Dallas Zoo alerts police after ‘unusual’ death of endangered vulture

A pair of Dallas police vehicles

By Jamie Landers

A pair of Dallas police vehicles sit at an entrance to the Dallas Zoo on Jan. 13 after a clouded leopard got out of its habitat
A pair of Dallas police vehicles sit at an entrance to the Dallas Zoo on Jan. 13 after a clouded leopard got out of its habitat. / Photo Credit: Shakfat Anowar / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Dallas Zoo said it has alerted police to look into the “unusual” circumstances of an endangered vulture found dead over the weekend.

Zoo spokeswoman Kari Streiber said that the death does “not appear to be from natural causes,” but that the zoo can’t share additional details until police have had more time to investigate.

“The animal care team is heartbroken over this tremendous loss,” she said.

Police confirmed they are investigating the death as suspicious and said a necropsy is going to be conducted on the bird.

The death comes just over a week after an hours-long search for a missing clouded leopard spurred a criminal investigation. Police believe the cat’s enclosure was intentionally cut open, along with a habitat for langur monkeys.

“In the past week, we have added additional cameras throughout the zoo and increased on-site security patrols during the overnight hours,” Streiber said. “We will continue to implement and expand our safety and security measures to whatever level necessary to keep our animals and staff safe.”

No additional information was immediately available.

Mother of boy, 11, killed in Dallas calls for community to ‘protect your babies’

De'Evan McFall
De'Evan McFall
De’Evan McFall, 11, was fatally shot outside a Dallas apartment complex on Sunday.(GoFundMe)

By Lana Ferguson

The family of the 11-year-old boy fatally shot in east Oak Cliff is calling on the community to “protect your babies at all cost.”

De’Evan McFall was shot outside an apartment complex in the 3300 block of Southern Oaks Boulevard on Sunday. Dallas police said two girls were fighting in the parking lot when one of them — a 14-year-old — fired a gun in the direction of the other.

McFall, who was a bystander, was struck. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

At a news conference Monday, his mother, Vashunte Settles, fought tears as she held up a picture of him in his DeSoto football uniform.

“I don’t want nobody else to have to feel like this,” Settles said. “I don’t. Protect your babies at all cost. You can’t get them back. I will never see my son again.”

Settles saw the shooting, KTVT-TV (Channel 11) reported, and said she’ll never be able to get over witnessing it.

“He was so innocent,” she said. “He definitely didn’t deserve it. I just wish the younger generation would stop and think before they do irrational things, because in this situation, I’m not the only one hurting.”

Settles said something productive needs to come from her son’s death.

“Let my son not have died in vain and let this save somebody else’s child,” she said.

McFall’s grandmother, Lois Williams, also pleaded with the community to end the violence.

“Please, people! Stop killing each other! I never thought I would be standing here doing this for one of my babies,” she said.

McFall was a fifth grader in the DeSoto Independent School District, and enjoyed playing sports, including basketball and football.

DeSoto ISD Superintendent Usamah Rodgers told CNN losing a student is one of the most difficult experiences an educator can have.

“It is akin to losing a child, as these are our children,” he said. “My heart and condolences go out to the McFall family. DeSoto ISD will continue to wrap its arms around the family of De’Evan McFall as well as his school family and our entire district.”

The girl who fired the gun left the scene but was taken into police custody at a nearby apartment complex. She faces a murder charge and is being held at the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center. Her name has not been released, which is typical in instances where those involved are juveniles.

Details, including what led up to the fight and where the teenager obtained the weapon, have not been released. The investigation is ongoing.

GoFundMe page has been set up by the family for funeral expenses.

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.

Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso calls it quits a week before job review

City Attorney Chris Caso
City Attorney Chris Caso
City Attorney Chris Caso listens to a speaker during a Dallas City Council meeting at Dallas City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.(Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

By Everton Bailey Jr.

Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso says he will retire on Feb. 28.

This comes nearly a week before the City Council was expected to give him his latest performance review, which has been delayed twice in five months.

In an email to Mayor Eric Johnson and the City Council on Thursday, Caso said he was retiring to spend more time with his family and to pursue other unidentified interests.

“I have greatly enjoyed my 17 plus years with the city and look forward to embarking on the next chapter in my life,” Caso, 62, wrote in the brief message. It is not immediately clear who will be appointed interim city attorney. Caso did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Caso’s retirement comes as Dallas continues to face high-profile legal battles defending new city rules that his office signed off on aimed at shutting down poker housescutting strip club operating hours and limiting panhandling.

Johnson in a statement said Dallas would do a “thorough national search” for the next city attorney.

“We thank Chris Caso for his years of dedicated service to the city of Dallas, and we wish him well in all of his future endeavors,” the mayor said.

Council member Gay Donnell Willis, who is chair of the council’s ad hoc administrative affairs committee, confirmed that the council would likely appoint an interim city attorney either this week or next.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax said he also had well wishes for Caso.

“Chris has been a great partner and committed public servant during his tenure with the city of Dallas,” Broadnax said.

Caso has been licensed as an attorney in Texas since 1985, was first hired by the city in 2005 and worked his way up from assistant city attorney representing the city in court cases and trials, including property and contract disputes.

As Dallas city attorney, Caso is the third-highest-paid city employee making $325,000 annually overseeing an office with a nearly $21 million budget this year and more than 160 workers. He was appointed interim city attorney in August 2018 and has held the position permanently since April 2020.

Caso was one of four top city officials appointed by the City Council who was supposed to be evaluated in August, but he was the only one whose review was delayed, which meant he also received no raise. The council voted to delay Caso’s review a second time on Jan. 11. They planned to discuss his evaluation again in a closed door meeting next Wednesday.

The City Council has not publicly said why its has repeatedly delayed Caso’s performance evaluation. He said during a September council budget meeting that elected officials raised concerns about prosecutions of code violations under his watch, saying they needed to be resolved more quickly.

In response, the council approved shifting more money to his office to hire four more community prosecutors. The community prosecution division is the city’s civil law enforcement arm, which upholds city ordinances and state nuisance laws.

The City Attorney’s Office oversees drafting of ordinances and resolutions, providing legal advice to the City Council and city departments and defending the city against litigation, as well as pursuing lawsuits meant to improve residents’ quality of life, among other duties.

Caso is retiring amid several legal challenges launched last year related to city rules and regulations.

The City Council last January approved banning strip clubs and all other sexually oriented businesses from being open between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., citing violent crime that mostly occurs overnight near strip clubs. A federal lawsuit against Dallas followed and led to the city holding off on enforcing the ban. A judge in May ruled in favor of several businesses suing the city and barred the city from regulating sexually oriented businesses’ operating hours. The city is appealing the ruling.

The city is also facing several lawsuits after approving, and later banning, poker clubs from legally operating in Dallas.

City attorneys and building officials argued they misinterpreted the state’s law on gambling until 2021 and erroneously issued certificates of occupancy to poker businesses that year. Three of them operate in Dallas.

Caso publicly told council members during a 2019 meeting that the poker businesses were legal, which has been cited in legal arguments by operators as why they believe the city was wrong to revoke or discontinue to grant certifications.

A Dallas Board of Adjustment panel last year allowed two poker businesses to keep operating by overturning the city’s decision to revoke the poker clubs’ certificates of occupancy. The city has since sued the citizen board and the two businesses. Taxpayer dollars are being spent to represent both sides in the two lawsuits that have been filed against the board of adjustment.

A judge at the end of last year ruled in favor of the city’s decision to revoke one business’ certification, which will be appealed.

The City Council could decide next Wednesday whether to spend up to $600,000 in legal fees continuing to sue and defend the board of adjustment.

Meanwhile, the city has also sued the third poker business, citing code violations in an attempt to shut it down and three other lawsuits have been filed against Dallas by poker businesses that were denied certificates of occupancy after the city reversed its stance on whether the establishments were legal.

The city was also sued in December over a new ordinance that subjects people to fines up to $500 for standing on road medians. The Dallas restriction was approved by the City Council in October and bans pedestrians from standing or walking on roadway medians less than 6 feet wide, in the middle of streets without medians and in clear zones like bike lanes and road shoulders.

The City Attorney’s Office since at least 2021 has publicly presented the restriction as a way to address complaints stemming from people panhandling while on the dividing strip or in the middle of streets where there is no median. It was rebranded by city officials in the months leading up to the City Council’s Oct. 26 approval as being driven by pedestrian traffic safety concerns.

The lawsuit argues the median ban is unconstitutional and will disproportionately impact homeless residents.

SMU football great Jerry LeVias recalls how a chance meeting with MLK shaped his life

Jerry LeVias

By Michael Granberry

On March 17, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared at Southern Methodist University to deliver a landmark speech. He began by saying the question he was asked most often:

“Are we making any real progress in race relations?”

It is, King said, “a poignant and desperate question on the lips of thousands and millions of people all over this nation.”

Before he spoke to the standing-room-only crowd,King requested a private audience with Jerry LeVias, a 19-year-old freshman who would soon emerge as a barometer of how much progress was being made, on the Park Cities campus of SMU, in the city of Dallas and in America. The 5-foot-7, 140-pound wide receiver from Beaumont had recently become the first Black athlete in the history of the Southwest Conference to be awarded a scholarship to play football.

It was a staggering responsibility to place on the shoulders of LeVias, who had left the comfort of a loving home and a Black high school to stare racial injustice in the eye. The hate LeVias faced was getting to be too much. He was thinking of leaving the school, having already encountered racism on the practice field, where a freshman teammate had spit in his face and broken his ribs. King, aware of the sacrifices LeVias was making to advance the cause of civil rights, asked to meet with the teenager. And he insisted on privacy.

About 15 minutes before the speech, SMU President Willis M. Tate and Dean of Men Joe A. Howell led LeVias to a private room behind the stage of McFarlin Auditorium, where King and several other men, security guards and fellow ministers, had surrounded the civil rights leader. King asked everyone to leave and told LeVias to take a seat. He then began speaking, in soft measured tones.

LeVias says it was hard not to let his emotions carry him away. This was the man who made the immortal “I Have a Dream” speech, who made LeVias’ mother and grandmother cry with pride.

King wore what he always wore — a dark suit, dark tie and white shirt. “Walking into the room, I felt so awed, and there we were, by ourselves. He was bigger than life to Black people. He had gotten more attention and visibility than any Black person ever had. And he was talking to me. And it meant so much. I had grown up in a religious family, and here I was talking to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I wouldn’t call him smart — I would call him incredibly smart and God-like.”

Much of what King said is now a blur to the 76-year-old LeVias. But — as the country observes King’s birthday — a few snippets remain clear.

LeVias says that in the fragile racial climate of 1960s America, King wanted no one to believe the young athlete was “a plant,” placed on the roster of an intercollegiate football team in a contrived attempt at social change.

For nothing was further from the truth.

A difference maker

Six months to the day after meeting King, LeVias would for the first time step on the emerald-green grass of the Cotton Bowl, en route to leading SMU to its first conference championship since 1948, when Doak Walker, a white player from Highland Park, had done the same.

For LeVias, the narrative was destined to be different, as King had anticipated.

He left LeVias with a firm handshake and the best advice LeVias says he’s ever heard: “Always keep your emotions in control.”

King’s words echoed those of Ella LeVias, the player’s grandmother and lifelong protector, with whom he prayed on a daily basis. She insisted he wear only one number at SMU, 23, in honor of their shared mantra, the 23rd Psalm.

As a teenager, LeVias had no idea how soon he’d become the football embodiment of the prayer that calls for faith in the face of struggle and pain. Somehow, some way, he says with a wry chuckle, King knew. Speaking with King was something LeVias says he’ll never forget.

"I had grown up in a religious family, and here I was talking to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther...
“I had grown up in a religious family, and here I was talking to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.” LeVias said. “I wouldn’t call him smart — I would call him incredibly smart and God-like.”(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Rufus Cormier, a Black high school classmate of LeVias’ — who, one year later, joined the SMU roster as a teammate — says LeVias was destined to make history for reasons having to do far more with character than football.

He was, Cormier says, “rigorously screened by Coach Hayden Fry,” who already knew of “the challenges Jerry would face. His athletic achievements were astonishing, but that is not the only, or even the primary reason, that Jerry is so deserving of admiration and respect.

“Jerry’s intelligence, fortitude, integrity and devotion to excellence, together with his mythic athletic ability, made him the ideal candidate to open the doors to integration. Jerry was in many ways a Jackie Robinson. He endured with courage, grace and dignity the threatening phone calls, racist letters, isolation and other intimidation he encountered, to which a lesser man would likely have succumbed.”

Polio and a stroke

Shy and quiet, LeVias grew up in a loving family, anchored by a grandmother whose spirituality defined not only her life but his. His father was a laborer, his mother a housekeeper, who worried most of all for his safety.

Jerry was the youngest of three children, “the baby,” he says, who in many ways appeared ill-cast as a civil rights icon. As a child, he endured polio and a stroke before being picked for the football team in his hometown, where coaches had long believed he was too small to play. By his fourth-grade year, LeVias had healed but “had to run home every day, otherwise kids would beat me up.”

That as much as anything, he says now with a laugh, helped him hone a rare athletic talent. “I was fast.”

SMU coach Hayden Fry (right) believed Jerry LeVias (left) could elevate small, private SMU...
SMU coach Hayden Fry (right) believed Jerry LeVias (left) could elevate small, private SMU to an equal status with conference juggernauts Texas and Arkansas, which had each ascended to a national championship in the 1960s.(The Dallas Morning News / See caption)

Of all his grandmother’s grandchildren, “I was the smallest,” he says. “Grandma would pray for you, and we believed she had a direct connection to God. Because when Grandma said something, it was good. We believed in Grandma. So, when Coach Fry came to the house, he had done his homework. He talked to all the coaches and everybody who knew us.”

Fry, LeVias says, spoke Grandma Ella first, before he conversed with Jerry’s mom or dad.

LeVias not only graduated from SMU, he did so proudly, as an All-American on the field and an Academic All-American off. He says he harbors not one bad memory of SMU academically. He adored his professors, most of whom have passed away but who steered him to a life after football, as an executive with the oil and gas company Conoco and later as the head of his own marketing company.

R. Gerald Turner, the president of SMU, lists a multitude of reasons why LeVias is among SMU’s Distinguished Alumni, an honor he received in 2006.

Turner calls LeVias’ contribution to the school and its history “incredibly important. Because it has in it all of the issues and emotions that made up the 1960s.” The fact that Jerry, in terms of racial equality, “was leading the way in the Southwest Conference is one of those important components of our history.”

Anytime “you’re a first and having to deal with the pain that goes with that” is, Turner says, both lasting and significant. “You’re first, because there have been a lot of forces that have kept it from happening before. And so, all of those forces come to bear. It’s painful to me to read Jerry’s report of those times. But it makes you incredibly proud of him.”

A prized recruit

Before agreeing to play at SMU, LeVias received close to 100 offers from colleges including UCLA, where his cousin, Detroit Lions great Mel Farr, and even Jackie Robinson had starred. Not one offer had come from the Southwest Conference.

Fry, who became the Branch Rickey in SMU’s version of the Jackie Robinson story, had recruited LeVias with a rare passion, believing it was not only the right thing to do — that Black athletes had long been deprived of their rightful place in college sports, especially in the South — but that LeVias in particular could elevate small, private SMU to an equal status with conference juggernauts Texas and Arkansas, which had each ascended to a national championship in the 1960s.

Max Woodfin, a freshman during LeVias’ 1968 senior season, understood the pressures LeVias faced in a sea of white students, including himself. Woodfin, who grew up in the rural environs of Brinkley, Ark., says, “A lot of us came from high schools that were still segregated. I was in the first integrated graduating class from my high school in Arkansas. So, being around Black students in the classroom was a novel experience.”

Once he arrived at SMU, Woodfin learned that the problems of race relations extended beyond SMU to Dallas as a whole. As a freshman, he was assigned to cover some of Dallas’ first integrated high school games for a downtown newspaper. “It was not a pleasant place for a Black player,” he says. Woodfin routinely heard racist slurs “not only from the fans but even from people sitting in the press box.”

But the tide was starting to turn.On the housing questionnaire Woodfin filled out three years after LeVias was admitted, “One of the questions was: Would you accept a roommate from another race or nationality?”

Even before LeVias took the field in 1966, Black players had introduced interracial rosters to local fans of professional football. The Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Texans, who in 1963 became the Kansas City Chiefs, began playing in the Cotton Bowl in 1960. The Cowboys’ roster included such All-Pro talents as Bob Hayes and Cornell Green, who were Black, as was Texans’ running back Abner Haynes.

All of which failed to lessen LeVias’ pain. As heonce told Arnold Payne of WFAA-TV (Channel 8), his years on The Hilltop were “a living hell.”

“It was,” he said to Payne, “a nightmare. You weren’t treated right, you weren’t treated equally, you were lonesome. Being spit on, you were called the N-word, an African, a monkey. The times when people would call me a [N-word], I would look at them, smile and say, ‘The best one you’ve ever seen.’”

In those days, freshmen were not permitted on the varsity roster. So, LeVias did not appear in a varsity game until his sophomore year, which began with SMU trouncing Illinois. Led by LeVias, SMU finished with a won-lost record of 8-2, before losing to mighty Georgia in the annual Cotton Bowl Classic, SMU’s first appearance in 18 years.

Campus hero? No. The racist ugliness had actually begun the year before, perpetrated not by an opponent but by a teammate.

“My first game, my freshman year, I made my mark, but they beat me up in practice so bad.”

Freshmen had their own squad, which then-36-year-old Fry did not coach, meaning he wasn’t around to protect his recruit.

“I realized, this was going to be tough, when your own teammate spits on you, and you’re on the ground, about to get up, and then he kicks you in the back and breaks your ribs,” LeVias says.

Off the field, it was at best a mixed bag.

When LeVias arrived on campus in the fall of 1965, a graduate of all-Black Hebert High School in Beaumont, he did so as one of two Black students at SMU. Assigned a white roommate, it appeared to be going well. For about a month.

Old photographs and newspaper clippings lie on a table at the LeVias home in Houston.
Old photographs and newspaper clippings lie on a table at the LeVias home in Houston.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

“I thought we got along pretty good. No problems,” LeVias said.

But one day, after practice, LeVias got word that Joe A. Howell, SMU’s “dean of men” wanted to see him.

“He told me what it was,” LeVias said, “that the white kid wanted to move out.”

How did that make him feel?

“It’s something I’ve had to deal with my entire life,” he says. The white student who no longer wished to share a room with LeVias moved to the dorm room next door.

And then, “it happened to me again” during sophomore year.

At least that student, LeVias says, “was man enough to tell me he had to move out, because no one wanted to be his friend anymore, and ‘no girl wants to date me.’”

The prophetic King

For all four years at SMU, LeVias lived alone. Those years, he says, marked the beginning of an almost-crushing feeling of loneliness and alienation that lingered well into adulthood. In a way, King had left him with a double burden — to not only endure the racist abuse but to remain stoic no matter how much it shook him.

“As far as my teammates were concerned, I was only good for Saturday.” The rest of the week? They weren’t that friendly. “Later on, if Otis Redding or James Brown was in town playing a concert, and they needed an escort in a Black part of town, well, then,” LeVias says, “yes, they would hit me up.”

To ease the loneliness, LeVias sought refuge in the blues clubs and Black homes of South Dallas, but at times, his own feeling of blues was sharpened. Some expressed skepticism as to why a young Black man would agree to play at a privileged school dominated by whites. “Some,” he says, “even called me a traitor.”

“My mother’s sister lived in Dallas, and I would go there on weekends to spend time with my aunt and uncle,” he says. “Because there was nothing else for me to do.”

The lowest points, he says, were getting hurt, having no one to room with and watching racism creep into the classroom. “On the first day of class, students would sit on the floor, just to avoid sitting by me.”

LeVias and his wife, Janice, flip through old photos at their home on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.
LeVias and his wife, Janice, flip through old photos at their home on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Three times, in driving back to SMU from South Dallas, he was stopped by police for one reason — he was Black. Had it not been for the kindness of professors, and a Jewish family that offered the shelter of a loving second home, “There is no way on earth I ever would have made it.” To this day, he wears a Jewish Star of David with a black sapphire in the middle to honor that family’s kindness.

“I didn’t have any campus life. I didn’t have college life. My friends on campus were the janitors and the cooks.”

Even so, when it came to recruiting Black players, Fry didn’tstop with LeVias. By the time he joined the varsity team as a sophomore, LeVias welcomed the arrival of Cormier and running back Walter Haynes.

They roomed with each other, not with LeVias. But all three grew close. Cormier went on to attend Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary Clinton before becoming a distinguished attorney. Haynes, a former reporter at the Boston Globe, died in 1981.

“He instinctively knew that opportunities for others, like me, who followed at SMU and other Southern colleges and universities, were dependent upon his success,” Cormier said of LeVias. “If he had not thrived both academically and athletically, Coach Fry could not have recruited me or those who followed.”

‘It broke me’

On Nov. 26, 1966, during LeVias’ first varsity season, with a record of 7-2, SMU needed only a victory in Fort Worth against Texas Christian University to capture its first conference championship since 1948.

When SMU’s bus arrived, “I’ve got policemen escorting me into the stadium,” LeVias says. “I’m thinking, ‘Big game, movie star, red-carpet treatment. Everything! I’m huge. I’m the star.’ “

But that wasn’t the reason for the beefed-up security. As the HBO documentary Breaking the Huddle noted: “A phone call to the university warned of a possible tragedy.”

LeVias told HBO, “The threat was that I was going to be shot. And there’s going to be a sniper in the stands.”

Even so, LeVias played, catching a 65-yard touchdown pass and leading SMU to the conference crown. The Mustangs ended the season ranked 9th in the nation.

But racist attacks continued.

During his junior season in 1967, at a road game in Waco, a player for Baylor University stuck his hand through LeVias’ face mask and, with his thumb, tried to gouge out LeVias’ eye. He almost succeeded. It ended LeVias’ season. Only surgery saved the eye.

During his senior year in 1968, in a game at the Cotton Bowl, a player for TCU rolled on top of him, spit in his face, and made “some real strong racial remarks,” as Fry would later say.

That one marked the breaking point for LeVias. As he told HBO, “I lost it. I quit. I came to the sidelines. I threw my helmet down. I told Coach Fry, ‘I don’t have to take this s—. I quit!”

He returned to the field, fueled by an emotion that he had until then suppressed: hate. With the score tied, 14-14, LeVias fielded a punt and, zigzagging acrobatically from sideline to sideline, scampered more than 80 yards to the end zone. SMU won, 21-14.

He calls it his worst touchdown ever, “because it broke me. I did it out of hate.” It became, he says, “the first time I’ve ever really hated white people.”

In later years, it represented a breakthrough. Hate, he says today, is no more than a cancer, consuming not the target but the hater. The metaphor rings with the virtues King espoused, to which LeVias was introduced 56 years ago.

“I’m still healing,” LeVias says. And yet, as King and Grandma would have wanted, “the hatred is gone.”

Then and now

Looking back on his meeting with King more than half a century later, LeVias says the reverend’s parting words — “Always keep your emotions in control” — remain the best directive he could have received at the time. But adhering to them took a private toll. It led to five years of psychotherapy. It also led him to the love of a wonderful woman.

“Janice saved me,” LeVias says of his wife, “by letting me be myself. I had so much built...
“Janice saved me,” LeVias says of his wife, “by letting me be myself. I had so much built up, and I couldn’t talk about it to anybody. She believed in me not as an athlete but as a person.”(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Today, LeVias is happily married to Janice LeVias, his partner for more than 40 years. They live in Houston, where LeVias was drafted in the second round in 1969 by the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), with whom he played through 1970. He played with the San Diego Chargers from 1971 to 1974.

“Janice saved me,” LeVias says, “by letting me be myself. I had so much built up, and I couldn’t talk about it to anybody. She believed in me not as an athlete but as a person.”

On Feb. 21, a historic marker will be dedicated at McFarlin Auditorium, where King delivered his speech in 1966.

It would be tempting to say nearly 60 years later that LeVias is revered on The Hilltop for his historic role in integrating college sports. But that isn’t quite the case.

Doak Walker is honored with a statue that serves as the centerpiece of Doak Walker Plaza. There is no Jerry LeVias statue and no plaza.

Turner, the SMU president, says LeVias reminds him of a line from the great novelist William Faulkner, who once said, “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” LeVias “didn’t just endure it all,” Turner says, “he prevailed.”

So, does that mean LeVias might one day be honored with the same degree of prominence as Walker?

“The answer is yes,” Turner says. “Particularly if you’re talking about a plaza that’s directly related to him and so on. But when it comes to statuary on campus, once you start building them, it’s hard to stop. Jerry deserves some place, whether it’s a statue or not.”

LeVias’ response? “I don’t need a statue on the SMU campus. Just get them to recognize the role that Hayden Fry and President Tate played to recognize their place in the South for minority students wanting to play sports. I am not asking for attention. My success speaks for itself.”

In 2006, LeVias returned to Dallas to receive the Distinguished Alumni award. He gave a speech, during which he said, “It only takes one person to have an effect against racism. It takes many to defeat it. I look forward to the day SMU will fully understand their contributions of integrating the South.”

In 2009, then-head football coach June Jones created an award given to, in the university’s words, “a deserving student-athlete” chosen annually “to wear the number ‘23′ on his jersey to honor LeVias for his contributions to America, the sport of football and SMU.”

Last year’s recipient was Austin Upshaw, a senior wide receiver from La Porte. In August, for the first time since the award was created, LeVias came to SMU, where he presented it personally.

Clouded leopard found after hours-long search at Dallas Zoo

Dallas Zoo President

By Jamie LandersAria Jones and Isabella Volmert

Dallas Zoo President

A missing clouded leopard was found safe at the Dallas Zoo late Friday afternoon, hours after its disappearance led the zoo to close.

Nova, the 4-year-old leopard, was reported missing from an enclosure authorities believe was intentionally cut open.

“Initial indications are she is not injured,” zoo spokeswoman Kari Streiber said. “She is being evaluated by our veterinary staff right now.”

Streiber said Nova was located on zoo grounds approximately 4:40 p.m., and was safely secured about 35 minutes later. Further updates on her status will be available Saturday, she said.

‘Not a habitat failure’

Dallas Zoo President Gregg Hudson said staff found a “suspicious opening” in the enclosure Nova shares with her sister, Luna, in the morning. Nova was no longer in the habitat.

“It was clear that this opening was not a habitat failure, it was not an exhibit failure and it wasn’t keeper error,” he said.

Sgt. Warren Mitchell, a Dallas police spokesman, confirmed police have opened a criminal investigation into the leopard’s disappearance.

“It is our belief that this was an intentional act,” Mitchell said.

Dallas Zoo president drives a cart with Harrison Edell, executive vice president of animal...
Dallas Zoo president drives a cart with Harrison Edell, executive vice president of animal care and conservation inside the Dallas Zoo.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

The zoo issued a “code blue” — an alert when non-dangerous animals aren’t in their enclosures — when employees discovered Nova was missing.

The zoo stressed that the “very much nocturnal” cat, who weighs about 25 pounds, was not a danger to people. She also was not “a greater risk for pets” than other animals native to urban North Texas, the zoo said.

“This is intensely frustrating,” said Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president for animal care and conservation. “This is a cat of conservation concern that is not a pet. She is a critically important member of our family at Dallas Zoo. She means a lot to us.”

Edell said the staff checks enclosures multiple times a day, starting with a head count of every animal “first thing in the morning.”

He also said that the animals are very attached to a “home territory” or a space they know — and for Nova, that was the space immediately adjacent to her habitat. She and her sister are “attached at the hip,” he said.

The zoo plans to open the Wilds of Africa, a section on the south side of the zoo, for normal weekend operations Saturday. It was unclear whether the rest of the zoo would be open.

Luna and Nova rest together inside their habitat at the Dallas Zoo on Sept. 8, 2021.
Luna and Nova rest together inside their habitat at the Dallas Zoo on Sept. 8, 2021.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Looking to the trees

Edell said during a morning news conference that zoo staff were “spending a lot of time with binoculars” looking for Nova in nearby trees.

“More likely than not … she’s going to climb a tree, stay out of our way, hunt some squirrels and birds and hope not to be noticed,” he said.

Dallas police provided infrared drones to assist in the search, and Irving police were also helping with drone equipment. Dallas SWAT was deployed as a precaution, police said.

“When we initially responded to the location for a reportedly missing clouded leopard, we first dispatched our SWAT officers out here, not clearly understanding what a clouded leopard was,” Mitchell said. “We were thinking, perhaps a big cat.”

When Dallas police learned what type of animal they were dealing with, the SWAT officers were released and patrol resources were added to the investigation.

In the neighborhood

Andrine Kolby and Will Barron, both 21, were planning to go to the zoo Friday, but said on the way there, as they were looking to buy tickets, they found out it was closed.

”It’s not dangerous, so I’m sure they’ll find it and it’ll be OK. We’ll have to go another day,” Kolby said, adding while she wasn’t expecting all of the animals to be outside due to the cold, she was still excited to go.

Maria Lopez, who lives near the Dallas Zoo, attends to her chickens roaming by her house on...
Maria Lopez, who lives near the Dallas Zoo, attends to her chickens roaming by her house on Friday.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

With an abrupt change of plans, Barron said they were planning to go downtown and improvise.

In the east Oak Cliff neighborhood beside the zoo, dogs, big and small, were in their yards and several house cats could be seen roaming outside.

Maria Lopez was out Friday afternoon tending to several chickens and a turkey in her backyard. While a few of the smaller chickens made their way through the fence lined with chicken wire, Lopez said she wasn’t very worried about the leopard getting to her fowl. The birds, she said, don’t leave their enclosure often.

From Houston to Dallas

The Dallas Zoo had never housed clouded leopards before September 2021, when Nova and Luna made their public debut after a move from the Houston Zoo.

Clouded leopards — named for the large, cloudlike spots that cover their bodies — stand only a couple feet tall and are a few feet long, Sara Bjerklie, an assistant zoological manager at the zoo, previously told The Dallas Morning News.

Bjerklie said they’re still as fierce as bigger predators, with canine teeth that can grow to more than 2 inches long, and the largest canine-to-skull ratio of all cats.

Of the two leopards, Bjerklie described Nova as more “standoffish.”

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.

House disrupters will be lingering problem for GOP

Rep. Chip Roy
Rep. Chip Roy
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, talks to reporters in Statuary Hall about their opposition to voting for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to be speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)(Jose Luis Magana / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

The historically long process to choose a new U.S. House speaker highlights the power of a few insurgents to affect politics at the highest level.

Twenty Republicans, with at least six of them hardened in their positions, denied California Republican Kevin McCarthy the speakership for 14 rounds of voting. That’s the most time it’s taken to elect a House speaker since 1923, when Massachusetts Republican Frederick Gillett won on the ninth ballot. In 1855, Nathaniel Banks, a member of the American Party, was elected speaker after a record 133 votes.

Few speaker contests have been as dramatic as McCarthy’s odyssey.

The race ultimately ended Friday night when Chip Roy of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria and newly elected Keith Self of McKinney joined other Republicans in dropping their opposition to McCarthy. But four Republicans voted against McCarthy and two — Florida’s Matt Gaetz and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert — voted present. That denied McCarthy the speakership and continued the GOP’s embarrassing family feud.

But then McCarthy worked a deal with Gaetz and won speakership on the 15th vote. According to media reports, former President Donald Trump called into the House chamber to convince anti-McCarthy Republicans to give up the stalemate.

“I’ll be honest. It’s not how I had planned,” McCarthy said during his acceptance speech.

Polarization empowers the fringe

How did a small cadre of insurgent Republicans bring the House to a standstill?


The inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together has empowered minority factions in both parties. A bipartisan approach could have resulted in McCarthy winning the speaker’s race in short order.

But Democrats held the line, using their 212 votes to back New York’s Hakeem Jeffries. He’s now the new House minority leader.

McCarthy and his allies didn’t ask Democrats for help. That’s because consorting with Democrats would put a lawmaker in bad stead with grassroots Republicans who dominate the GOP primary process. The threat of being ousted from office for dealing with a member of the other party is real, particularly in GOP circles.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (right) talked with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during the 13th...
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (right) talked with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during the 13th vote in the House chamber as the House met for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)(Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

McCarthy had to win the speaker’s race within his own caucus, and that gave each GOP member greater clout. That influence will continue as the 2024 elections loom and create more headaches for Republicans who want to focus on their conservative message, instead of infighting and tough general elections with insurgents as their party’s standard bearers.

Democrats had a similar problem, but former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to keep her caucus unified. Remember noise from progressives about not supporting President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan until a more expansive, progressive companion piece of legislation was approved? That insurgency never occurred.

Draining the swamp?

Though small, the anti-McCarthy forces got big concessions.

Expect small minorities inside the GOP caucus to heavily influence House legislation and potential investigations, and McCarthy could be in a weaker position than former speakers.

According to reports, the new speaker has agreed to allow any single member of the House to call for a vote to oust the speaker. He also conceded that his leadership political action committee would stay out of GOP primary contests, something insurgents have complained about in the past.

McCarthy’s team will allow votes on a number of insurgent wish list items, including term limits and a balanced budget amendment. Such proposals are unlikely to get through the House. McCarthy also promised that any debt ceiling hike would come with spending cuts.

Insurgents are expected to get key posts on several powerful committees.

For many Americans who want to change the swampy politics of Washington, the House disruption was American democracy in action.

After the tough fight, it was compelling to watch Jeffries present the gavel to McCarthy.

Insurgents influential in Texas

Even outside of Washington, the power of hard-core conservatives can be felt.

In 2021 the Texas Legislature approved laws that appeared to mollify Trump supporters, including tighter controls of the mail-in ballot process, policies aimed at curbing social media censorship and allowing residents to carry guns without a permit.

Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan, the presumptive Texas House speaker, has had to stand up to activists who want him to deny Democrats chairmanships on House committees.

Republican speakers in the Texas House have won with support from Democrats.

Dade Phelan, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, addressed the audience during a...
Dade Phelan, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, addressed the audience during a reception at the 2022 Republican Party of Texas State Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Houston on Thursday, June 16, 2022.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Redistricting impact

The polarization of the political parties will continue because the 2021 redrawing of congressional and Texas legislative boundaries protected Democratic and Republican incumbents. That means the political fringe will have greater influence in primaries. Since Republicans control the state, their insurgents are as powerful as ever.

The success of the Republican House disrupters will embolden insurgents across the country to continue their fight against the establishment. That could cause problems for Republicans, because insurgent candidates typically don’t win statewide or swing-district races.

Consider the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans could have had a greater majority in the House, and maybe won the Senate, if they hadn’t had election deniers and other problematic candidates who lost general election races that traditional Republicans would have won.

The stakes are just as high in 2024, with Trump mounting another run for the White House.

Can the gridlock in Washington ease?

There are some issues, like abortion and immigration, on which Democrats and Republicans will always be at loggerheads.

But there’s so much more on the table on which the parties can find common ground, if they tried.

If they don’t make an effort at working together, the disrupters who rely on polarization will thrive.

McCarthy has a fresh start. Let’s see how he handles it.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California reacted after being sworn in on the House floor...
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California reacted after being sworn in on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)(Andrew Harnik / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.

2 southern Dallas court programs lack oversight, basic operating procedures: audit

Dallas City Hall in January 2023

By Everton Bailey Jr.

Dallas City Hall in January 2023
Dallas City Hall in January 2023. / Photo Credit: Tom Fox / Staff Photographer

Two southern Dallas-based community court programs meant to aid and rehabilitate residents accused of low-level offenses have such poor record keeping and oversight that it’s hard to determine if they’re working as intended, according to a city audit.

A random sampling of South Dallas Drug Court and South Oak Cliff Veterans’ Treatment Court files revealed incomplete records on participants, improperly vetted vendors, and former city employees listed as still having access to sensitive information, among other issues, according to the city auditor’s office.

One treatment vendor, for example, notified the city that participants would be charged additional fees even though they weren’t supposed to pay anything. The audit said it’s unclear if participants ended up being charged for the free service because the documents attached to the invoices were “incomplete and inconsistent.”

Both grant-funded programs are overseen by the city attorney’s office through Dallas’ community courts system. In 2022, the city accepted more than $375,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the drug court and $50,000 from the Texas Veterans Commission for the veterans’ treatment court.

“In the absence of clearly defined monitoring controls over the treatment courts, the city attorney’s office cannot attest the financial and operational activities of the treatment courts comply with applicable city of Dallas procedures and federal and state grant requirements,” the audit, released on Dec. 29, said. The audit reviewed records between October 2017 and September 2020.

The community court programs are less than 10 years old and accept people accused of Class C misdemeanors suffering from alcohol or substance abuse, as well as mental health disorders. Veterans and others can be referred to treatment and other services, such as job training and financial planning. Fines, court fees and possible jail time could be waived by a judge following successful completion of the programs. Community service could also be part of the agreement.

The drug court aims to enroll around 75 people a year and the veterans’ treatment court around 60.

The audit attributed the problems to a lack of written rules and procedures that would have ensured proper oversight.

City Attorney Chris Caso in a response statement said his office already has procedures in place to address monitoring, record keeping and payment concerns. He said they plan to review them and “make any necessary revisions.”

“While the audit observed low risk ratings in its review of the specialty courts, we recognized that there are always opportunities for improvement,” Caso wrote to City Auditor Mark Swann.

In the audit, an analysis of 26 contracts found eight didn’t have any documentation showing their insurance was reviewed and approved by the city, four had no insurance documentation, and one didn’t include proof of insurance coverage.

There were also no records that city employees personally saw the services being provided to program participants.

A review of 35 invoices found that all of them didn’t have the total amount requested to date or listed an amount different from what the city agreed to in the contract. Other issues included 25 of those invoices missing supporting documentation, nine invoices used billing rates different from the contract and five of them had no dates listed when services were provided.

There were also several cases where it took months for vendors to get paid by the city. In one case, the city was billed more than $1,000 from one vendor in September 2018, but the vendor wasn’t paid until November. In another case, a vendor invoiced the city $3,800 in September 2018 but wasn’t paid until February 2019.

“The city’s attorney’s office does not have written procedures and work instructions on what supporting documentation should accompany an invoice nor how to review, verify, approve and document invoices to ensure that the city of Dallas pays for eligible services provided to eligible individuals in a timely manner,” the audit said.

Paper and electronic records on case files detailing people’s treatment, community service hours and other progress weren’t complete or accurate, the review found. Because of that, there wasn’t a reliable record to determine that all treatment participants complied with program requirements before their charges were dismissed, the audit said.

“In addition, the South Dallas Drug Court and South Oak Cliff Veterans’ Treatment Court management could not provide a reliable listing of current and past participants,” the audit said.

The city also doesn’t monitor who has access to the software used as an electronic database for cases. The audit found 10 former city employees still were listed as active users and had access to the database of files.

“As a result, sensitive client information is vulnerable to tampering and unauthorized disclosure,” the audit said.

The review didn’t say whether there was any evidence found of information being tampered with or improperly disclosed.

The auditor’s office issued a series of recommendations to the city attorney’s office to implement rules that mandate checks to ensure vendors are properly credentialed and providing the services agreed upon. Other recommendations include creating written policy and procedure that foster properly collected and maintained records, fully trained city staff and timely paid vendors.

The auditor’s office set a June 9 date to follow up on progress from their recommendations.

New Friends New Life awarded $150,000 grant for women’s program

Tori Hobbs
Tori Hobbs
From left, Tori Hobbs​, ​Mosaic Family Services ​executive director​; Murriel Webb​,​Braswell Child Development Services director; Bianca Davis​, ​​New Friends New Life chief executive; Dr. Kelly Varga​, ​Community Basket Mobile Farmers Market ​executive director​(Kim Leeson)

By Eric Zarate

The Dallas Foundation awarded a total $300,000 to four nonprofits Dec. 13 through its Mary J. Jalonik Women’s Philanthropy Institute, with a $150,000 going to New Friends New Life and $50,000 grants each toBraswell Child Development Center, Community Basket Mobile Farmers Market and Mosaic Family Services.

The grant to Dallas-based New Friends New Life will provide basic needs, counseling and economic empowerment resources to 240 Women’s Program members.

“New Friends New Life helps women and their children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction and poverty by creating opportunities and healing services for them,” chief executive Matthew Randazzo said. “This embodies everything the Women’s Philanthropy Institute stands for.”

A foundation statement adds that the philanthropy group, which typically visits four to five nonprofits in the Dallas-area each year, has awarded almost $1 million in grants since 2012.

“This impactful grant will help these brave survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation overcome the trauma and roadblocks of their past and achieve their dreams,” New Friends New Life executive director Bianca Davis said.

“We are ecstatic to be recipients of the lead grant from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute of The Dallas Foundation,” said Bianca Davis, Executive Director of New Friends New Life.

Would-be U.S. House speaker McCarthy loses 11th ballot on Day 3 of Capitol stalemate

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting room at the Capitol as he negotiates with fellow GOP lawmakers blocking his bid for speaker on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.(J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By Joseph MortonRebekah Alvey and Todd J. Gillman

WASHINGTON — California Republican Kevin McCarthy was discussing more concessions to the holdouts in his party Thursday evening, but any progress being made behind closed doors had yet to manifest on the House floor as he lost the 11th ballot in an increasingly bitter GOP impasse over picking a U.S. House speaker.

Lawmakers-elect then voted to adjourn until noon Friday. That vote, just after 8 p.m., was 219-213, with all Democrats trying to keep the House in session and all but one Republican voting to take a breather.

Reporters pressed McCarthy on how much longer the process could drag on, but he would not provide a timeline and indicated the back-and-forth between members just represents life with a super-thin majority.

“The entire conference is going to have to learn how to work together, so it’s better that we go through this process right now,” McCarthy said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

He also pushed back on the idea that his power — should he win the speakership — would be undermined after agreeing to reinstate the “motion to vacate” that could then be used to remove him.

“That’s the way it’s always been except for the last speaker. I think I’m very fine with that,” McCarthy said. “… I would only be a weaker speaker if I were afraid of it. I am not a weak. I won’t be a weak speaker.”

Richmond Republican Troy Nehls nominated McCarthy on the 9th ballot, saying McCarthy has been the House Republican leader for the past four years and enjoys “overwhelming support” within the conference.

Nehls described himself as a proud member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and called for an end to the Republican-on-Republican fighting. He said the 20 members who have been voting for candidates other than McCarthy have been able to express their concerns and have many of them addressed.

“This motion allows us, the Republican conference, to hold the speaker accountable,” Nehls said.

Republicans have been entrusted with the House majority because Americans want a change of direction, he said, adding that McCarthy understands their priorities.

“We must secure our southern border, we must unleash our energy sector and become energy independent,” Nehls said. “We must curb inflation by … reducing spending. And we must support our law enforcement officers, folks. We’ve got to get crime under control.”

But his entreaties were in vain.

McCarthy made no progress on the seventh through 11th ballots as 20 defectors continued to cast their votes for people other than their party’s leader in roll call after roll call.

Matt Gaetz of Florida became the first this week to cast votes for Donald Trump for speaker.

It has never been done, but there’s nothing in the Constitution barring a non-member from serving as speaker. The former president has endorsed McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, but that support has — so far — failed to sway the conservative members blocking McCarthy.

Among the Republicans in McCarthy’s way are three Texans: Chip Roy of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria and Keith Self of Plano.

The other 22 Texas Republicans elected to the House in November have stood by McCarthy, while the state’s Democrats are united behind their new leader in the chamber, Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

Republican Pete Sessions of Waco said on CNN there were rumblings that headway was being made on a deal, one that could win over at least some of the holdouts but possibly not enough to get McCarthy over the top.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be a reality check by all of us about what we think,” Sessions said.

Roy could be seen dashing between votes on the floor and the negotiations. Speaking to reporters, he declined to commit to bringing over a certain number of holdouts.

“Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to make this place better,” he said. “And then we’ll see where everybody lands in terms of their votes. That’s all I can do.”

CNN and other outlets reported McCarthy is willing to change the House rules to allow a single member to call for a vote to remove the sitting speaker, a key demand for some of his opponents.

McCarthy also would agree to have the House vote on measures such as congressional term limits and allow more of the body’s most conservative members to serve on the Rules Committee that controls the flow of legislation and dictates terms of floor debate.

Cloud said this week that the fight, for him, has always been about process rather than personality.

“This is about putting Congress on the right path, making the structural reforms needed to fix how this place works for the American people,” Cloud said. “So who the speaker is has always been, to me, secondary to us as a conference coming together and agreeing on those things, those processes that are going to make this place work.”

But it was telling that Cloud would not commit to supporting McCarthy even if he agrees to all of the rules changes being sought by the holdouts. Instead, Cloud said his votes would “speak for themselves.”

‘We’ll get through this’

Cloud said the two sides have worked for months to reach an agreement and have made progress. But he said that progress relies on trust that has been eroded this week. And he downplayed the impact on most people in the country.

“Sometimes, people here feel like we’re the center of the world,” he said. “And the work we do is important; I’m not making light of it. But most Americans are still going to wake up tomorrow and go to work. And we’ll get through this.”

McCarthy failed to reach the necessary 218 votes to become speaker on three consecutive ballots Tuesday when the 118th Congress convened.

He failed on three more on Wednesday before a wild floor vote to adjourn went down to the wire. Amid a flurry of late votes and much shouting, Republicans were able to adjourn until 11 a.m. CT Thursday.

Roy has been a prominent figure in the fight and delivered an impassioned nominating speech for Florida Republican Byron Donalds. He and the other Texas holdouts voted for Donalds repeatedly during Thursday’s ballots.

The standoff has led to increasing tension inside the Republican ranks. Pat Fallon of Sherman and Dan Crenshaw of Houston are among those who have blasted holdouts and suggested they are motivated by personal political ambition.

Crenshaw has vowed not to vote for any candidate other than McCarthy because he says they can’t let the “terrorists” win.

“There is no alternative” to McCarthy, Crenshaw said on Fox News during the 9th ballot. “They don’t have a consensus candidate. It’s inaccurate to say that McCarthy is losing momentum here. It’s completely the opposite. … We will wait this out. We are far more stubborn than the other side [because] we are standing for the sanctity of the institution.”

Crenshaw dismissed Donalds, who won a second term in November, as not a credible alternative.

“He’s a freshman who started five minutes ago. That’s not running. He didn’t raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the Republican majority in multiple election cycles,” he said. “If you set this precedent, where a mere 20 people can just destroy the conference of over 200, it sets a terrible precedent and they’ll just keep taking scalps.”

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., left, talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during the 11th vote on...
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., left, talks with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during the 11th vote on choosing a speaker for the 118th Congress on Jan. 5, 2023.(Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

While McCarthy allies were hoping additional concessions could bring the messy process to a conclusion, it’s unclear whether enough of the holdouts are willing to back him under any circumstances. It’s possible they will only relent after McCarthy steps aside and clears the way for another candidate, such as the No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The lack of a speaker prevents the House from forming committees and passing legislation. Some members have complained they have been unable to hold meetings with top military officials because they don’t technically have security clearance at the moment.

Until a speaker is chosen, there are essentially no members in the U.S. House of Representatives — only members-elect. A speaker is needed to swear in new and returning members of the chamber.

Roy has been asked many times by reporters this week how long the stalemate will continue and has given slight variations of the same answer.

“Until we get it right,” he said.

Washington bureau correspondent Emily Caldwell contributed to this report.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, center, followed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., right, leaves a...
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, center, followed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., right, leaves a private meeting with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a room just off the chamber as McCarthy struggles with lawmakers in his own party to elect become speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Women leaders of color are leaving arts groups. Here are 6 ways to change that

Teresa Coleman Wash
Teresa Coleman Wash
Teresa Coleman Wash, executive artistic director at Bishop Arts Theater, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in Dallas. Coleman-Wash has been at the theater for 29 years.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

By Elizabeth Myong

Women are leaving top jobs at a higher rate than ever before. It’s being called the “Great Breakup.” And it’s happening to women of color at arts groups nationwide, from theaters and opera companies to museums.

There’s still little data on the issue, according to Zannie Voss at Southern Methodist University and Randy Cohen with Americans for the Arts. There’s often a time lag with such data, Cohen said.

Still, research and conversations with women of color who are leaders in the arts suggest a concerning trend.

In recent years, following calls for racial justice, arts groups have been hiring more women of color into leadership positions. Last month, Martine Elyse Philippe, who is Haitian-Cuban American, became the new director of Dallas’ Office of Arts and Culture.

Women of color are often hired as leaders by arts groups to diversify programs and reach communities of color.But once women step into these leadership roles, they often don’t have the support to succeed or even stay, according to Artnet contributor Lise Ragbir.

Problems they face include pressures to assimilate, different expectations from their white or male colleagues and added stressors from taking on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, according to six women of color who are leaders in the arts fromacross the country.

Afton Battle
Afton Battle, one of the few Black women to ever run a U.S. opera company, resigned from the Fort Worth Opera. Her last day was Nov. 23.(Keren Carrión / Keren Carrión / KERA News)

Afton Battle, one of the first Black women to ever lead a U.S. opera company, resigned in November as general and artistic director of Fort Worth Opera. She left amid tensions over the direction she was taking the company. (Battle declined to speak with The Dallas Morning News or KERA for this article.)

The turnover is telling, said Kaisha S. Johnson, co-founder of Women of Color in the Arts, a national service organization. Organizations often assert that “we are with you,” Johnson said, but don’t back that up with their actions.

“There’s no more poignant point in bringing in Black and brown leadership and then allowing them to exit [stage] left as soon as it gets real,” said Johnson, who is Black.

So what can be done to address the issues?

Arts groups need to make institutional changes to support these new leaders, according to women leaders of color at these groups. They say solutions often seem obvious, but tend to be overlooked.

1. Change starts with the board

Teresa Coleman Wash, the founder and executive artistic director at Bishop Arts Theatre Center in Dallas, said pushes for equity must start with the board of directors. The board helps manage and guide an organization. Its responsibilities include fundraising, public relations and hiring top leaders.

“I don’t think it’s enough to appoint women of color in leadership positions without having done the work at the board level,” said Coleman Wash, who is Black. If that doesn’t happen, she said, leaders will experience more trauma.

Board members “set the tone” for how women leaders of color will be treated in an organization, Coleman Wash said. “If the leadership is not supporting that person of color, staff members certainly will not.”

Vicki Meek managed the South Dallas Cultural Center for almost 20 years and was the board...
Vicki Meek managed the South Dallas Cultural Center for almost 20 years and was the board chair of the National Performance Network for two years.(Nan Coulter)

Vicki Meek, who managed the South Dallas Cultural Center for almost 20 years, said arts groups need to consider the makeup of their boards. Important factors include race, gender and socioeconomic status, according to Meek, who was the board chair of the National Performance Network for two years.

She said arts groups that want to reach more diverse communities — and support women leaders of color in these efforts — need to move past outreach to what she calls “in-reach.”

“You have to have a governing body that represents the community that you serve,” said Meek, who is Black. “You can’t get ideas about how to serve [diverse communities] if you don’t have anyone speaking from their experience in your governance.”

2. Welcome leaders into the group

Yvette Loynaz, who is director of artistic administration at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, said inclusion and retention start the moment a leader is introduced to an organization.

Yvette Loynaz is the director of artistic administration at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Yvette Loynaz is the director of artistic administration at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.(Picasa)

Loynaz, who is Latina, compares it to inviting a guest into your home. You make sure they feel comfortable and introduce them to others. The initial impression, Loynaz said, is essential for when conflict and challenges arise later on.

“When you feel like you’re being taken care of,” she explained, you’re more likely to stay.

3. Allow women leaders of color to build their teams

Coleman Wash said it’s important to surround women leaders of color with colleagues who will support them and their work.

“We need people on our team who, first of all, are accustomed to championing a woman of color in a leadership position,” Coleman Wash said.

Camille Delaney-McNeil, who is director of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s youth education program, said she can attest to the challenges of inheriting a team. That’s why she believes new leaders should have more of a say in staffing decisions.

“If I can’t do it right now, I will need a timeline of when I can assess, evaluate and possibly build a new team,” said Delaney-McNeil, who is Black.

When new leaders are given that authority, she said, it allows them to find people who are trying to achievethe same goals.

“We can find folks who are on board with the mission and on board with this kind of evolutionary progress,” she said.

But Meek said it’s hard to diversify arts staff when low salaries make jobs unsustainable for those who aren’t financially privileged. She says that’s why more organizations need to talk about pay equity, which involves recruiting and compensating employees for their level of experience and making sure they are paid a living wage.

“The salaries are abysmal in these organizations,” Meek said. “So these institutions need to start looking at what’s fair remuneration for these jobs.”

4. Let them lead inclusively

To foster a more inclusive workplace, groups need to be willing to change how they make decisions, leaders in the arts say.

“If you’re coming in and bringing something completely new and different and have a lot of big ideas and are very energized to come in and make an impact, it can be very challenging to be constantly met with barriers,” said Loynaz, in St. Louis.

Kaisha S. Johnson.
Kaisha S. Johnson is the co-founder and director of the grassroots organization Women of Color in the Arts.(Cynthia Souza)

Johnson with Women of Color in the Arts said it’s important to consider how traditional structures are serving an organization to see if there’s a better way forward.

“Perhaps in order to eradicate the power war, maybe you move from a less hierarchical organizational structure to a more horizontal or lateral one, where power is shared among many people,” she said.

The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, for example, started an initiative called the New Works Collective, whichinvites a group of community members — including a journalist, sociologist, activist and others — to help select new commissions.

Loynaz said the New Works Collective shows “how you involve the community in the process, how you shift and share power in the organization [and] how you center artists through your programming, your process.”

5. Listen and embrace discomfort

Women of color in arts leadership stress the importance of listening and embracing discomfort.

Loynaz, in St. Louis, said inclusion goes hand-in-hand with listening. This is especially important for women leaders, who often face an “authority gap,” or gender bias that leads to women being overlooked, underestimated or ignored, according to Mary Ann Sieghart’s book The Authority Gap.

“It’s easy to hire people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives,” Loynaz said. “For me, retention is really about that step of inclusion. It’s very harmful to bring people on and then not include them, not listen to them.”

She feels heard when her co-workers listen carefully and in silence, and then ask questions about her ideas and how she would proceed.

“That matters,” she said. “And if we move forward with a different decision, that’s OK. But I was included, and I think that’s what it boils down to.”

Khori Dastoor became the general director and CEO of the Houston Grand Opera in August 2021.
Khori Dastoor became the general director and CEO of the Houston Grand Opera in August 2021. (Hierarchy Advertisting via Houston Grand Opera)

Khori Dastoor takes a similar approach at the Houston Grand Opera. There, she’s general director and CEO of one of the largest U.S. opera companies.

Dastoor, who is of Southeast Asian and South Asian descent, said listening to staff, artists and area residents leads to programming that resonates with audiences.

“It’s not about what Khori wants to see on the stage or what Khori believes in,” she said. “It comes from listening to the creatives in my organization to identifying talent and really giving them the resources they need.”

Part of listening is being able to sit in discomfort, says Coleman Wash. And that, she said, is one way groups can combat discrimination against women of color in leadership roles.

“We have to have really hard conversations with folks who don’t look like us,” Coleman Wash said. “We cannot continue to talk in an echo chamber with folks who share our values and ideas. We have to be open to listen to everyone.”

6. Prioritize the well-being of women leaders of color

Overlooking the well-being of women of color has far-reaching implications. In fact, burnout is a significant reason why many women of color are switching or quitting jobs during the pandemic, studies say.

Burnout is one of the issues addressed by Women of Color in the Arts, which has over 2,000 members from across the country. Johnson, co-founder of WOCA, said the group helps members learn how to assert their boundaries and protect their well-being.

“It’s really about, how do we hold on to our unique [selves] and still be able to go into situations that do not value our unique [selves]?” she said.

As a mother, director and wife, Delaney-McNeil, director of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, said she’s had to learn to say no to protect her boundaries. She often feels burdened by the idea that she can handle anything.

“What I have felt in my work to date is the assumption that I can take care of it all, that I can do it all,” she said. “You know that, ‘Oh, you’re so strong or you’re this or that,’ and this assumption that it is my burden. Me as a woman of color in leadership to take all this on.”

The “strong Black woman” stereotype is a pervasive trope that contributes to declining mental and physical health in Black women, studies say.

Working to combat that stereotype, WOCA supports women beyond their jobs, helping them find ways to stay healthy — mentally, physically and emotionally.

“A woman of color does not enter any professional place as just the professional,” Johnson said. “It’s their whole being that enters the space. And so that includes being able to talk about and nurture their well-being.

Nurturing their well-being is made harder by the wear and tear of microaggressions. These are everyday and subtle actions that reveal bias toward marginalized groups. Microaggressions can lead to increased rates of depression, anxiety, stress and even heart disease, according to a Pfizer study.

Teresa Coleman Wash, executive artistic director at Bishop Arts Theater, Thursday, Dec. 8,...
Teresa Coleman Wash, executive artistic director at Bishop Arts Theater, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in Dallas. Coleman-Wash has been at the theater for 29 years.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

They can also be hurtful reminders that a woman of color does not look like a traditional leader of an orchestra or opera or theater company, Coleman Wash said.

In a 2018 opinion piece called “The Ugly Truth About Arts Institutions Led by Women of Color,” she wrote about the racism, classism and sexism she has faced as a woman of color leading an arts group.

“Hidden behind a race-neutral job description is an expectation, grounded in a stereotype, of what a theater leader needs to look like: white and male,” she wrote.

To challenge stereotypes about arts leaders, Coleman Wash said groups need to prioritize the well-being of women leaders of color. That means making lasting changes that set “folks up for success, rather than giving them responsibilities that we know are herculean efforts that no one can accomplish.”

And that process, of course, comes with its own challenges. Coleman Wash believes it’s worth the effort.

“Organizations want to be on the right side of history, and we see across the nation that our systems are failing,” she said. “Our systems are failing because we are doing the same thing. We’ve invested in the same people and that same investment should go toward people who historically have not been in those roles. But that’s going to take time.”

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

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