WOMAN | APRIL 2024 H ealing
Photo courtesy of Meme Styles.
“ My sabbatical saga was a story of rediscovery, reconnection and resilience.

When July 1 rolled around, I thought I was ready to return, only to discover that I still needed more time. So, I showed myself grace and sought an extension, which my board graciously approved. Sometimes, we must remember that the path of renewal has its own timing.

My sabbatical saga was a story of rediscovery, reconnection and resilience. It’s a tale that encourages all leaders, especially those who fight oppression, to consider the power of a well-planned sabbatical. It’s not just a journey of self-investment; it’s a voyage that breathes life into your organization’s mission. As you embrace this journey, remember that showing yourself grace is an integral part of the narrative, a story that continues to unfold, chapter by chapter, revealing a stronger, more resilient you.

Learn more about Meme Styles and Measure Austin: wemeasure.org @wemeasureus

Before my grand escape into sabbatical bliss, I had to lay the groundwork for a successful retreat from my daily grind.

My first act was to entrust my incredible team of Black women leaders at Measure with expanded responsibilities.

This was not just a delegation of tasks but a transfer of trust, an act of belief in their capabilities. The vice president of Measure would step into an even deeper leadership role as she took on the “Interim CEO” role.

Secondly, I had to check in with my mind and heart.

Preparing for a sabbatical isn’t all about logistics. It’s about finding the mental and emotional fortitude to walk away. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and support, engaging in therapy to heal myself and better support my loved ones more intentionally during my time away from work.

Lastly, I had to set boundaries.

Even before the sabbatical officially began, I had to learn the art of boundaries. No more late-night emails or work calls during family dinners. This time was strictly reserved for my personal life.


Save Money While Giving Back

Financially smart ways to support the causes you care about.

Supporting social causes you care about can have a great return on investment in the social impact you help make. But there are also financially savvy ways to donate that can save you money, particularly when it comes to taxes. You can also increase your financial impact without having to increase the amount you give. Here are some strategies to consider.


One of the most straightforward ways to support social causes is by donating to qualified charitable organizations. Not only does your contribution make a difference, but it can also lead to tax savings. When you itemize deductions on your tax return, charitable donations are typically deductible, reducing your taxable income and potentially lowering your tax bill. Make sure you get receipts from any organization you donate to and ensure it is a tax-exempt organization.


Donor-advised funds (DAF) offer a convenient and tax-efficient way to support multiple charities. By contributing to a DAF, you can receive an immediate tax deduction for the full amount of your donation, even if you choose to distribute the funds to charities over time. This allows you to maximize your tax savings while strategically allocating your charitable giving.


Many employers offer matching gift programs as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. This means they will match their employees’ charitable contributions, effectively doubling the impact of your donation. Be sure to check if your employer offers a matching gift program and take advantage of this opportunity to amplify your support for social causes.


Instead of donating cash, consider contributing appreciated assets such as stocks, mutual funds or real estate to charity. By doing so, you can avoid capital gains taxes on the appreciation while still receiving a charitable deduction for the fair market value of the asset. This strategy not only benefits the charity but also allows you to optimize your tax planning.


While financial contributions are valuable, volunteering your time and skills can also make a meaningful difference in supporting social causes. Whether it’s mentoring young women, organizing community events or providing pro bono services, your expertise can have a profound impact on the organizations you support. Additionally, volunteering expenses such as mileage and supplies may be tax-deductible if incurred for qualified charitable purposes.


Tax laws regarding charitable giving can change from year to year, so it’s essential to stay informed about any available tax incentives. For example, recent legislation may provide temporary incentives for charitable giving in response to specific societal needs or economic conditions. By staying up-to-date on tax laws and consulting with a financial advisor or tax professional, you can maximize your tax savings while supporting causes close to your heart.

Supporting social causes doesn’t have to be a financial burden. By using tax-efficient strategies and exploring creative ways to give back, you can make a meaningful impact on your community while also saving money.


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Carmen Llanes Pulido: Locally Grown Leader

The life of local activist and polticial leader Carmen Llanes Pulido is one of community service.

Carmen Llanes Pulido was an obvious choice to interview for this column in a month where the focus is social change, with an emphasis on social justice, activism and advocacy. She’s shown impressive development as a community organizer, nonprofit professional and community servant for two decades. In recognition of this month’s topic, she took time to reflect on her journey and her accomplishments.

You were exposed to and involved in organizing work quite young, weren’t you?

Yes. I was born in Austin, and from an early age, I watched my parents get involved in many community issues ranging from neighborhood negotiations around the development of downtown to cultural arts, to the environmental justice and anti-Persian Gulf War movements. What I witnessed was people coming together, whether it was local issues or global issues, and making a difference. Particularly at the local level, I saw that a few people can really change the trajectory of things. A constant thread in my experience in Austin has been that even people who disagree on a lot of issues can come together on something they agree on and care about enough, and they can really make a difference. Austin has a highly engaged electorate. Civic engagement is a great strength and a great resource.

What issues are on your mind these days?

Growth and planning and climate resilience. They really need to be approached holistically with a broad spectrum of experts at the table who can inform things from different angles.

You’ve spent a decade with Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA). What does it do?

We organize with people who live, work and worship in North, Central, South and Southeast Austin where rates of chronic disease are really high. We work with people to improve parks and green spaces to increase access to healthy food. We also engage people around public investments in their neighborhoods, infrastructure, facilities and, most recently, climate resilience, like drainage infrastructure and green space and the things that protect people from flooding. We’ve also gotten really involved in land use discussions because we’re concerned about the displacement of residents.

What work have you done that you feel has impacted the lives of people in Austin?

Through my work with GAVA in the community, I feel the impact of our work every day. I see leadership among residents who previously didn’t get involved, and during the pandemic we were able to provide opportunities for people to work. I celebrate the collective success when a playground or public lighting comes in and you see people enjoying their built environment.

What work are you currently excited about?

GAVA has convened an incredibly diverse group of people from Austin’s eastern crescent to develop a cooperative communityowned grocery service that can bring culturally accessible, healthy and affordable food to these parts of town. We’re supporting them to incorporate and become a vehicle for community investment.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

Through my work with GAVA over the last decade-plus, I’ve been published in a number of academic journals. I’ve become pretty seasoned as an applied researcher working with academics in not only public health but also architecture, geosciences and public policy. This blend of interacting with these content experts as well as community and public policy has really informed the way that I think about these issues that face us now.

What makes you effective as a community leader?

What helps is that I am so rooted in the real-time issues and struggles of people all over the city but also incredibly connected to a wide array of content experts. I know how to leverage publicprivate funding and opportunities and missions with initiatives in a way that makes things happen.


Steps on Carmen Llanes Pulido’s path toward training an impact leader

Became an EPA-supported Young Scholar for Justice at 20 years old with PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources).

Graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in environmental sciences and free trade policy from University of Chicago.

Joined the Green for All Fellowship in Oakland in 2011, focused on the green economy as a solution for climate change and economic justice for communities that have dealt with disinvestment and pollution.

Served as a Fulcrum Fellow in the Center for Community Investment at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in 2019 and 2020, where she learned more about community investment, racial equity and adaptive leadership.

Spent 10 years serving on the City of Austin boards for the Planning Commission, Latino Quality of Life and the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (10-1).

Photo courtesy of Lisa Pavati.

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The Components of My Identity

Human trafficking survivor advocate, filmmaker and entrepreneur Sophia Strother explores all the facets of who she is.

Well, where do I start? Do I start with my transition into Austin in 2015, trying to find a new identity for myself after losing a very close loved one, for whom I was her full-time caregiver for two years? Do I start with the decision to become an employer with Amazon as a delivery service partner, employing almost 100 people and generating millions of dollars annually? Or do I start with getting my footing as a human trafficking advocate, taking my journey to the next level by becoming the statewide facilitator for the Texas Human Trafficking Survivor Leadership Council? Do I just stick to family and talk about the experiences that I’ve had as a mom? Or do I start with my love and appreciation for the arts and music in Austin?

The Austin metro has so much to offer. Whether it’s art, history, music, nature, food, tech or sports, you can find it all here in Austin. I feel it mirrors all of the different components of my identity. Since coming to Austin, I can say I’ve been so honored and blessed to do so many different things. It’s allowed me to be exposed and enlightened. Between creating my first film here, Love You to the Moon—which was co-written, produced and directed with my daughter, Le’loni Simone—and enjoying phenomenal concerts, theater and broadway shows, Austin has become a place I have affectionately called home.

It may not seem like much for you; however, for someone who was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, I cannot put the mantle down when people ask me, “Where are you from?” I have to always boast and brag about my East Coast roots; however, the longer I’ve lived in Texas—starting in 2005 in Waco, then transitioning to Austin in 2015—I now find myself saying, “Yes, I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but my home is Austin.”

As a survivor, I just recently lent my voice to a project that asked the housing question. But I define a home as more than just where you lay your head. A home is a place where you can feel safe, seen and heard. I feel as though Austin has become that place for me, where I’ve been able to create environments that are conducive to a healthy and peaceful lifestyle for myself and my family.

Austin is where I found real love that doesn’t hurt, with the love

of my life, Javvi. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced and endured some hurtful situations here as well. As my husband says, “We’ve had the best worst years of our life since 2020.” However, as a bonafide survivor, Austin has allowed me the opportunity to grow and conquer some of the greatest milestones of my life.

So now as an entrepreneur and the founder of L2E Industries, I make it my business to create an environment for my team where they can feel like they’re at home. With my partnership with Amazon, I’ve been able to create opportunities for individuals to buy their first homes, purchase their first new cars or simply be able to take care of their families. I’ve been able to help those who have been abused guide others to embrace their “now” and know they are not their circumstance. Living out this phase of my life is all about fulfilling my passion for helping others.

Since launching L2E Industries in 2020, we’ve been able to deliver over 4.5 million packages throughout Central Texas, contribute over $100,000 in philanthropy and touch hundreds of lives, and the best is yet to come.

Photo courtesy of Sophia Strother.

Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter

The legacy of a Texas trailblazer comes to the silver screen.

Full disclosure, I was a close friend of Liz Carpenter, and she was a great mentor to me and many other young women pursuing careers in journalism with an interest in women’s issues and politics. I miss her wisdom, sharp commentary and humor every day. When I learned that a documentary of her life and legacy was being made, I wasn’t sure that anyone could capture her essence. My skepticism was put to rest when I attended the premiere of Shaking It Up during SXSW.

Directed by her daughter, Christy Carpenter, and veteran documentary filmmaker Abby Ginzberg, the film explores the making of the larger-thanlife force of nature that was Elizabeth Sutherland Carpenter. Beginning with her Texas ancestors that include William Sutherland, who died in the Alamo, aunts who founded the first literary society in Texas and became suffragettes, Liz would become a trailblazer for female journalists and a women’s rights activist throughout her life.

The film parallels the intersection of history with the legacy of Carpenter. She was born in 1910, just days after the passage of the 19th Amendment; went to D.C. as a reporter in wartime 1942, where she managed to have female reporters included in the membership of the National Press Club; wrote the moving words spoken by President Johnson after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963; became the first woman executive assistant serving Vice President Johnson from 1961 to 1963 before becoming press secretary and chief of staff to Lady Bird in 1963; was personally acquainted with 12 presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush; co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1969; and was an ardent proponent of the ERA and women’s rights until her death in 2020.

Described as a trailblazer who overcame immense obstacles forging a path for the female journalists, politicians and activists who followed her, the life of Liz Carpenter is beautifully honored in this film. Her legacy is best articulated by Evan Smith at the end of the film. “Liz was joyful in the work that she did.

She never tried to get anybody. She never tried to harm anybody. She understood that her role was to be a force for good, to advance the cause of the public interest through her work and to advance the cause of democracy through her work. One of the many things that Liz Carpenter can teach us is to go back to a time when politics was not a blood sport but was about elevating people and the public interest.”

There are many lessons shared in Shaking It Up, insights for young and old: how to make yourself indispensable by managing many tasks, how to be persistent and determined especially if you believe your cause is just, how to live as a truly inclusive visionary and how to do it all with grace and humor.

When people ask me what I think Liz would say about politics today. I answer with her own words: “Anybody against women, against the ERA, should never be voted into office again.”

Follow the QR code for a sneak peek


Friends of the LBJ Library: May 21, 2024

Public screening” Bullock State History Museum Sept. 28, 2024

For more information, visit lizcarpenterfilm.com.



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