Naturalization ceremony part of DreamWeek / San Antonio Express News 2016


It was a special day for Abukar Omar.

He escaped Somalia’s civil war some 15 years ago when he arrived in the United States.

Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, he watched with joy Saturday as his son, Anas, 8, and daughter, Aliya, 5, held small U.S. flags and were sworn in as U.S. citizens during a ceremony at The DoSeum. His wife, Shukri Shueb is in early stages toward her path to citizenship.

This country “gives you more opportunity, and the right to vote,” Omar said, explaining why he brought his family here. “There’s a lot of freedoms — freedom of speech of expression, of religion. In some countries, it’s very tough to say what you want.”

His children were among 52 kids or teens from 24 countries celebrated in a citizenship ceremony Saturday that featured Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff as keynote speaker. They became U.S. citizens through a process known as derivative citizenship because they have at least one U.S. citizen parent, or were adopted by a U.S. citizen parent, according to immigration officials.

The citizenship ceremony was among Saturday’s events at the children’s museum that are part of DreamWeek, a 12-day celebration that promotes tolerance, equality, and diversity. DreamWeek culminates with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March on the East Side, reputed to be the largest in the country.

“When you think about it, attaining (U.S.) citizenship is like a dream come true,” said Mario R. Ortiz, director of the San Antonio District for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Citizenship is the greatest gift we can bestow.”

For the full story go to or Sunday’s edition of the San Antonio Express-News.

Local Experts Take Part in Spirited Cybersecurity Discussion / Rivard Report 2016


On a not-so-typical Friday night at the Dorćol Distilling Company on South Flores Street, the sound of bartenders working cocktail shakers and pouring icy drinks punctuated an earnest panel discussion hosted by Delta Risk LLC on cybersecurity and the cyber industry. “Cybersecurity in the Social Realm“ gathered local cyber professionals during DreamWeek to discuss topics ranging from common cybersecurity threats and workforce development to diversity.

Delta Risk’s Brian Dillard moderated the panel and introduced the first major topic, cybersecurity threats. Despite taking precautions on the Internet, many people are unaware of the cybersecurity risks in using a cellphone.

“At some point in your life, you are going to get your data hacked. What’s important is how you protect yourself against these risks and how you respond to the threat,” said Debra Innocenti, Internet & technology attorney at Strasburger & Price LLP,

Of keen interest to the audience was technology workforce development and ways to help San Antonio nurture its tech talent pool.

“For local students, there’s a huge gap from college graduation to an entry-level tech position. Despite local resources like Codeup that transition, it is still rough for many,” said Marina Gavito, executive director of TechBloc.

Will Garrett, director of Cyber Security SA at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, spoke about CyberPatriot, a National Youth Cyber Education Program. At its core is Cyber Competition, pitting teams of high school and middle school students across the nation against one another as each team manages the network of a small company. Each team’s mission is to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining services under a series of increasingly difficult challenges.
From left: Silotech Group President and CEO Tiffany Tremont, Cyber Security SA Director Will Garrett, and Bestica President Harvinder Singh take part in a cybersecurity panel discussion. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

From left: Silotech Group President and CEO Tiffany Tremont, Cyber Security SA Director Will Garrett, and Bestica President Harvinder Singh take part in a cybersecurity panel discussion. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

“The best performing (CyberPatriot) teams tend to be in the poorest school districts in San Antonio,” Garrett said. “At Holmes High School, all it took was one dedicated teacher who helped a student gain some certifications. Rackspace hired him straight out of college. When that one student returned to talk to the high school students, he was a role model, someone they once knew as an upperclassman now driving a leased Audi with a great job at Rackspace. Mentoring is a long-term play, but it can and does work to help pull others along the path.”

Innocenti said Israel ranks globally as a leader in tech startups after the U.S., with much of that startup activity found in Tel Aviv. One way Israel accomplished this was with its ambitious campaign to encourage Jewish mothers to stop telling their children to go to college to become doctors and lawyers.

“It took a concerted effort to explain to Jewish mothers that the future of Israel depended on today’s youth pursuing innovative tech careers,” said Innocenti.

Educating parents on the importance of supporting STEM education and careers for their children can go a long way toward creating a local talent base, panelists agreed.

“Nontraditional education (such as certifications) is also beneficial,” said Tiffany Tremont, president and CEO of Silotech Group. “I think it will play a major role in the future, especially as an option for those who are not interested in nor cannot afford college.”

Social skills will be crucial for San Antonio’s future workforce.

“We need to think about how we can help students develop needed social skills — ones crucial for leadership, communication, team building,” said Harvinder Singh, president of Bestica. “How can we develop these skills if they are too busy playing on their cell phones watching YouTube videos?”
People packed Dorćol Distillery for the cybersecurity panel. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.
People packed Dorćol Distillery for the cybersecurity panel. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

Building a more diverse tech workforce by encouraging more women and minorities to pursue a tech career also was the subject of discussion on what might have been the most diverse tech panel many in the audience had experienced. The STEM workforce, however, has not grown more diverse over the past decade. Women and minorities remain underrepresented in a field while older white males still are dominate both worker and management ranks. The U.S. needs to build a more educated, innovative workforce that reflects the diversity of our population, panelists agreed.

“We need to become a more pluralistic image of what people in tech look like,” Innocenti said.

“The demographic in San Antonio now is roughly what the U.S. population will look like in another 25 years,” Garrett pointed out. “If you want to help students in middle school and high school gain access to STEM opportunities to learn tech skills, join your local school board. You can help influence changes to your school district’s curriculum to expose them to those skills needed for a tech future.”

Panelists closed the discussion by offering suggestions on how San Antonio might become more tech friendly so more students not only pursue STEM careers, but stay here to help develop San Antonio into a brain hub.

Dillard thought it would take a two-pronged approach: Attracting and keeping talent here, which in turn, will help San Antonio become a tech growth city.
Moderator Brian Dillard stands amid the distillery equipment at Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

Moderator Brian Dillard stands amid the distillery equipment at Dorćol Distillery. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

“We have a hard time convincing people and tech companies to move into the inner city core where public schools are not performing well,” Dillard said. “The two go hand in hand; making schools in our inner city STEM friendly not only helps educate local talent – those students we hope will stay here – but helps attract new talent to move here as well.”

“Tech entrepreneurs need to become more mainstream role models for (students),” Innocenti explained. “By visioning what our heroes look like, we can help move tech leaders from their niche to become more accessible to students, so they can see someone who looks like them working in the STEM field.”

But for many inner city students and parent, STEM education is a concern far down their list of priorities.

“Many local students are struggling to meet basic needs,” Tremont said. “When hunger and poverty are your biggest challenges, you need to approach that student and tell them, ‘This is how you are going to bring your family out of poverty,’ with a well-paying tech job. This is why I think offering opportunities for nontraditional tech career paths will be important, especially for those who just cannot afford college.”

Gavito mentioned a book that all panelists recommended, Enrico Moretti’s “The New Geography of Jobs“ in which the author describes cities that act as brain hubs, cities that attract highly educated people and the businesses hiring them. The author writes that every highly skilled job helps create five support industry jobs, jobs for carpenters, cab drivers and teachers. Creating more innovative jobs is the way a brain hub helps raise salaries and standard of living for everyone.

“Smart people are attracted to other smart people and want to be where other smart people are,” Gavito said. “We need that critical mass here in San Antonio so this city can become a brain hub also.”

San Antonio is in a position to poach companies that don’t make it in Austin, Singh said.

“San Antonio should watch closely what Austin is doing and see which companies are thinking of relocating there,” he said. “If we foster partnerships with Austin on tech, San Antonio could benefit.”

As the background music of Dorćol’s cocktail shakers played on, attendees and panelists alike agreed it will take a coordinated, multifaceted approach to create a brain hub here in San Antonio, one that can compete nationally with other top-tier cities. This panel scratched the surface of what San Antonio’s critical mass of dedicated tech leaders are doing. Attendees agreed it was an inspiring discussion for DreamWeek.
Panelists Silotech Group President and CEO Tiffany Tremont, Cyber Security SA Director Will Garrett, and Bestica President Harvinder Singh, TechBloc Executive Director Marina Gavito, and Debra Innocenti, Internet & Technology attorney at Strasburger & Price LLP, take part in a cybersecurity panel discussion. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

Panelists Silotech Group President and CEO Tiffany Tremont, Cyber Security SA Director Will Garrett, Bestica President Harvinder Singh, TechBloc Executive Director Marina Gavito, and Debra Innocenti, Internet & Technology attorney at Strasburger & Price LLP, take part in a cybersecurity panel discussion. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

*Top image: From left: Bestica President Harvinder Singh, TechBloc Executive Director Marina Gavito, and Debra Innocenti, Internet & Technology attorney at Strasburger & Price LLP, discuss the landscape of the local cyber industry. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

S.A.’s world-class status is story of steps forward, steps back / San Antonio Express News 2016


If there was any consensus reached at a DreamWeek panel Wednesday night on whether San Antonio is, or can become, a world-class city — a goal arrived at by an overarching vision project called SA2020, now in its fifth year — it was that San Antonio is working on it 24-7.

Molly Cox, president and CEO of the nonprofit SA2020, told the more than 200 people assembled at the Pearl Stable that as San Antonio reaches one of its goals, as it has on lowering teen pregnancy, it falls farther behind on others, as it has on college readiness, air quality and affordable housing.

“We’re making major progress in several areas,” Cox said, noting the need for systematic, sustained improvement. “The main point to drive home is that we are working toward it every day.”

The DreamWeek discussion was one of more than 150 events planned over 12 days of observations around civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

The panel raised wide-ranging issues faced by the city, driven by estimates that its population is expected to grow by 1.1 million by 2040. Panelists addressed issues from transportation and college readiness to the city’s need for a great urban park and its pursuit of a professional football team.

Sandy Morander, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, addressed the broad question of San Antonio’s potential as a world-class city by comparing it to her stays in Boston and Dallas.

“A world-class city starts and ends with the people,” she said. Neither of those cities have “the collaborative spirit that San Antonio does. San Antonio is an amazing city.”

World-class status “has to bestowed,” said Andrés Andújar, who’s leading Hemisfair’s redevelopment, adding that such cities have vibrant downtowns and a great urban park. “Others have to say it’s a world-class city,” he said.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg said a world-class city will require a realistic conversation about transportation needs and the controversial subject of rail, which has faced strong opposition in San Antonio.

“There’s a small minority that’s dead set against any progressive ideas like rail, which is hundreds of years old,” the councilman said, noting that the city’s 2017 bond election will offer another opportunity to San Antonians interested in improving transportation.

“The same solutions aren’t working. We need to do something different.” he said. “Civic engagement matters. So many great ideas have been derailed in San Antonio.”

DreamVoice Honors CRIT USA: ‘A Wheelchair Doesn’t Have to Stop Me’ / Rivard Report 2016


Desteny Espinoza has spent almost all 13 years of her life in a wheelchair. After years of expensive, failed rehabilitation attempts, she still uses her wheelchair, but recently started walking with the help of crutches. Her breakthrough came when she was treated Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletónUSA (CRIT USA) in San Antonio.

“I have dreams and CRIT has helped me work toward those dreams,” she said.

Espinoza would like to be an immigration lawyer and an actress, she told more than 100 local community leaders at the Plaza Club atop the Frost Bank Tower during lunch on Thursday.

“A wheelchair doesn’t have to stop me,” she said to the audience’s applause.

Epinoza spoke during the first annual DreamVoice Award Luncheon, which honored CRIT USA with its Advent Award, one of the largest acute pediatric rehabilitation systems in the world. Its services are essentially free, based on a “pay what you can” model.

The luncheon was hosted by DreamVoice LLC, which produces DreamWeek, a calendar of events celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., cultural diversity, and conflict resolution in San Antonio.

“The award is given to the organization or person that celebrates what DreamVoice is all about,” said DreamVoice President Shokare Nakpodia, and it’s all about “advancing the voices of tolerance, equality, and diversity.”
The audience rises for a standing ovation during the DreamVoice award luncheon. Photo by Camille Garcia.
The audience rises for a standing ovation during the DreamVoice awards luncheon. Photo by Camille Garcia.

CRIT USA provides comprehensive treatment to pediatric patients with disabilities, which means going beyond physical therapies to the psychological, social, and spiritual for patients and their families.

“Emotional support is one of the most important things in our model of care,” said CRIT USA CEO and Chief Development Officer Ricardo Guzman.

The model of care CRIT offers was first started in Mexico in 1999 when the country opened its first rehabilitation center. Soon after, patients from the U.S. began traveling to the facility in order to receive the quality of care that they could not find in the U.S. It was then that the TeletonUSA Foundation was established in order to raise funds to bring a comprehensive care facility to the United States.

Through a televised fundraising event hosted by Spanish-language broadcasting company Univision in 2012, the Foundation raised enough money to begin construction on what would become CRIT USA.

In Latin America, the CRIT fundraisers are “bigger productions than the Oscars” in terms of the audience they draw, as well as the famous guests who contribute, one CRIT spokesperson told the Rivard Report before the center opened in late October 2014.

Teams of specialized doctors have since provided treatment for patients from more than 28 states in the country. With an enrollment capacity of 600, the outpatient facility located in the city’s northeast side has a waiting list of more than 900 patients.

“Our program is superior to any other in the U.S.,” said Guzman. “It’s a great project of love.”

As far as the future of CRIT USA, Guzman said he has hopes for expansion in other cities.

“We’re hoping to achieve international accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities,” he said. “And we’re hoping to bring a lot of people here.”

Shetigho Agbuke of Redeemer’s Praise Church, led a prayer to open the luncheon in which she proclaimed her pride in the city’s abundance of passionate and giving people.

“San Antonio is a model for how other cities want to be,” said Agbuke, who is Nakpodia’s sister.

After the day’s ceremonies, Nakpodia honored a few unsung heroes of the city with Voice Awards.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, Hotel Emma Concierge Michele Jacob, Choice Neighborhood Programs Director Beverly Watts Davis and Musical Bridges Around the World Director of Development and Marketing Suhail Arastu, all received an award.

“San Antonio, as most big cities, tends to award the same people, and rightfully so,” Nakpodia said. “But my team and I have chosen to honor those behind the scenes.”

*Top image: CRIT USA CEO and Chief Development Officer Ricardo Guzman (left) looks on as Desteny Espinoza tells her story. Photo by Camile Garcia.

Boys and Girls Club Students Express King’s Dream / Spectrum News 2016


SAN ANTONIO – Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and so do young people with the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio.

Now they are expressing those dreams through art – chalk art, that is.

The artistic expression is one of several Dream Week events leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18.

The Boys and Girls Club is just down the street from where the march will take place, and members of the staff says they wanted a way for the children to reflect King’s message of racial equality and justice.

“What Martin Luther King said decades ago still applies today, it still applies to their lives and what they’re doing,” says Zuani Villarreal of the Boys and Girls Club.

Villarreal added that the Boys and Girls Club will also take part in the upcoming march.

Photo Gallery: Eastside Chalks It Up for DreamWeek / Rivard Report 2016


The Eastside chapter of The Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a little inspiration from Artpace‘s annual Chalk It Up event and a giant bucket of colorful chalk on Wednesday evening at Martin Luther King Academy.

Reading all the messages from children to their community was inspiring and served as a reminder of the times in which we live. According to their temporary sketches, these children see inequality in our times, but they also see hope. And they demand action.

“Put down the guns now.”

“My dream is to change the world.”

“Colors don’t matter,” reads one, however misspelled.

A portion of the chalked sidewalks at the Boys & Girls Club San Antonio Eastside Branch. Photo by Scott Ball.A portion of the chalked sidewalks at the Boys & Girls Club San Antonio Eastside Branch. Photo by Scott Ball.
After large sidewalks had been filled with inspiring quotes and dreams, a guest speaker arrived. Walter Perry of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) and a former Boys & Girls Club member gave encouraging words of friendship and community.

His words seemed to be rubbing off on the children…and the sidewalks.

SAGE associate and former member of Boys and Girls Club Walter Perry gives an inspirational speech to the children. Photo by Scott Ball.SAGE associate and former member of Boys and Girls Club Walter Perry gives an inspirational speech to the children. Photo by Scott Ball.
The elementary school at 3503 Martin Luther King Dr. is also start of the MLK March route.

The event was one of more than 100 included on the DreamWeek San Antonio calendar that culminates with the MLK March on Monday, Jan. 18. The City expects more than 150,000 participants in this year’s march, one of the largest in the nation.

36 Pictures from SA 2020 DreamWeek / SA Current 2016


SA 20/20 hosted a discussion on how various community leaders and organizations have created thoughtful and deliberate action to reach a collective vision for the future of San Antonio. Moderated by Bob Rivard of The Rivard Report, the panel consisted of speakers Andres Andujar (Hemisfair), Molly Cox (SA 20/20), Sandy Morander (YMCA), Sho Nakpodia (DreamWeek SA) and Ron Nirenberg (City Council – District 8).


Photos by Gabriela Mata

Place Changing: Uniting the Eastside One Story at a Time / Rivard Report 2016


The Spire at Sunset Station, the historic church-turned-event-space in San Antonio’s near Eastside, was the perfect setting to hear personal stories told by more than 100 Eastsiders on Monday night.

In the building that was once home to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the oldest majority African-American congregation in the city, generations of San Antonians gathered together to exchange accounts of living and working in the city’s Eastside during the interactive event “Place Changing: Living Stories of the Eastside.”

The event featured a potluck dinner shared by community members who were encouraged to sit at tables with fellow attendees they haven’t met yet rather than clustering into familiar groups. There were residents, San Antonio police officers, middle school students, and local business owners of all ages and race. In the very room that used to offer safe haven to a community of African-Americans struggling with segregation decades ago, sat a diverse group of people with at least one thing in common: an appreciation for preserving and celebrating the Eastside.

The event was the latest edition of Place Changing, a project series by the Rivard Report and Overland Partners that aims to give insight to the public about how the city, its neighborhoods, and demographics are changing and to help community members facilitate that change in a balanced way. Place Changing’s first project, an in-depth exploration of the Dignowity Hill Historic District in the Eastside, was published last summer.

Visit to read more.

The main purpose of Monday’s event, part of the DreamWeek calendar of events, was to expand the conversation into the larger Eastside by creating a discussion about the diverse neighborhoods’ past, present, and future amid rising interest from developers, increased federal investment and changing demographics.

While historically predominantly African-American, recent studies show that more and more Latinos are calling the Eastside home.

In attendance were both long-time and newer Eastside residents, as well as curious San Antonians from other parts of town eager to learn more about the area. Seven featured storytellers were assembled to help facilitate the audience’s own storytelling, and included community stakeholders of varied backgrounds.

The speakers were Charles Williams, Eastside resident, business owner, and cultural historian; Rosemary Kowalski, founder of The RK Group; Linda Cherry, the youth director at Ella Austin Community Center; Dianne Green, principal consultant at Culture Transforms Community Enterprises; Juan Rocha, facilitator at Wheatley Community School; Dieter Cantu, executive director of the nonprofit Position of Power; and Hubert Lee Brown, community health worker and violence interruptor for the City’s Stand up SA program. Almost all have lived and worked on the city’s Eastside for most of their lives.
Wheatley Community School employee Juan Rocha gives his story. Photo by Scott Ball.
Wheatley Community School employee Juan Rocha shares his story. Photo by Scott Ball.

Charles Williams, an Eastside resident, businessman, and cultural historian, discussed how the Eastside has recently begun a transformation from a crime-ridden, low-income community to an area in which young couples and professionals can feel safe raising children. That transformation, for some, is yet to be realized. But during the 60s, Williams said, the near Eastside was a bustling center for residents, entertainment and business.

“From about 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., people used to walk the streets like New York City,” Williams said. “Sometimes I take a nostalgic drive down Commerce Street and I really have to use my imagination to see how it used to be.”

Today, much of Commerce Street is lined with buildings with boarded up windows. But some staple businesses have remained and the long-vacant Friedrich Building, which looms particularly large between Pine and Olive streets, has recently piqued the interest of multi-family housing developers.

Brown brought a different perspective of the Eastside into the conversation. For him, the Eastside was a step up from growing up on the Westside with a drug-addicted mother.
Outreach Supervisor for Stand Up S.A. Hubert Lee Brown gives his story. Photo by Scott Ball.

Outreach Supervisor for Stand Up SA Hubert Lee Brown shares his story. Photo by Scott Ball.

His family was poor but he said he didn’t know it because everyone around him was poor. Then he started to live with his father in the Eastside. It was then that he realized how bad his previous living situation really was.

“All I’d seen was negativity. Prostitution, drugs, and shootings,” Brown said.

After school, his time in Atlanta, and some time in jail Brown became a record label producer and then a rapper. But he found something lacking in the lifestyle and found himself the victim of a shooting and in and out of jail.

Brown is now the outreach supervisor for Stand Up SA, a violence prevention program funded through the Metropolitan Health District, but that doesn’t come close to describing what he does. His job is to work a team of volunteers and staff to prevent retaliation shootings. When someone is killed in what appears to be gang-related shooting, Stand Up SA is called in to talk to the victim’s and perpetrator’s family, friends, and associates to try to avoid further violence.

“I decided to give up on the street life and I wanted to give back,” Brown said.

Kowalksi, 91-year-old founder of The RK Group, expressed her enthusiasm for the way the neighborhood has changed in regards to race and class. The RK Group is one of those staple businesses on Commerce Street and brought several trays of food to Monday night’s gathering.
Founder of The RK Group Rosemary Kowalski gives her story as Robert Rivard assists her. Photo by Scott Ball.

Founder of The RK Group Rosemary Kowalski shares her story as Robert Rivard assists her with a microphone. Photo by Scott Ball.

“My life has been part of the Eastside for many years,” Kowalski said. “Back then we were all segregated, not just by color but by class. The new way is so much better for all of us. If people have respect for you, we can all be together.”

After hearing all seven stories, the audience was then encouraged to share their own Eastside stories with their respective table. “What is your favorite memory of the Eastside?” asked facilitators assigned to each table. “How have you noticed a change in the Eastside?” and “How do you think the Eastside will be in 10 years?”

While some tables contained Eastside dwellers of more than three decades, others included citizens who made their homes there just last year. Judith Grant, a local writer and Eastside resident as of September, said though she is newer to the neighborhood she has already noticed quite a bit of change.

“Just from having started renovations on my house in April, the change is phenomenal,” Grant said. “Everyone has to be careful about that because homes are turning into just money-makers and not homes to live in.”

Similar to the trials faced while overcoming racial differences years ago, the community now is having to pull together in order to avoid rapid gentrification in their area. Hearing the stories of fellow Eastsiders, she said, has inspired her to stand up for the community in the wake of new developments occurring in the area.

“I have more hope after listening to these stories and I feel like there is a real community. We need people to feel empowered, people shouldn’t feel powerless.”

It is that same spirit Grant holds that inspired so many of the community members present Monday night to reflect on the event in conjunction with DreamWeek.

Williams stressed the importance of remembering the past in order to make a better future.

“This week is about coming together as one, about embracing one another as sisters and brothers, and to tell the story of yesterday,” Williams said to applause.

The event is just one of more than 100 taking place during DreamWeek, leading up to the MLK March taking place on Monday, Jan. 18. Just as the Eastside community is joining together for their neighborhood, it is expected that the San Antonio community will join together for the march. Panelist and Youth Director Dr. Linda Cherry has faith that that will be the case.

“Where else can you go where the African-American community is only 8% yet that community produces one of the largest MLK marches in the nation?” Cherry said. “I couldn’t live in a finer city.”

*Top image: Ella Austin Community Center Youth Director Linda Cherry gives her story. Photo by Scott Ball.