For the fifth year, the State Fair of Texas and the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House & Museum Steering Committee are proud to announce the recipients of the Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards. Juanita Craft tirelessly fought for civil rights and played a crucial role in integrating many Dallas establishments, including the State Fair of Texas. In honor of her efforts, achievements, and impact, the State Fair and Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House & Museum Steering Committee commend the following individuals who continue her legacy as advocates for positive change in our community. They will be recognized at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 16 at the Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center in the Heritage Hall of Honor, during the 2022 State Fair of Texas.
The Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House & Museum Steering Committee established and executed the award selection process as part of their civil rights education and awareness initiative. Nominations were evaluated based on impact and active involvement in the community, commitment to social justice through notable efforts, and evidence of time and resources used to address issues in the community. In partnership with the Steering Committee, the State Fair of Texas brings the community together to celebrate the Humanitarian Award recipients.
A lifetime achievement award for individuals, families, or organizations that have made important and sustained contributions to the understanding and promotion of civil rights.
Legacy Award Recipient – Larry James
Larry James has held executive leadership positions for CitySquare since 1994. He currently serves as CEO Emeritus. The company combats East and South Dallas poverty through a community and faith-based approach to education, medical care, legal services, technical training, youth and children’s ministry, housing and development, and interventions. James holds degrees from Harding University (BA 1972), Harding School of Theology (MA 1973), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv 1977), Tulane University (MA—American History 1986), and Perkins School of Theology at SMU (postgraduate studies). Throughout his career, James has been involved in developing and implementing holistic, justice-focused approaches to congregational and community service and outreach. James served as chair of former Mayor Tom Leppert’s Work Group on Housing, chair of Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Poverty Task Force, and co-chair with Mayor Rawlings of Neighbor Up’s Collective Impact Leadership Council that directs targeted work in Southern Dallas as a part of the mayor’s GrowSouth initiative. Since 2020, James has served as Board Chair with Forest Forward, a Purpose Built. James’ books, The Wealth of the Poor: How Valuing Every Neighbor Restores Hope in Our Cities (ACU Press, 2013 and House Rules: Insights for Innovative Leaders, provide his valuable insight on urban community development.
Legacy Award Honorable Mention – Velma Mitchell
Velma Mitchell has dedicated her life to serving South Dallas communities. She began her career of service in 1989 as a community activist for the Mary Crowley Academy, helping women in the community successfully pursue a college degree, then as a college recruitment community liaison for the STEP foundation in the Bonton neighborhood.
A long-time Bonton resident, Velma co-founded BridgeBuilders in 1996 to primarily serve the community of Bonton and the greater South Dallas area. The programming developed through BridgeBuilders has served over 600 students, trained and employed hundreds of residents, and provided eye and dental care to 11,000 residents in the early 2000s. Additionally, Velma and BridgeBuilders oversaw the establishment of Bonton Farms as well as King’s Academy, a subsidized private school for youth in South Dallas hosted at Cornerstone Baptist Church. She helped secure funding from the federal government to rebuild Buckeye Trail Commons in Bonton (formerly known as Turner Courts). Velma revamped the BridgeBuilders GED program, began Girls Lock-Ins, created a partnership with Kimberly-Clark to garner resources for mothers in the community and created Thanksgiving and Christmas events to ensure kids in the community received meals, coats, and toys during the holidays. Velma currently lives and owns a Habitat for Humanity home in Bonton. and gives back to her community leading the Bonton Neighborhood Association, holding the precinct chair for the community, and serving on the board of BridgeBuilders. She also volunteers at her South Dallas church and has served on the boards of various organizations such as Community Trust, It’s Ok, and Global Day of Prayer Dallas.
Designed to recognize individuals whose contributions are currently creating a positive effect on civil rights and community transformation in Dallas. This individual has committed their personal time, resources, and passion to take on a challenge that addresses equity and fairness presently.
Visionary Award Recipient – Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais
Reverend Yvette R. Blair-Lavallais, the first female senior pastor at First Christian Methodist Church in the Red Bird area of Dallas, has served in in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex pastoral ministry for almost 15 years. She earned a Doctor of Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary in May 2022. As a womanist public theologian and food justice strategist, she focuses on the intersection of food insecurity, famines, displacement, and gentrification of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples. As a result of her research for her doctoral research project, she developed the Red Bird Food Policy Council to amplify the voices of those affected by food insecurity and to work toward equitable food justice solutions. Her 2022 summer release book, Scrimpin’ and Scrapin’: The Hardships and Hustle of Women and Food Insecurity in Texas Through a Womanist Theological Lens, debuted as the #1 new release in Christian Liberation Theology on Amazon. The book highlights the often-overlooked narratives of women in Texas and includes statistical data and resources, challenging the faith community to disrupt the harmful systems that have caused food deserts. Rev. Yvette traveled throughout the state, country, and abroad to immerse herself in food-insecure communities and present her work on systemic injustices at numerous summits and conferences like “Bread For The World’s Global Advocacy Summit, Conversation with the White House,” the UN Food Summit, and Pan African Women of faith Ecumenical Empowerment Network. Rev.Blair-Lavallais is a Public Voices Fellow of The Op-Ed Project, a 2021 Engle Institute of Preaching fellow, and a 2017 Black Theology and Leadership Institute fellow of Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also a 2018-2020 fellow of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative cohort. She earned a Master of Theological Studies and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2013 from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. She also holds a BA in Journalism from the University of North Texas in Denton.
Visionary Award Honorable Mention – Thana Hickman-Simmons
Thana Hickman-Simmons established Viola’s House in 2008 a mentoring program to give aid and support to teen mothers. Inspired by her own teen pregnancy experience and support system, Thana wanted to create a place where teen mothers could find support and resources so they could obtain education and a successful career to take care of their children. Through a partnership with Cornerstone Baptist Church, Viola’s House opened a residential program for homeless expectant teen mothers. Starting with one apartment with two beds in 2015, Viola’s House currently holds six mothers and six babies. The renovated facility has staff on-site 24 hours a day along with licensed counselors, mentors, and educators. Viola’s House has given a safe home, a bed, and programming to hundreds of homeless teen mothers in South Dallas. Thana opened the Baby Benefit Boutique in South Dallas in 2022, offering pregnancy and parenting classes to over 5,000 visitors and mothers a month. In return for taking classes, mothers receive vouchers to shop in the boutique. Thana holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Life Coach certification, and a license of ordination in ministry. Thana has had a successful insurance career for 20 years for several top insurance companies as a catastrophic claims manager. As the CEO of Viola’s House, Thana has found her greatest joy in serving homeless teen mothers as they transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Thana is blessed with three beautiful daughters who now serve at Viola’s House in various capacities, and she resides in Dallas, TX.
For individuals under the age of 40 that are making an impact in civil and human rights in the city of Dallas by creating new initiatives and opportunities.
Catalyst Award Recipient – Janie Cisneros
Janie Cisneros leads the neighborhood association Singleton United/ Singleton Unidos in West Dallas. She grew up living next to Dallas County’s largest sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 2.5 polluter, the GAF asphalt shingles manufacturer. Shocked by the results of an air pollution monitor on her home in 2019 and the danger facing her young child and elderly parents, she called her neighborhood of Spanish-speaking residents and Dallas Housing Authority residents living by the factory to action. They drafted a community-led land use plan targeting GAF s removal through the GAFs Gotta Go/ GAF Vete Ya campaign in the summer of 2021. Janie also worked with the EPA to execute soil sampling and remediation caused by W.R. Grace asbestos facility in her community. She has empowered her neighbors by giving them a voice to fully participate in government decisions that impact their health and safety. Janie is determined to help improve the health of her community by fighting against environmental racism and advocating for clean air.
Catalyst Award Honorable Mention – Jennifer Rangel
Jennifer Rangel founded RAYO Planning (RAYO) alongside Evelyn Mayo and Victoria Ferrell-Ortiz and serves as the Planning & Community Outreach Director at the Inclusive Communities Project (ICP). Her work with ICP includes the creation of the Neighborhood Self-Defense Project (NSDP) curriculum with Downwinders At Risk. The curriculum served as a guide while she assisted Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos in Floral Farms and the Tenth Street Residential Association to develop a neighborhood-led land use plan that centralizes fair housing and environmental justice. She has focused on advocating for the removal of policies and practices that perpetuate the harmful effects of discrimination and segregation through both organizations. Her family’s experience in economic hardship as Oak Cliff residents taught her the importance of advocacy and perseverance. Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in City & Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since the launch of RAYO, she has provided bilingual educational content on land use, zoning and civic engagement to community members in Dallas which include the Automotive Association of Oak Cliff (AAOC). Alongside RAYO’s co-founders, she helped create the curriculum of the People Powered Planning Academy for Racial Justice that will launch in 2023. Participants of this curriculum will develop greater knowledge and understanding of zoning, land use plans, nonconforming uses, Dallas land history, and the tools to bring about racial justice.
|Friends of Juanita Craft House & Museum
|Interim Finance Chair
|Interim Marketing Chair
|Civil Rights Designation Chair
|History and Collections Chair
Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew
Willie Mae Coleman
Hon. Harryette Ehrhardt
Hon. Diane Ragsdale
Please join us in congratulating these individuals for all their efforts in the community on Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 p.m. at the Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center in the Heritage Hall of Honor. For more information on the Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards, please visit BigTex.com/JCHA. For more information on the Juanita Craft Scholarship and how to apply, please visit BigTex.com/Scholarship.