Ukombozi Fellows


Brandon Mack

Brandon Mack is an Associate Director of Admission & Coordinator of Transfer Admission at Rice University. He is also a Lead Organizer with Black Lives Matter: Houston. Mack has been an activist for over 15 years. His activism centers on the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality, and addressing the devaluation of Black Life. He is also the Screening Chair and Education & Advocacy Co-Chair of the Houston  GLBT Political Caucus and serves on the Mayor’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Cerita Burrell

Cerita Burrell is an avid community advocate dedicated to dismantling systems of oppression and passionately works to elevate the voices and experiences of Black women, while also promoting positive change in communities and individuals through advocacy empowered by compassion. She recently left the corporate sector to join The Afiya Center as the Director of Programs overseeing all aspects of programmatic initiatives, while driving the organization’s strategic plan. Cerita holds a BA in Communications as well as an MBA. Cerita is also a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., where serves as a regional Legislative Action Chair.

Chelsy Aledia

Chelsy (she/her) comes from a loud and proud Filipino family. Though initially from the East Coast, Houston has always been home. Her background in Public Health, Interpersonal Communication, and Nonprofit Management has propelled her to pursue a Master’s in Macro Social Work. Chelsy is committed to crushing multiple forms of gender and race-based violence through the promotion of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging techniques and the decarceration of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals. She is an eARTh lover, skater, and dancer who’s heavy on civic engagement and all things music. 

Crystal Townsend

Crystal Townsend is a native of Beaumont, TX who fights for health justice and equity. As a partner, mother, and someone deeply embedded in her community, Crystal wants her work to uplift the experiences of Black, Latinx, and TGLBQ+ communities and amplify the intersectional nature of our lives. In this work she feels that we can honor our own humanity and serve as a reminder that we live full, beautiful, complex lives, not single issue ones.

Felix Kapoor

Felix Kapoor is the Operations & Home Repair Manager for West Street Recovery, a grassroots nonprofit organization focused on cultivating community power in Northeast Houston. He is a native Houstonian, and has been on staff with West Street for over 2 years. Felix currently manages West Street’s operations, home repair program, language justice efforts and is a community organizer.

Frances Valdez

 Executive Director Frances joined Houston in Action as Facilitator in June 2018 and became the Executive Director in June 2019. Frances practiced immigration law for 13 years and began her career as a Clinical Fellow at the UT Immigration Clinic. She also worked for Baker Ripley working to improve access to legal services for low income immigrants. At United We Dream she developed immigration policy, supported advocacy efforts and managed civic engagement efforts. Frances has served on the board of ACLU of Texas, Culture Source, Inc., The Hollyfield Foundation, The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, The GLBT Political Caucus, United We Dream, Latino Giving Houston and the State Bar of Texas: Legal Services to the Poor in Civil Matters Committee.

Kennedy Henderson

Kennedy Henderson is a second year Master of Social Work student at the University of
Houston. Originally from Southfield, Michigan, she moved to Houston in summer of 2020 to
start her social work career as a student focused on health disparities and social justice issues
for BIPOC individuals. Kennedy will be interning with Full Circle Strategies, LLC for the 2021-2022 school year and is looking forward to continuing social justice work in reproductive health care access once she graduates in May 2022.

Katherine Tong

Katherine Tong is the Director of Volunteer Services at the Houston Food Bank (HFB). During the pandemic, Houston Food Bank has had close to 50,000 volunteers, and her team supports volunteers in sorting, packaging, and distributing food to clients. Previously, she managed a HUD approved housing and financial counseling program as well as adult English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship classes at the Chinese Community Center before transitioning to a role in international admissions at the University of Houston. She is passionate about education and improving the financial stability and physical health of the communities Houston Food Bank serves.

Laila Khalili

Laila Khalili is an experienced facilitator, organizer and relationship builder who finds deep joy working in the service of others. She received a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Houston, and currently serves as the Community Advocacy Program Manager at Avenue, a non-profit that builds affordable housing and strengthens communities. When she’s not getting into good trouble, Laila spends her time with her partner and two dog

Melanie Pang

Melanie is a social worker, organizer and advocate.  Throughout her career, Melanie has served in a variety of communities and capacities, aiming to further equity and lived equality — from advocacy efforts to reduce and prevent food insecurity and poverty to managing disaster relief services through Hurricane Harvey and serving as a case manager to refugee youth and children in foster care and young adults experiencing homelessness.  She’s grateful for mosquito repellant, buffalo wings, and loves to hike with her inimitable wife, Kendall Toarmina, and cuddle their two rescue dogs, Pepe and Honey.  

Nia Buckley

Nia is a disabled veteran of the United States Air Force, currently pursuing her Master’s degree in social work at the University of Houston. Race though a social construct, has always been a topic of conversation at a young age having a Black mother and white father. Growing up as a biracial child in Hempstead, NY, which is predominately African- American, she was immersed in the beauty of Blackness and Black history. Through this upbringing and then entering the military, it was a culture shock for her to enter an environment of majority-white men and anti-black practices. While navigating the military institution, she found herself in predominantly white spaces with people who held racist views and assumptions about Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) colleagues. With this knowledge, Nia chose to advocate and speak out against racial inequality and racist policies.

Norma Gonzalez

Originally from McAllen, Texas, Norma lived in Tamaulipas, Mexico for a few years before her family came to the United States where she grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and has built roots in Houston, Texas. Norma began her organizing journey in college where she led petitions for various different campaigns for immigrant youth, lgbtq youth, and disabled youth. Currently, she is the Texas Lead Organizer for United We Dream and, she has also served as a field director for local electoral campaigns, is a Precinct Chair for her Harris County democratic party, a notary, a volunteer voter registrar, and spends time assisting in other local organizations and movements.

Oscar Hernandez

is an undocumented immigrant from Puebla Mexico, an entrepreneur, and DACA recipient with over 10 years of community organizing experience. At 19 he started a small landscaping business though it was a successful business, he felt he wasn’t serving his community and started volunteering across Houston at every immigrant rights organization that would host him. In 2013 was hired as the Lead Field Organizer for United We Dream Houston with the purpose to empower undocumented immigrants by using free legal services for DACA as a catapult for leadership development to become civically engaged. Currently, he is the Community Organizer for Houston in Action, an initiative made up of people and organizations who have come together to advance our community and build a stronger Houston through a culture of civic engagement. His goal is to build new organizers in Houston through the Community in Action Academy, regular training on, Census, Organizing, Outreach, Messaging, and Leadership Development. Oscar cares deeply about his community and family, he believes that through community action we can build a better quality of life for everyone.

Regina Gardner

Regina Gardner works as a community organizer, primarily
through her role as the Executive Director of The Community
Gatekeepers in Fort Bend-Houston, Texas. In this role, she also serves
as the lead organizer of the “Reclaim the Village” Project: a coalition
of grassroots organizations committed to addressing health
disparities and issues related to education, economics, and the socio-
political infrastructure in historically marginalized communities in
the Fort Bend-Houston/Missouri City, Texas area. She is an early
childhood specialist, who earned her Early Childhood teaching
certification through the University of St. Thomas. She also holds a
Master’s degree in Macro Social Work from the University of
Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work in Houston, Texas.

RoShawn C. Evans

RoShawn C. Evans authored 4 books; “Stolen Identity”, “The Domino Effect”, “Open Your Mind” and “RoShawn & the C.A.M.P Click.” RoShawn is also attending UHD perusing a political science degree as well as holding the title of Co-Founder for the grassroots nonprofit organizing Pure Justice.

Sarah Crulcich

Sarah Crulcich, MPH, RD, LD is an anti-diet and body inclusive public health dietitian with experience in health promotions, behavioral science research, and public policy. She served as a fellow at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Washington, D.C., where she drafted and proposed evidence-based food security and health equity legislation. Sarah is the Community Health Supervisor in the Equitable Access Department at the Houston Food Bank where she supports health programming and strategic distribution methods. She finds strength and growth through moments of humility and the grace granted by others.”

Sydnei Ray

Sydnei is a 2021 graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown with a B.S in Psychology. She is thought of as a modern Renaissance woman. Purposefully rebirthing ways to serve children of color with a centralized focus on black children through accurate historical information, the arts, literature, experience and exposure to their culture within the academic curriculum. Her interest in access and equity for children’s education will serve the whole child mentally, socially, emotionally, academically, and culturally which leads her to enter into the field of research and education. This will provide opportunities to collaborate and further her knowledge to implement systems and safeguards to ensure best academic practices for children of color.