FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Abraham Hernández, Nyles Dos Santos de Oliveira, Autri Ormond, and Efe Martins, who are four of the seven scholarship recipients recently provided by Village in the Valley (ViVa), a prominent community organization dedicated to elevating and uniting the Black community while fostering connections with other cultures in the Rio Grande Valley, recently announced the recipients of its annual scholarship program. Not shown in this image, which was taken at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Saturday, June 10, 2023, are fellow scholarship recipients Ketny Nicoleau, Allen Jordan, and Albert Mabadeje.
Photograph Courtesy VILLAGE IN THE VALLEY (ViVa)
Seven Rio Grande Valley high school seniors, who are members of Village in the Valley, rewarded for their excellence with higher education scholarships
By SABRINA WALKER
Leaders with Village in the Valley (ViVa), a prominent community organization dedicated to elevating and uniting the Black community while fostering connections with other cultures in the Rio Grande Valley, recently announced the recipients of its annual scholarship program.
On Monday, July 10, 2023, seven outstanding local students were identified as winners who earned a combined total of $5,000 in scholarships.
The scholarship program, designed to recognize exceptional academic achievements and community engagement, attracted numerous talented high school seniors who are members in good standing of Village in the Valley.
Applicants were required to submit compelling essays on various topics, ranging from fostering unity to civil rights heroes. Through their insightful contributions, these students demonstrated their commitment to promoting positive change and addressing crucial social issues.
After an extensive evaluation process, the scholarship committee chose the following students as this year’s scholarship winners:
$1,000 – Abraham Hernández;
$1,000 – Efe Martins;
$1,000 – Kenny Nicoleau;
$1,000 – Autri Ormond;
$500 – Nyles Dos Santos de Oliveira;
$500 – Allen Jordan; and
$500 – Albert Mabadeje.
To celebrate the exceptional achievements of these students, Village in the Valley officials organized an in-person award ceremony during the Juneteenth Perfecting Unity Celebration.
The Juneteenth Perfecting Unity Celebration, which was held on Saturday, June 10, 2023 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, observes the oldest celebration commemoration of slavery’s end in the United States.
The Juneteenth Perfecting Unity Celebration provided an opportunity for the community to come together and honor the scholarship winners in a joyous atmosphere filled with pride, unity, and appreciation for their accomplishments.
The selection of the winners for the Village in the Valley scholarships was based on a range of criteria, including exceptional leadership skills, active participation in service organizations, clubs, and other student groups both at school and within the wider community.
These remarkable students have demonstrated not only academic excellence but also a strong commitment to making a positive impact on society.
Village in the Valley remains committed to its mission of elevating and uniting the Black community while fostering connections with other cultures in the Rio Grande Valley.
Through initiatives like the scholarship program, the organization aims to empower young leaders, promote educational opportunities, and encourage the pursuit of social justice.
Village in the Valley (ViVa) is a community organization based in the Rio Grande Valley dedicated to elevating and uniting the Black community while fostering connections with other cultures. Through various initiatives and events, ViVa strives to empower individuals, promote cultural diversity, and advocate for social justice.
Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-Mission, chosen to serve on House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment
Rep. Oscar Longoria, Jr. D-Mission, was one of 15 state representatives appointed on Monday, June 12, 2023 by Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, to the recently-created House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment.
“I’ve just created a new Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment,” said Phelan. “With a special session on education matters all but certain, the select committee will begin working immediately to develop a workable roadmap for legislation in the House.
The Select Committee is tasked with considering issues and matters that broadly affect educational opportunities for K-12 students in Texas.
The specific assignments handed out by Phelan are:
• Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance;
• Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions; and
• Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools education K-12 students.
“I’m humbled to be appointed to the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment by Speaker Phelan,” said Longoria, who serves as Chair, House Committee on Business and Industry. “I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to represent the interests of all students, families, and educators across Texas.”
The committee is required to produce a report no later than Friday, August 11, 2023 to be submitted to the Legislature.
This report must include, but is not limited to, identification of the current menu of choices available to K-12 students in Texas and highlighting options for providing additional educational opportunities to K-12 students.
The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment will expire when the 89th Legislature begins its 140-day regular session in January 2025.
Longoria had previously been appointed by Phelan to the House Committee on Public Education during the 88th Texas Legislature’s regular session, which began on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 and ended on Monday, May 29, 2023.
Members of the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment are:
• Rep. Brad Buckley R-Killeen, who serves as Chair;
• Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D–San Antonio, who serves as Vice Chair;
• Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, Member;
• Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney, Member;
• Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr., D-Houston; Member
• Rep. James B. Frank, R-Wichita Falls, Member;
• Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, Member;
• Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant, Member;
• Rep Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, Member;
• Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, Member;
• Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-Mission, Member;
• Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, member;
• Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, Member;
• Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, Member; and
• Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Member.
On Tuesday, July 11, 20123 and Wednesday, July 12, 2023, the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment held public meetings at the State Capitol complex in Austin.
“As additional note, it is my hope that these hearings highlight the needs for action on issues that did not cross the finish line during the regular session, bring to the foreground policies we may have missed and offer solutions and perspectives that we may not have not heard until this opportunity,” said Buckley, the committee’s Chair.
To access the full videotape of the two meetings – each which are between eight hours and nine-and-a-half hours in length – log on to:
and scroll down to the links labeled Educational Opportunity & Enrichment, Select for July 11, 2023 and July 12, 2023.
South Texas College, Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force included in Futuro RGV: Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum, held at South Texas College in McAllen
South Texas College and the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force recently signed a memorandum of understanding that sets forth a collaboration in fighting poverty in the region, and to continue the conversation.
Futuro RGV on Thursday, July 13, 2023, sponsored Futuro RGV: Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum, held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen of South Texas College.
Discussions on topics ranged from education and health to technology accessibility and food insecurity were on the table. The videotaped broadcast of the forum is available online at:
Various community organizations and institutions of higher education such as the RGV Partnership, Pharr Housing Authority, Food Bank of the RGV, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M McAllen, were on hand to discuss their roles as partners of the task force, initially created in 2020 by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortéz.
Ricardo J. Solis, Ph.D., President, South Texas College, said there are three things that STC and every Prosperity Task Force partner should do and be, and that is, “Do the right thing, be resolute and take risks.
“If we are going to be competitive, in a very competitive global market, then we need to always do the right thing for those we serve, we need to be purposeful in all we do and we need to take risks…this will allow us to transform our region,” he said. “We have a large consortium, and this is significant because were uniting, understanding and acknowledging that poverty is a huge issue and we have a task at hand to be able to address, combat poverty in Hidalgo County and the rest of the Rio Grande Valley.”
South Texas College panelists at the forum were:
• Rodney Rodríguez, Ph.D., Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Economic Development;
• Kevin Peek, Ph.D., Economy Instructor, South Texas College;
• Ali Esmaeili, Ph.D., Dean of Math, Science, Information Technology and Bachelor Programs; and
• Olivia De La Rosa, Dean of Continuing Education, Workforce Training and Economics Development, South Texas College.
Those four experts outlined South Texas College leaders vision to improve residents’ quality of life.
Each discussed the innovative approach to education that South Texas College is already contributing as a partner of the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force.
In its 30 years, South Texas College has become a national leader in regional and international workforce and industrial training, dual credit and concurrent enrollment, competency-based education and short-term certificate programming and bachelor’s degree programs, all of which give Valley residents the opportunity to obtain a higher education that can lead to a high-wage job.
“We are leading the way and always looking ahead for strategic and innovative programs and training that will help meet the demands of our region and industry partners,” said Rodríguez. “The Rio Grande Valley is looked at by the rest of state because a lot of what we do, transpires to the rest of Texas and the nation. We continuously pivot to meet demands and we’re proud of that. From Rio Grande City to Weslaco, we’re at the forefront of being proactive and strengthening partnerships so that all we do benefits our students.”
In the near future, together with the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and financial support from a federal AmeriCorps grant, South Texas College will also create a Youth Leadership Academy to help train future generations of policymakers about the complexities of poverty and how to mitigate its effects locally.
At the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, 33.5 percent of Hidalgo County’s population lives in poverty, and the county judge used his vision and drive to create the prosperity task force and is encouraging the forum’s panel and those in attendance to take action.
“We need to better our people, our families, and we have no choice but to do this,” Cortéz said. “This is a huge undertaking, but we’ve divided up the tasks and we all know what we have to do. It’s a journey, but here, today, we are building a championship team…a team of champions, who together, will find a way to beat poverty.”
Founded in 1993, South Texas College is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers more than 127 degree & certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing and allied health fields of study.
Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the state of Texas to offer five baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve 28,000 students, on the college’s six campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus.
David A. Díaz, Paco Sánchez and Amanda Sotelo contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).