I come from a working-class, union-built family with Tejano roots that go back 300 years. I was born in Dallas in the old St. Paul Hospital on Harry Hines, where the Bill Clements Jr. Hospital now stands. My mom was a nineteen year old Irving-native when she had me and worked as an administrative assistant. My dad, though born on a military base in Baltimore, was from Houston and worked as a union draftsman in the UA Local 100. Texas grit and working class values defined our lives. The three of us lived in a rented duplex off King’s Highway in Oak Cliff for the first years of my life.
As I started school, my parents moved us to the growing suburb The Colony, about 25 minutes north of Downtown Dallas. Not long after, the Leal family grew by one when my little brother Jeremy was born. I was six years older than him, and I used all that knowledge to teach him about everything important in life, mainly Batman and Superman. Later, after many years of being wrongfully labeled as ADHD, Jeremy was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Being Jeremy’s big brother has been one of the most important roles of my life.
From the Classroom to the Boardroom…
I am a product of Texas public schools, institutions and educators. Throughout K-12, I was lucky enough to be selected for the LEAP (Leading Exceptional Academic Producers) program. During the summer after 7th grade, I lived in a dorm on the Southern Methodist University campus, taking courses for college credit and exploring the (then) newly redeveloped Mockingbird Station.
After high school I attended Texas Tech University, double-majoring in Finance and Economics and becoming the first in my family to graduate college. I was the president of the Texas Tech Finance Association, and the Opinions Editor at our university newspaper, The Daily Toreador. Writing and Economics are two passions of mine, and I used my platform at the paper to try to make economics and business more accessible to my fellow Red Raiders.
After school I moved to McKinney Ave in Uptown, and eventually my business career moved me from Downtown Dallas to Midtown Manhattan. I started off in NYC as a stock market research analyst, specializing in healthcare. Eventually, I changed gears and became an Associate Director for a $40 billion media company, managing their investor relations program. My time in NYC provided incredible insight into the mechanics of corporate America and strengthened my belief that working people need representatives who understand these issues.
Getting off the Sidelines
As someone who doesn’t come from a wealthy family, I felt a deep drive — as a Leal, as a Texan, as an American — to try to meet society’s typical definition of material & financial success. I was proud of the work I had done in my business career, but I wasn’t fulfilled in the way I thought I would be. I always knew my passion for education and public service would lead me down that path someday.
Despite my efforts to get comfortable in the corporate world, I couldn’t stand watching as the crises in our public institutions and communities continued to get worse. Our communities were (and are!) on fire, and I felt like I was sitting out on the sidelines in the private sector.
I made the decision to quit my job. As soon as I did, I moved home to Dallas, launched the nonprofit CitizenTex and started working on my teaching certificate.
…From the Boardroom to the Classroom
Teachers have been some of the most important influences in my life, and I know I’m not alone. Teachers have unique perspectives on their communities — they create partnerships with students and families. Teachers help build futures, and I always knew I wanted to be a part of that process.
I was incredibly fortunate to begin my teaching career at Longfellow Career Exploration Academy, a Dallas ISD public magnet school. Longfellow is a special place. It was founded in 1947 and is also where Laura Bush began her teaching career. Today, the school is mostly Latino children from lower-income households. Despite many having unstable home lives, these kids are really hitting it out of the park. Student Math & Reading scores are double the state-wide averages.
I was hired to create a brand new Law & Justice course for 7th and 8th graders. Crafting a year-long law curriculum from scratch was an incredible challenge and opportunity. I was determined to make our constitution and legal system accessible and engaging to my students. Even as politicians in Austin try to make it illegal for me to teach my students certain truths, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to teach this group of kids about our legal system and government.
CitizenTex combines my passions for public service, education, civic engagement and all things Texas via a pair of nonprofits:
The non-partisan 501c(3) CitizenTex Fund is committed to improving the health of our democracy and communities by increasing civic & electoral engagement through voter registration and public education.
The 501c(4) CitizenTex is fighting for economic justice and freedom of opportunity for all Texans. Texas has a surprising and powerful progressive legacy that most people don’t know about. CitizenTex is focused on telling this history far and wide, and building coalitions based on progressive Texas values.
Love of my Life
I would not be the person I am today without my amazing girlfriend Morgan — ‘She wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as quick as she could.’ I’m so lucky that she puts up with me and all the music from the 1930’s I listen to. She also comes from a union family (CWA) and has a strong pull toward service. Her experience with her father, a 25+ year Parkinson’s survivor, caused her to get involved and help manage Team Fox, the grassroots fundraising arm of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. When our schedules (and COVID-protocols) allow, we like to spend Sundays volunteering at Dallas Life, serving lunch to the unhoused.
Love of the Land
I’m also lucky that Morgan shares my interest in hiking and nature. We’ve adventured all across Texas hiking, bird watching and exploring remote backroads in my Jeep. There’s nothing better than getting out in the middle of nowhere and experiencing parts of Texas most people will never see — always take the unpaved roads!
Love of Texas History
As a member of the Dallas Historical Society and an insatiable reader and collector of Texas and Dallas history, I believe an understanding and appreciation of our past makes our present that much richer. My study of history has also, inevitably, influenced my understanding of our politics today.
Love of Texas Music
From Bob Wills to Willie and Waylon. From Blind Lemon to Leon Bridges to “Oak Cliff” T-Bone. From Selena to Swishahouse to Stevie Ray Vaughn. From Erykah Badu to Bobby Sessions to Buddy Holly. From Lightnin Hopkins to Tobe Nwigwe to DSR. Texas has hands down created more legendary music and musicians than any other state or country in the world.
And, no offense to the Mississippi Delta, but I think Dallas & Texas can lay a credible claim as one of the birthplaces of Blues. Though Lead Belly was born in LA, he spent his most formative decades in Deep Ellum. Robert Johnson may have been born in MS, but he only ever recorded in Dallas & San Antonio. That Dallas recording studio, 508 Park, is also where the first Bob Wills recordings were done. The building still stands today and, together with Deep Ellum, is a testament to Dallas’s place in music history.