August 15, 2022 -- The City of Houston has selected five Storytellers for the "Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira" public health campaign funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The campaign’s goal is to engage environmental organizations, artists, and storytellers to inspire awareness and action to improve health and safety outcomes in Houston neighborhoods.
The five storytellers will represent Acres Homes, Alief/Westwood, Kashmere Gardens, Near Northside, and Second Ward – all Complete Communities designated by Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“The selected Storytellers reflect the broadness of Houston’s creative community and include dance, comic book creators, musicians, visual artists, and a filmmaker,” said Mayor Turner. “Houston Inspires relies on community input to bridge the gap between equity and opportunity. I look forward to seeing the final works from these storytellers that will encourage Houstonians to learn more about environmental pollutants and their impact in our neighborhoods.”
After a peer review panel, the following artists and environmental partners were selected for Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira:
- Acres Homes – Storyteller Fair Housing Defenders + Healthy Outdoor Communities/NEO
- Alief/Westwood - Storyteller Alief Art House + Houston Wilderness
- Kashmere Gardens – Storyteller Dria Thornton + Environmental Defense Fund
- Near Northside – Storyteller Walter Hull + Air Alliance Houston
- Second Ward – Storyteller Kam Franklin + Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Each storyteller will host community events in their neighborhoods where residents are encouraged to attend and help give voice to issues of environmental injustices and public health.
Information on each Storyteller and a calendar of events can be found at houstontx.gov/inspira.
In February 2022, Mayor Turner, announced the Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira public health campaign at the Climate Justice Museum and Cultural Center. This project focuses on the risks communities face from elevated levels of environmental pollutants, primarily PM2.5 (strongly associated with concrete batch plants) and benzene both of which can increase and exacerbate the health risks associated with COVID-19.
The Mayor’s Offices of Cultural Affairs and Government Relations are leading this work with the Office of Complete Communities, Resilience and Sustainability and the Houston Health Department.
About the Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira Storytellers
Storyteller: Fair Housing Defenders
The Fair Housing Defenders program aims to end housing discrimination once and for all, by educating teens about the Fair Housing Act and empowering them to speak out against housing discrimination.
The Fair Housing Defenders program provides presentations and edutainment materials about housing discrimination and fair housing rights to teens, adults, landlords, and residential property management providers. A signature way information is conveyed is via the Fair Housing Defenders comic book.
Storyteller: Alief Art House
Alief Art House, created as part of artist Matt Manalo’s DiverseWorks Project Freeway Fellowship, is a hub for creativity that highlights the cultural richness of the multiple communities in Alief.
Alief Art House is a shipping container on the grounds of the Alief Community Garden at the Alief SPARK Park and Nature Center that houses art events curated and organized by Manalo in collaboration with other creatives who reside and work in Alief. Manalo’s vision is to create a sustainable environment for creativity, jumpstart an art-focused movement in the neighborhood, and positively impact Alief’s image.
Storyteller: Dria Thornton
Diondria “Dria” Thornton has established herself as a force within the music industry as a singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, and visionary. She’s contributed songwriting and/or power vocals to an array of gold and platinum-selling chart-toppers including the 8X RIAA Platinum single “1-800” by Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khaled in which she received a Grammy Nomination for her vocal contribution.
As an independent female artist who promotes women empowerment and raw conversation through music, she has released over 15 singles and this year marks the release of her first EP, “When I Grow Up” which happens to be co-executive produced by a female producer from Houston.
Her music has been used in campaigns for Serena Williams “S Brand” and Lincoln Motor Cars amongst an array of custom music created for film and television with her most recent music feature on the “Bel-Air” on Peacock Network and “The Kardashians” on Hulu.
As a businesswoman, Dria is a strong advocate for independent female artists and the legislative rights of creatives through her committee involvement with the Recording Academy.
Storyteller: Walter Hull
Walter J. Hull II has been a thriving Thought Leader, Social Artist, and Youth Development Strategist in Houston, TX over the past 16 years. Through his work with the U.S. Dream Academy, a national mentoring dedicated to improving neighborhoods harmed by incarceration, Walter has helped shape the organization's approach to community asset building through mentoring. As an artist, his choreography has deep roots in healing and justice through the storytelling of the black experience in America that he refers to as his Village Responsibility.
As Executive Director of Urban Souls Dance Company (USDC), Walter has collaborated with the Founder to make USDC the premier Black dance company in Houston. As an Arts Educator, He has created the URBAN Kids and URBAN Girls Initiative that centers young artist voice to be active in their community. Through a partnership with U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, Walter has designed artists' development that provided a platform for artists to develop as leaders in their communities.
Today, Walter spends time educating his community on climate change and racial equity through filmmaking. His upcoming documentary film, Raising Aniya, explores the intersections of intergenerational learning and collaboration. As a consultant, Walter enjoys collaborating with youth-focused organizations to find their youth voice and lead with their individual and collective voices.
Storyteller: Kam Franklin
Kam Franklin is a singer-songwriter, music producer, activist, writer, orator, model, visual artist, and actress from Houston, TX. She is best known for her work with the gulf coast soul band, The Suffers, but Kam began performing gospel music at the age of five. A three-time recipient of the Houston Press Music Award for Best Female Vocalist, Kam has performed on five continents and has performed with the Suffers backed by The Houston Symphony in addition to being featured solo.
Kam is also known for her unique collaborations, some of which include: her 2018 collaboration with Grammy Award-winning Tejano legends, La Mafia, filling in for H.R. (of Bad Brains) during the 2016 Afropunk Festival Superjam alongside members of Bad Brains, Fishbone, and Living Colour, performing in the 2016 March For Science band alongside Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Questlove, Judith Hill, and Fred Wesley (longtime James Brown and Parliament collaborator), and repeated appearances at Newport Folk Festival where she has participated in numerous tributes and collaborations, most notably with Middle Brother, Chaka Khan, Allison Russell, and Deer Tick. In 2022, she released the Bayou City Comeback Chorus EP, a social justice album funded with a grant by the City of Houston through The Houston Arts Alliance that features the voices and musicianship of over 20 artists from around the Houston area.
Both Forbes and Vice have featured Kam for her activism and business ventures that seek to create a more equitable and inclusive environment in the arts for black, queer, and femme artists working in all mediums and from all backgrounds. In fall 2018, she joined the board for Headcount.org. Kam’s unique style and fashion sense have also been covered by Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, and Nylon. Fronting The Suffers, Kam has performed nationally on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Jimmy Kimmel Live in addition to speaking about The Suffers with Ari Shapiro on NPR’s All Things Considered. Solo, has appeared on Samantha Brown’s “Places to Love”, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and National Geographic’s “Texas: Spirit and Soul” short film.
At home, Kam remains a very active participant in the Houston music scene, producing events that have featured up-and-coming acts from around the Gulf Coast area while leveraging her and The Suffers’ international platform to represent the City of Houston and champion her entrepreneurial approach to finding success in the arts for women, minorities, and independent artists. She currently serves on the board of HeadCount.org, as Governor for the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy, and she is also the inaugural Texas Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ambassador for the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy.
About Houston Inspira Public Health Storytelling Campaign
The City of Houston was awarded a $200,000 grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in October 2021 to create and launch a public health campaign, “Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira”. The Mayor’s Offices of Cultural Affairs, Government Relations, Complete Communities Resilience, and Sustainability, and the Houston Health Department will engage environmental organizations, artists, and storytellers to inspire awareness and action to improve health and safety outcomes around air pollutants in 5 Complete Communities—Acres Homes, Alief/Westwood, Kashmere Gardens, Near Northside, and Second Ward.
About the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs
The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs guides the City’s cultural investments with policies and initiatives that expand access to arts and cultural programs in the community, attract visitors and leverage private investment. Learn more at www.houstontx.gov/culturalaffairs. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @HoustonMOCA.