Published February 1, 2021 at 10:59am.
INTERVIEW BY JAN OSBORN. PHOTOS BY KIRSTEN CHILSTROM.
Chris Howell is an award winning journalist, author, and the CEO of Chris Howell Communications, LLC, a communications and marketing agency, and co-founder of the Chris Howell Foundation (CHF). CHF started as a nonprofit with the aim of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. Over time, CHF has expanded its programming to include financial education, career development skills, along with health and wellness education for the Dallas-Fort Worth community. Chris Howell and his wife, Dominique Bryant-Howell, work tirelessly to help provide a new future for individuals and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS. Growing up in Dallas, Chris and Dominique never imagined building a nonprofit, but now they are leading an agile organization that has provided nearly one million pounds of food and over 28,000 PPE Care Packages to over 28,000 local families since June.
Chris grew up in West Dallas, the youngest of six children. He was raised in a single-parent home by a mother who was known for her strong work ethic. As Chris reflected, he stated “cleaning houses and taking care of the elderly parents of working adults may seem like a small thing to most people, but I really appreciate my mom for giving me that example.” His mother, Annie, wanted her children to experience simple luxuries like going out to eat at a restaurant, so she worked hard to bring in additional income so the family could stop for fast-food or pizza. “Mom just wanted us to be exposed to something different,” Chris remembers. “She saved her money so the family could have a standing date on Friday nights at Pizza Inn. Mom would give money to my brother or myself to pay the bill, teaching us what it’s like to be responsible as a man and to pay.”
Chris met his wife, Dominique, when they were 14 years old, and they have been together ever since. Dominque’s mother passed away when she was just nine-years-old. At the beginning of their relationship, Dominique was living with her sister, and a year later, they had a falling out. Chris told his mom about Dominque’s situation and she invited Dominque to move in and become a part of their family.
Chris and Dominique had their first child at age 16, and by the time they were 18 years old, they had three children together, leaving Chris with a tough decision—school or work? He decided to drop out of high school and get a full-time job to support his growing family. Chris started a full-time job working at Blockbuster Video as an Assistant Store Manager, and later went on to becoming the youngest district manager in company history, at the age of 23. However, as a young, now-married, couple, Chris and Dominique were facing challenges and peer pressure from their old social circles.
On December 27, 1997 the Howells decided to visit The Potter’s House Church and their life began to change. Chris was given the opportunity to make announcements at Potter’s House and learned to read a teleprompter. This experience gave him the skills and confidence needed to apply for a job at KHVN 970 AM. Chris got the job and began doing voiceovers for commercial spots and moved to 90.9 KCBI-FM. “It was a miracle from God,” Chris says. “You don’t start in radio or television in Dallas without prior smaller market experience.”
Chris served as a news reporter of the midday news at KBCI for seven years, and in 2013 became a regular on-air contributor for NBC 5’s Community Affairs Program entitled 5 Talk Street but, also in 2013, KCBI ended their news department and released all of the employees. Chris and Dominique saw the change coming and decided that it was time to start their own communications and marketing agency. They moved into their downtown Dallas office in November of 2013. “We called it Chris Howell Communications basically because we just couldn’t come up with another name,” Chris says. “We also felt like it would be best to use the branding I built throughout my years in the radio and television.”
By 2015, Chris Howell Communications was doing well, and the Howells decided it was time to give back to the community. Chris’ brother, Cedric Dewayne Howell, died several years before from AIDS, and that deep loss led Chris and Dominique to become active in the fight to destigmatize AIDS and the HIV virus. For World AIDS Day Chris Howell Communications created a video that featured the stories of people living with HIV and AIDS. They also highlighted the fact that Dallas-Fort Worth was still leading the state of Texas in HIV infections.
One of the people Chris had the opportunity to interview for the video was Edith Lewis, she had been living with HIV for about 18 years. Edith pointed out that there was a National Black HIV AIDS Awareness Day on February 7 annually to highlight the continuing disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on the African-American population in the United States. During 2008, Black people represented 13% of the US population, but accounted for 43% of all newly diagnosed HIV infections.
The Howells’ plan was to host a one-day event to share the video and raise awareness to the problem. In the midst of making preparations, Dominique said, “You know, I think this is going to be bigger than just a one-day event.” That is when the Howells decided to birth the Chris Howell Foundation (CHF) as a way to raise awareness and education regarding HIV and AIDS.
“We filed our nonprofit paperwork in January 2016 and within two weeks, we became a 501(c)3. We were off and running for our February 7th event,” Chris says. “We were able to give folks the opportunity to get tested, receive condoms, and other prophylactics along with the needed education and awareness.” In 2017 the Howells decided to expand their services to address more health disparities impacting the Black and Brown communities. “As much as it is an epidemic in our community, many folks still don’t want to talk about HIV. We decided to expand programming and talk about overall health and continue to raise awareness regarding HIV and AIDS,” Chris says.
When the pandemic reached Texas early last year, The Chris Howell Foundation operating under its health initiative began gathering personal protection equipment (PPE) to make care packages. In June of 2020, CHF began distributing the Farmers to Families Food Boxes along with the PPE Care Packages in both Dallas and Tarrant Counties, and when the distribution ended early December CHF had fed over 28,000 families just under a million pounds of food and distributed over 28,000 PPE Care Packages. Chris says, “People began noticing what we were doing, and it seems like we were on the news every week. We were very lucky with the news coverage and started gaining donations from organizations in Fort Worth and Dallas. Those donations really allowed us to gain the momentum to continue going.”
In September of 2020, CHF was invited to apply for a $100,000 grant from Albertsons/Tom Thumb Nourishing Neighbors Community Relief Initiative. “We submitted all of the paperwork, along with the videos that we had been doing to show the nature of our work. In December, we were awarded the $100,000 grant. We were extremely surprised, because we thought we were just a small organization and we were pleased to be invited to apply,” Chris says. “Once we actually received the award, we were just blown away. It was a boost of confidence to let us know that we had an organization like Albertsons/Tom Thumb who recognized our work and wanted to partner with us in serving the community in this way.”
In 2021, CHF would like to double the number of families served in 2020, and knows that in order for that to happen, they will need a warehouse and classroom space space, along with additional volunteers. At one point during the busy season of handing out food and PPE supplies, CHF did not have enough volunteers to hand out all of the packages and had to pay people to help serve. Chris says, “We are desperately in need of a large facility to receive and store large quantities of dry and frozen foods, and ultimately, use this facility to offer our other programs, such as, our financial literacy program.” CHF’s Financial Literacy Program entitled Healthy Dollars provides educational resources to help individuals and families to “B.E.T. On Yourself” by learning to build a household budget, elevate savings, and take action in credit management.
Chris’ heart for this particular work is grounded in the memory of his mother coming home with boxes of food from their local food bank. But Chris also recognizes the power of hope. One of his favorite sayings is, “Hope for the future gives you strength for today.” As a young man, Chris always believed that things were going to get better. As he looks back upon his life, he realizes that there were challenging moments and many times he thought of quitting. Chris adds, “Every day I tell people to move forward and continue to think forward. You may be going through a tough time now, but things are going to get better.”
Looking back, Chris is very proud and happy with the life he has today. In 2011 he went back to school and graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a marketing degree because he wanted to be an inspiration to his kids. Chris and Dominique have three adult children, and one grandson named after his brother, Brayden Dewayne.
More information about their work can be found at www.chrishowellfoundation.org/.