5 questions with Suzanne Hickman
Suzanne Hickman is executive director/program director for the People Empowerment Project, launched by former State Rep. Harryette Earhardt and other community leaders in 2003. PEP operates primarily in South Dallas elementary and middle schools with high minority populations. The program teaches students the importance of personal responsibility, community service and good citizenship by overseeing student council elections. Hickman, 48, is also a co-founder of LULAC Chapter 4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council, and she recently was named "Woman of the Year" for LULAC’s District III. Hickman lives in Lancaster.
How did you get involved with PEP?
I was working on the No Nonsense in November campaign in 2005. The Dallas office was using space in Harryette Earhardt’s office. Once the campaign was over she asked me to stay on and work with her organization.
What are your duties as executive director/program director?
As executive director my primary focus is to find organizations with like goals to partner and/or collaborate with, recruit volunteers and to work with the board of directors on fundraising. As program director, I design the program, write the curriculum, teach the leadership development classes and work with the principals and staff to make sure we are complimenting what they are doing in the classrooms.
How did you get involved with LULAC?
I was at a community conference on poverty and met Ray De Los Santos, who is the director of the LULAC National Education Service Center. Ray has been like a big brother and mentor all in one. Similarly, I met Jesse Garcia through Stonewall Democrats and worked for him as a board member. He wanted to start a gay LULAC council.
As a white woman, what motivates you to work in communities of color?
What I saw and experienced while working on the No Nonsense campaign shook me. I’m a born and bred Texan, and the large percentage of my fellow Texans who think I’m a second-class citizen shook me. But the way other minority groups handled the issue stunned me. And it became clear to me that I cannot expect them to help and/or support us if we aren’t doing the same for them. Harryette’s offer was the perfect opportunity to start.
So you believe this work will ultimately benefit LGBT equality?
Absolutely! I think anything we do outside of our safe place within our community can only help. As they see that we are just like them in every way and on every level, the fears and the judgments will go away. To me, it’s that simple. I look at you from the inside out, as I think most people do given time. Once that starts happening we celebrate our commonalities and see the beauty in our differences, which is a wonderful place to be.
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2009.
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