21st Annual Peacemaker Awards
Sunday, November 12, 2023
Dominican Sisters of Houston Spirituality Center
Welcome – Bill Crosier, HPJC President
Master of Ceremonies – Daniel Cohen, Indivisible Houston
Invocation – Sister Ceil Roeger
Local Peacemaker Awards
Kristen Schlemmer, introduced by Chris Valdez, Houston in Action
Jacilet Griffin, introduced by Jeff Reese
Lorena Perez McGill, introduced by Altagracia Batista
National Peacemaker Award
The Texas Observer, introduced by Susan Young
Keynote Address – Gabriel Arana & Josephine Lee
Final Remarks – Bill Crosier
Details on our Peacemaker Award Recipients:
National Peacemaker awardee: The Texas Observer
Their certificate says:
The Texas Observer – For nurturing generations of journalists whose reporting demand truth and accountability,
For telling the stories of hardships and victories of workers, people of color, those poor and marginalized, and queer folx,
And for reminding the world that despite Texas’s oppressive legislation and rash of ridiculous law suits, there are still Texans who cherish democracy.
Texas Observer Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Arana and Investigative Reporting Fellow Josephine Lee (click on their names to learn more about them) will accept the National Peacemaker award for the Observer, and give the keynote presentation.
The Texas Observer is a progressive nonprofit news outlet and print magazine covering the Lone Star State. The Observer strives to make Texas a more equitable place through investigative reporting, narrative storytelling, and political and cultural coverage and commentary. They dig beyond the headlines and contextualize news events. Their essays, reviews, and criticism seek to create a new cultural canon and challenge existing mythologies.
Since its founding in 1954, the Observer has focused on communities whose stories are too often ignored or poorly told. It seeks not only to inform, but to empower their readers, as they work to hold public officials and corporations accountable. Their reporters recognize that oppressed people are experts on their own lives and trust their expertise.
The Texas Observer’s journalism is fact-based and rigorous, and they prize writing that entertains as it informs. They value history as a reporting tool that allows us to interrogate the origins of policies and to correct narratives that whitewash exploitation, dispossession, and genocide.
Local Peacemaker awardees:
Kristen Schlemmer – For a life dedicated to a more peaceful and just world where life-giving water sources are protected and restored,
For helping fellow Houstonians by confronting inequities in disaster recovery, water pollution, and infrastructure failures,
And for working tirelessly on the daunting task of securing clean water for the blend of wonderfully diverse people, verdant beauty, noxious but crucial industry, and extreme weather that is Houston.
Kristen Schlemmer is a lawyer who works every day to secure water justice in her hometown of Houston. As the Legal Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper since 2018, her work confronts the many facets of water injustice, from water pollution and infrastructure failures, to wetlands destruction and flooding, to inequities in climate mitigation and disaster recovery. In 2021, Kristen helped secure a $2 billion consent decree that will transform Houston’s wastewater infrastructure over the next generation.
Before joining Bayou City Waterkeeper, Kristen’s legal work included developing a precedent-setting legal theory for families flooded during Harvey, defending the city of Houston’s equal rights ordinance, and representing marine mammal scientists in seeking better living conditions for a captive orca. She previously worked at Susman Godfrey LLP and Irvine & Conner PLLC and clerked for two federal judges.
Her perspective is shaped by her childhood in Houston and South America, previous translation work with Brazilian human rights organizations, earlier advocacy focused on wildlife and farmed animals, legal education at Tulane in post-Katrina New Orleans, and motherhood. She is a Texas Gulf Coast Master Naturalist and previously served on the local board of New Leaders Council and the Houston Regional committee of the Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter. Kristen and her family live a short walk from Buffalo Bayou.
Jacilet Griffin – For her efforts to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County the same system in which her son, Evan Griffin Lee, was murdered,
For providing information, resources and advice to inmates’ families to help prevent others from dying while in custody,
For enlisting Harris County officials and elected representatives to create new laws and programs that will protect inmates with mental health needs,
And for, even amid unimaginable grief, never stopping the search for answers and justice.
Jacilet Griffin formed “From Custody to Casket” after her son was murdered in the Harris County Jail over a year ago. The Texas Rangers investigated his murder after the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide. The Sheriff’s Office continually lied about the circumstances, once claiming he might have died from food poisoning, then claiming he might have died from a friendly game of slap boxing. They (HCSO) hid the circumstances and claimed they did not know what happened the entire time.
Jacilet Griffin lost her son to our local Criminal Justice System. She used her grief to focus and empower her to start changing the system. She contacted state rep Ron Reynolds and Shelia Jackson Lee to create a law to help prevent others from dying while in custody. House Bill 3434, also to be known as the Evan Griffin Lee bill, was introduced by Rep Ron Reynolds to ensure inmates living with mental health issues are separated from the general population. Ms. Griffin says her son was suffering at the time of his arrest.
She has also helped the Public Defender’s Office with a new program called Participatory Defense. The first one was created in the Sunnyside neighborhood under her leadership. The program empowers families who have had a loved one arrested and informs them of their rights and gives them resources. Unfortunately within this process, Jacilet lost her job and has been struggling financially. Just prior to her son’s murder, her goddaughter was killed by a Precinct 4 Deputy Constable traveling at a very high rate of speed. Precinct 4 has claimed that she was at fault even though her car was almost torn in half and struck by the marked unit driven by the deputy who never applied his brakes.
Jacilet Griffin never gave up, but turned her frustration and anger into action, helping to try to change the criminal justice system in Harris County. “I say to anyone that is dealing with the gravity of such death of their loved ones, don’t give up on trying to reach whomever and whatever to try and get answers,” said Griffin. “And I think this is something Evan would definitely be proud of.”
Lorena Perez McGill
Lorena Perez McGill – For giving us a shining example of how to make a difference in our world,
For opening your heart and dedicating your life’s work to those seeking safety, security and stability,
For working toward a peaceful and just world without borders where everyone belongs in the places they desire.
Lorena Perez McGill is an immigration attorney, and has taught at American University – Washington College of Law, the University of Houston Law Center, and the Georgetown University Law Center.
She is Founder and Managing Partner of Perez McGill Law Firm in Spring, TX, and represents clients from Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Russia, and Venezuela, in US immigration law matters.
Before Immigration Courts, she has represented over 55 asylum-seekers and individuals facing deportation in immigration courts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, and Texas. She has represented detained clients, some of whom have been granted release on bond in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, and some of whom have been granted asylum or withholding of removals.
Before the Board of Immigration Appeals, she has represented over a dozen asylum-seekers on appeal. Some of are pending before the BIA, and three were remanded in the last two years;
She has also represented numerous clients before agencies within the US Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Her current volunteer work includes:
- Volunteer mediator with the Montgomery County Dispute Resolution Center in Conroe (mediate contractual and labor & employment cases).
- Volunteer lawyer with Kids in Need of Defense in Houston (represent low-income immigrants in their Special Immigrant Juvenile Status visa processes).
- Volunteer lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid and the Montgomery County Women’s Center, in Conroe (represent low-income victims of crimes and domestic violence in the attainment of special U and VAWA visas).