In the late sixties a self-made CEO was troubled by the plight of American POWs in North Vietnam, so he chartered a plane, packed it with medicine, mail, and meals, and tried to have it delivered to imprisoned servicemen. In the eighties, he became disturbed by what he considered rampant mediocrity in public schools, so he pushed a massive education bill through the Texas Legislature. By the nineties, he’d gotten hot under the collar about incompetence in Washington, so he ran twice for the White House.
Ross Perot wasn’t always successful—his presidential bids failed, of course, and that plane full of provisions never actually reached the POWs—but his red-tape-be-damned, DIY approach resonated widely. By not waiting around for others to fix a problem, he embodied something essential about the Texan character.
This impulse was nothing new in the Lone Star State. Back in 1911 Jovita Idar, a journalist and teacher from Laredo, founded La Liga Femenil Mexicanista, which, among other services, provided free education for poor children in the area. After serving in the Army in World War II, Hector Garcia started a medical practice in Corpus Christi for indigent patients and later launched the American GI Forum to press for the rights of Mexican American veterans. Lady Bird Johnson revolutionized the role of first lady, actively taking up such causes as the Highway Beautification Act and Head Start.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this brand of ambitious problem-solving is a thing of the past. Owing in part to the technology we carry in our pockets, the constant deluge of bad news can be overwhelming. Reasons to despair are plentiful. It’s always been easy to be a critic, but nowadays it’s perhaps even easier to be a cynic.
And let’s face it: publications like Texas Monthly are partly to blame. Flip through the pages of this magazine any given month and you’re likely to encounter tales of corruption, greed, fraud, environmental carnage, bloodshed, and (this being Texas) all manner of tomfoolery. News organizations have long had a bad-news bias, and some of that is justified. We are duty bound to hold the powerful to account; to shine a light on problems so they can be addressed.
Still, a bit more balance would be refreshing. Spend a little time out in the world and a fuller picture emerges: reasons to hope are abundant. There are all sorts of folks, from all walks of life, who understand well the bad stuff happening around us and who, rather than give in to despondency, have chosen to give themselves over.
These folks are no mere do-gooders; they’re dreamers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. Unlike Lady Bird and Perot, they’re neither powerful nor famous. Many have experienced firsthand the problems they’re now trying to solve. The battles they’re waging are far from won, of course. These are hard problems—some you’ve likely never considered. Lasting, scalable solutions don’t come easy. But in the pages to come, meet just a few of those who have put us on the path: a Dallas photographer and her friends, a superintendent in West Texas, a former teacher in Houston.
Consider this a wake-up call of sorts, a cannonball fired right to the heart of despair—a call to action. We’re Texans, after all.
The Folks Who Act
After his experience as a teacher in an underperforming school, Adeeb Barqawi founded the nonprofit ProUnitas, which helps connect social, health, and education services with the students who need them most. as told to J.K. Nickell
The Other Ones Foundation, a scrappy nonprofit led by Chris Baker, transformed a state-run encampment site for Austinites experiencing homelessness into a welcoming refuge. by Robyn Ross
San Antonio’s Leon and Leticia McNeil have introduced generations of Black and Latino youth to the outdoors through their nonprofit, City Kids Adventures. by Ryan Krogh
Lone Star State residents found ways big and small to lend each other a helping hand.
Whether helping prevent military suicides, providing free vehicle repairs, or reversing a childcare desert, these Texans are finding creative solutions to big problems.
Teaching kids how to play soccer made me a better person. So why don’t more Texans volunteer? by Josh Alvarez
These stories originally appeared as part of the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly’s cover feature “Giving Back.” Subscribe today.
Photo credits: Urbanczyks: Taylor Walker; Barqawi: Michael Starghill; Headshots for the Homies: Courtesy of Headshots for the Homies; Baker/McNeil: John Davidson; Rinehart: Jaylynn Celaya
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