Lewis Center Welcomes Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert to UIW

February 16, 2024

On Thursday, Feb. 15 the UIW Lewis Center of the Americas kicked off its Spring 2024 lineup of Conversations with Ambassador Creagan, a live discussion series that aims to bring government leaders and political thought influencers to campus to share ideas on improving international relations and bolstering democracies. The conversation this month featured special guest Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, the first African American and youngest commissioner elected in Bexar County.  

Calvert represents over 500,000 residents in Precinct 4 of the 2 million who call Bexar County home. Among his many accomplishments, he saved Randolph Air Force Base from closure as chairman of the Randolph Joint Land Use Committee. He also chairs the Bexar County Cyber and IT Initiative where he developed curriculum with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in CompTIA, Network plus and other IT courses, so that San Antonio high school students can work in six-figure IT jobs that may have otherwise gone to out-of-town candidates. Prior to his role as county commissioner, he led the American Anti-Slavery Group, the first anti-human trafficking organization founded in the United States since reconstruction, helping to free over 6,000 Sudanese slaves. 

Ambassador Dr. James F. Creagan, for whom the series is named, had an over 30-year career as a diplomat in the Foreign Service and has held positions as Chargé d’Affaires and Deputy Ambassador to Italy and, separately, the Holy See. He was named U.S. Ambassador to Honduras by President Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2009, under President Barack Obama, Creagan served as Chargé d’Affaires to Bolivia and Chief of the U.S. Mission. Today, he is a professor of Political Science at Incarnate Word, and a fellow at the Lewis Center of the Americas.  

Creagan and Calvert sat with Dr. Rafael Hoyle, director of the Lewis Center of the Americas and event moderator, for an hour-long discussion regarding the connection between “the global and the local” when it comes to the work being done to enact positive change in the world. Students and faculty members alike listened intently as the two shared their vast experiences and offered insights into how micro-level efforts can cause global effects and vice versa. During the discussion, Calvert shared with students that, though it may not seem like it, the work done at the local government level can have positive global implications, encouraging them to engage in local elections. Several students registered to vote for the very first time at the event, thanks to the League of Women Voters representatives who were on site to help guide them through the process.  

“Everything under the sun falls under a county commissioner,” Calvert explained of the important role local government officials play, and why it’s important to become involved in politics at the local level. “It’s one of the most powerful positions in government that most people know nothing about.” 

That position, he explained, includes everything from working to combat climate change by offsetting the reduced tree canopy brought on by new construction in Bexar County, to working with international governments and police forces to train them to identify and stop corruption in their home countries. Bexar County’s Commissioners Court is also responsible for decisions regarding budgets, tax and revenue, and personnel. The Court also appoints and monitors the actions of all county department heads other than those offices headed by elected officials. 

Creagan shared that just like local policies trickle up to make national and international impacts, so do national and global efforts trickle down to the local level. He explained that during his time as Ambassador to Honduras, much of his work involved becoming directly and intimately involved with the country’s towns and communities.  

Dulce Valladares, an international business student from Honduras, shared that she was pleasantly surprised to learn from Creagan about the U.S.’s work around the world, including her home country, and the tangible impact that work can have in the lives of individuals. 

“Ambassador Creagan was ambassador to my home country. I was surprised how much the United States government helped my country,” she shared when asked what she learned about the global and local connection. “Sometimes we don’t see that.”   

During the discussion, Calvert was also asked about what his place in history as the youngest and first Black county commissioner in Bexar County means to him. His response was a message of unity. 

“I’m just Tommy and always have been,” Calvert explained. “I believe I won because of ideas – because I was able to listen to people and have a track record of working with them … It’s a tremendous honor, but I never ran to be the first Black commissioner, and I didn’t want to rest on my laurels as that being my biggest accomplishment. The biggest accomplishment I hope that people will see is what we did and how we did it.” 

“Scientifically we’re 99.9% genetically the same,” he continued. “We’re the human race. And that’s really the ministry … I want to bring people closer together … I want us to see those differences go away.”  

Event attendees left the event feeling inspired to become more involved in making the world a better place.  

“Sometimes we forget how important protecting democracy is,” shared Valladares at the conclusion of the discussion. “We are the ones who are going to pass it on to our children and grandchildren. It was great that they emphasized how important it is, not only in America, but worldwide.”