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Wendy Davis // Moderator
In June of 2013, Wendy Davis stood for 13 hours on the floor of the Texas State Senate in a pair of pink sneakers, conducting a filibuster to prevent passage of a bill that would have devastating effects on women and families. Around the world, more than 200,000 citizens tuned in online to witness this historic event, with thousands making a pilgrimage to the Texas Capitol from throughout the state to stand with Wendy in a moment that would galvanize women throughout the country.
That particular day provided an opportunity for Wendy to introduce the nation to women with diverse experiences and backgrounds, whose stories told of a shared struggle. These stories provided the fuel to keep Wendy speaking, but they also did something more. These stories ignited the passion of the thousands watching that day. And it was their chorus of voices that carried Wendy’s filibuster successfully past the midnight deadline and ultimately, on to validation by the Supreme Court of the United States.
But Wendy has been taking on tough fights her entire life. She began working after school at 14 to help support her single mother and three siblings. By 19, Wendy was a single mother herself, working two jobs to make ends meet. Through a brochure from a co-worker, Wendy learned of a paralegal program at Tarrant County Community College that she hoped could be the ticket to creating a better life for her young daughter. After two years, Wendy transferred to Texas Christian University and with the help of academic scholarships and student loans, not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School.
Wendy brought a new vision to making Fort Worth a first-class city, working to turn the city into one of the top-ranked places in America to work, live and do business. On the City Council, Davis was recognized for her work with the business community to recruit a number of major businesses to bring jobs to the city.
Elected to the Texas Senate in 2008, Senator Davis’s priorities were creating more good paying jobs for Texans and investing more in schools so children are better prepared for the future. She authored the law to ensure more DNA testing of rape kits, addressing the backlog of 20,000 untested kits, which led police to find and jail rapists. She led the effort to expand job opportunities for our returning servicemen and women.
Furthermore, she continues to lead the effort to crack down on predatory payday lending companies that charge unlimited rates in fees and interest rates on Texans and military families. In 2011, Senator Davis led her first filibuster against $5 billion in cuts to public education that have led to overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and closed schools.
The opportunities provided for Wendy when young – quality public education, a strong community college system, college loan and grant programs for deserving students – are what made the difference in her life.
Wendy's filibuster and her continued role in fighting for women’s gender equality has created an army of strong, engaged, and passionate women from diverse backgrounds who now look to her for direction and guidance. Deeds Not Words is leveraging this following of more than a million women. Our organization will grow and engage this audience into a cohesive group of voters and consumers that can be inspired to advance opportunities for all women.
Toni McKinley, M.A., LPCI
Toni founded Crowns of Hope in 2011 when she noticed a gap in affordable behavioral health care for survivors of sex trafficking. She pursued and completed a masters degree in professional counseling and is practicing in Austin, Texas serving survivors and at risk youth. Toni also teaches and speaks trauma informed care locally and nation as well as how her personal life has been affected by trafficking so others who work with survivors will do no harm.
Assistant Attorney General, Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section
Melissa Holman is a 2009 honors graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Her interest in human trafficking began in law school, where she published a research paper analyzing the link between legalized prostitution and trafficking that she was later invited to present at a human trafficking conference at the Vatican. After law school, Melissa worked for two years as a law clerk for Senior United States District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth.
Melissa has been an Assistant Attorney General with the Office of the Attorney General of Texas since 2013, and in January of 2016 she joined the Attorney General’s newly-formed Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section. In this role, Melissa prosecutes human trafficking cases statewide. She also provides human trafficking training to teachers, children aging out of foster care, state employees, and others around the state interested in learning how to spot and combat human trafficking
Grant Sparks has been a prosecutor since 1995. He is currently an Assistant United States Attorney in the Western District of Texas – Austin Division.
Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mr. Sparks was an Assistant Attorney General assigned to the Criminal Prosecutions Division (Cyber Crimes Unit) with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. He also served as a Special Assistant US Attorney for both the Western & Eastern Districts of Texas for several years prosecuting computer-related crimes.
Prior to joining the Cyber Crimes Unit in 2000, Mr. Sparks was a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Special Crimes Division. He also served as a prosecutor in Williamson County, Texas, as a briefing attorney to the Honorable Bill White of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and as a field representative to U.S. Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.
Mr. Sparks has been a faculty advisor/lecturer for the National Advocacy Center, the American Prosecutors Research Institute, the National District Attorneys Association and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force’s Technical Assistance and Training Program, as well as many state and local organizations in Texas and elsewhere.
Mr. Sparks was a Class of 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar. Limited to sixty-one participants this executive-style program was designed to allow participants from a variety of sectors to learn from former presidents (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), key administration officials, respected presidential scholars, and leading academics, and each other.
Kelly White has spent her entire adult life in public service, working on behalf of families, businesses, schools and communities. She is known as a change-agent and a problem solver, repeatedly taking on organizations as they have dealt with major restructuring and transformation associated with internal and external factors. She has successfully led three different mergers of non-profit agencies, multiple capital campaigns, program restructurings and building projects.
Kelly is a native of Dodge City and a graduate of University of Kansas, beginning her career as an Occupational Therapist working in Northwest Kansas with early intervention programs for children with developmental and physical disabilities. In the decades since, she has led non-profits in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Texas. She came to Austin in 1993 to become the executive director of the Center for Battered Women and in 1998 she led the merger of that organization with the Austin Rape Crisis Center…creating SafePlace. She spent a decade as the executive director of SafePlace, leading the efforts to fund and build the supportive housing apartment community, resource center, on-site school and child development center, as well as the 105-bed family shelter. She also worked to create the structure to fund, design and build Grove Place Apartments, a 184-unit, permanent, affordable housing community adjacent to the SafePlace campus. When Kelly left her position as executive director at the end of 2003, the shelter was renamed the Kelly White Family Shelter in recognition of her work with the organization, an extraordinary honor for Kelly, a formerly battered woman who had once stayed in a shelter with her two young sons.
She accepted the leadership position at the Chicago Foundation for Women, a grant making and advocacy organization dedicated to making smart connection between need, money and solutions on behalf of women and girls in the Greater Chicago area. However, community recruitment efforts brought her back to Austin in 2010, and she took the helm at Austin Children’s Shelter as the organization dealt with the move to its new 13-acre, purpose-built campus in East Austin at the same time as the Texas system for child protection went through major restructuring, dramatically impacting services and funding.
Though hired for her management expertise, it was her personal experiences that fueled her early passion. After working for years with survivors of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence, it is now the experiences with the extraordinary survivors she has met along the way that keep her focused on breaking down the silos between those issues and creating a continuum of care that can end generational patterns of violence and abuse. A great day for Kelly is when she gets a big smile and a hug from a former client that is doing well.
Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, Ph.D., is full professor and director of the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA), a collaboration of the UT Austin’s School of Social Work, School of Nursing, School of Law, and the Bureau of Business Research, with over a 150 affiliate community organizations. Bush-Armendariz is also associate vice president for research at UT Austin’s Office of the Vice President for Research.
Busch-Armendariz’s areas of specialization are interpersonal violence, refugees, victims of human trafficking and asylees, and international social work. Since joining UT Austin, Busch-Armendariz has directed research for the federal National Institute of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime, Office of Violence Against Women, Texas Office of the Attorney General, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, and the Texas Health and Human Service Commission.
Prior to moving to Austin, Busch-Armendariz was director of research and special projects and interim director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Busch-Armendariz has years of experience working to end violence against women and their children and has worked as a battered woman’s advocate, support group leader, program director, and registered lobbyist. She has worked directly with incarcerated battered women who killed their batterers and regularly facilitates therapeutic support groups. She also regularly trains professionals on issues of violence against women and their children at local, state, and national meetings and conferences and has published many articles on the topic. She regularly teaches child welfare workers about the links between child maltreatment and domestic violence and adult protective service workers about sexual abuse of vulnerable adults.
Busch-Armendariz has served as an expert witness in dozens of criminal, civil, and immigration cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault. She co-directs a national training on how to be an ethical and effective expert witness. She also is called upon regularly to serve as an expert to Texas House and Senate committees.
In addition to her work in the area of interpersonal violence, Busch-Armendariz began working with refugees and immigrants in 1986 as an immigrant assistant and previously served as principal investigator of the Green Leaf Project, which provides intensive health and mental health services to refugees, victims of trafficking, asylees, and other immigrants in Central Texas. She is also principal investigator of several research projects exploring the needs of refugee and asylee families and victims of human trafficking by interviewing victims of these crimes.
Busch-Armendariz has many peer-reviewed publications in her areas of expertise. Over the past twenty years, she has traveled extensively throughout the world and has lived and worked in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Romania, Albania, South Korea and most recently in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Busch-Armendariz serves on the program committee of SafePlace, Inc. and served for five years on the board of directors for the Political Asylum Project of Austin (now American Gateways) and the policy committee of the Texas Council on Family Violence. She participates in several other statewide task forces and other initiatives related to interpersonal violence including Project Connect, a program of the national program Futures Without Violence. She is formerly a volunteer with the Victim Services of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the Victim Offender Mediated Dialog (VOMD) program. She is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of AFFILIA: The Journal of Women and Social Work and serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies: International, National, and Regional Theory, Research, and Practice, and Social Work Review Romania.
Busch-Armendariz is a licensed social work and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She has been recognized for her contributions to social work as the Recent Most Distinguished Contributions to Social Work Education by the Council on Social Work Education and she has been recognized by her students and colleagues with several teaching awards.
She is happily married to Larry Armendariz and is most proud to be Daniel’s mother. She is a sexual assault survivor.
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Draft - check back for more details
• Student Presentation of Issues
• Spoken Word Performance/Video Assets (TBC)
• Moderated Panel Discussion
• Audience Q&A
• Call to Action