The College of Constructive Hell-Raising

Civil Rights legend Peter Johnson wth the 2022 class


APPLICATION for the Class of 2024 at the bottom of the page ….


Since 2017 Downwinders has sponsored the College of Constructive Hell-Raising, a semester-long class about how to win grassroots Change. We draw on our three decades of experience as well as the history of those DFW elders and peers who’ve taught us with their own examples.

Unlike other seminars for political activists, the College isn’t issue or skill-specific. It’s about the mechanics of how you win grassroots fights with grassroots resources, no matter the cause.  Our goal is for graduates to “think like an organizer.”

Each of the sessions from January thru May are a discussion of the same principles taught to professional organizers at the nation’s oldest schools of community organizing,  combined with lessons in DFW social change history told by the people who made it.

Guest lecturers include original Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer the Reverend Peter Johnson, as well as other well-known local legends like John Fullinwider, Marsha Jackson and  Luis Selpulveda.

As impressive as our speaker line-up is, it’s also the diversity of students who’ve fueled the success of the class – urban aggies, animal rights and police brutality activists, peace and immigration activists, labor, LGBT, transit rights and anti-gentrification activists. Not plugged into a cause? We welcome students who are just curious about learning an alternate DFW history, or want to explore what a commitment to real Change means.

Graduates become part of a larger network of alumni in DFW, many of whom lead their own Change-making organizations. We’re growing relationships that transcend single-issue silos and connect us to larger struggles through our philosophy of How Change Happens.

Interested? Another class begins January 2024 with enrollment beginning October 30th. The cost is $150 and includes two books and lots of material that add up to your very own Community Organizing handbook. Full and half scholarships are always available, so cost is never a reason not to apply

The application form for this coming Class of ’24  is at the bottom of this page. Fill it out and send it in. Upon acceptance to the class we’ll send you instructions on scholarships and/or payments to make it official. Thanks.

For weekly content you might find interesting as well as give you further insight into the College, please check out our FB page.



The Particulars

Class meets every other Tuesday from Mid-January to Mid-May,  7 to 9 pm in the evening, beginning Tuesday, January 16th, 2024,

We also have an informal social component of the class that takes place from the end of class at 9 pm to the departure of the last student leaving that takes place at a local bar or meeting spot and involves food and drink. We invite our guest lecturers too so it’s a good opportunity for students to have one-on-one time with real life living legends. Attendance at this social portion of the class isn’t mandatory but is highly encouraged to help build community within the class, build your networks, and give you quality time with our history-making Change Makers.


The cost is $150. It includes two books, and lots of reading material. Half and full scholarships are available.

EARLY REGISTRATION DISCOUNT: Sign-up  Before December 1st and the cost is  only $90.


Classes are conducted at Good Co-Working , 1808 South Good Latimer, Dallas 75226


ATTENDANCE POLICY:                                                                                                                                      

There are only nine content-filled sessions plus graduation each semester. Absences are costly to you and your classmates. They’re also demoralizing to the instructors and lecturers. We understand our location in central Dallas makes it harder for those living and working outside metro Dallas to attend, but that’s one of the reasons why we start at 7 pm. Make sure you allow for DFW traffic in order to arrive on time. If you miss more than three classes, you’re welcome to keep attending classes but you will NOT graduate.



Every year we host a graduation event that spotlights a current social issue in Dallas. In the past this has meant ceremonies taking place under the shadow of Shingle Mountain, across the street from the GAF asphalt shingle factory in West Dallas, down the road from Joppa batch plants, or underneath an urban highway that destroyed Black neighborhoods. Each class decides what issue to spotlight and what its final assignment will be as part of it.




Class Schedule 


Session One:

Tuesday, January 16th

What is Constructive Hell-Raising? (Jim Schermbeck)

Introductions to the class and one another




Session Two: 

Tuesday, January 30th

Organizing Lesson:  The Four Dirty Words of Organizing  (Jim Schermbeck)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Rev. Peter Johnson

The SCLC Comes to Dallas and Starts the First Fair Park Fight




Session Three:

Tuesday, February 13th

Organizing Lesson:  Strategy vs. Tactics (Jim Schermbeck)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Ruben A. Arellano,  Dallas College Professor Of History

The Rise of Chicano Organizing in Big D



Session Four:

Tuesday, February 27th

Organizing Lesson: One-on-Ones (Caleb Roberts)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturers: John Fullinwider, co founder Mothers Against Police Brutality and former Bois D’arc Patriot 

Theories of Change 



Session Five: 

Tuesday, March 12th

Organizing Lesson: Group Decision-Making (Caleb Roberts and Evelyn Mayo)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Luis Sepulveda, Founder, West Dallas Environmental Justice Coalition

Getting the lead out of West Dallas 



Session Six:

Tuesday, March 26th

Organizing Lesson: Critical Thinking (Jim Schermbeck

History Lesson/Guest Lecturers:    Patti Fink, former president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance 

and Lee Daughtery, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and Democratic Socialists of America

Why is LGBTQ organizing in Dallas so successful? 




Session Seven:

Tuesday, April 9th

Organizing Lesson: “Perception is Everything” (Jim Schermbeck)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Meghan Greene, Frisco Unleaded 

Shutting down an Outlaw Lead Smelter in “Red” Frisco



Session Eight: 

Tuesday April 23rd

Organizing Lesson:  Effective Outreach (Evelyn Mayo)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer:   TBD



Session Nine:

Tuesday May 7th

Organizing Lesson: Civics 101 (Jim Schermbeck)

History Lesson/Guest Lecturer: Marsha Jackson 

The fight to close and clean-up Shingle Mountain 




Session Ten: 

Tuesday, May  21st





Jim Schermbeck, Dean of Instruction

Jim Schermbeck has been a professional community organizer in DFW since 1989 when he opened the Dallas office of the National Toxics Campaign. He’s been a major catalyst for change in campaigns to clean-up local DFW Superfund sites, stop hazardous waste-burning in cement kilns, close an outlaw lead smelter in Frisco, effectively ban gas and oil drilling in Dallas, and close and clean-up  the illegal Shingle Mountain dump site in Southern Dallas. He’s Director of Downwinders at Risk.

Evelyn Mayo and Caleb Roberts, Instructors 

Evelyn Mayo and Caleb Roberts are both professional urban planners and seasoned community organizers. They’re both also Co-Chairs of Downwinders at Risk. Evelyn has been instrumental in the fights over Shingle Mountain and GAF’s asphalt shingle factory, while Caleb is leading efforts to roll back racist zoning in Fort Worth and replace rather than rebuild I-345 through downtown Dallas.


Downwinders At Risk, Board of Trustees

Downwinders at Risk is perhaps the most successful grassroots environmental group in Texas history. It’s certainly one of the most persistent.

Founded in 1994 to stop the burning of hazardous waste in Midlothian cement plants, it broadened its mission in 2010 to include protection of DFW air quality when it won its original fight. In 2017 it turned its focus on Particulate Matter air pollution and environmental justice.

Since its founding, Downwinders has used basic community organizing strategy to win its victories. Now we share what we’ve learned with other North Texas activists who want to increase their understanding of community organizing techniques, as well as learn about DFW social justice history.



College Alumni Include:

Rachel Albright, former Director of Tarrant Transit Alliance

Kim Aman, Program Director, Moss Haven Farms

Janie Cisneros, Chair, Singleton United/Unidos

Clarice Criss, National Democratic Party campaign consultant

Paul Dill, Dallas Peace and Justice Center

Patrice Jones, Director, Southside Community Garden

Alicia Kendrick, Chair, Joppa Environmental Health Project

Anne Lott, President & Executive DirectorThe Inclusive Communities Project

Susie Marshall, Executive Director, GROW North Texas

Evelyn Mayo, Chair, Downwinders at Risk

Misti O’Quinn, North Texas Organizer, Sierra Club Beyond Coal

Jennifer Rangel,  Planning and Community Outreach Director, Inclusive Communities Project

Cory Troiani, DFW Program Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Collin Yarbrough, Author, “Paved a Way, Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City”



Student Comments :

“It made me move away from thinking of myself as an activist – someone who subscribes to a particular set of beliefs or positions, but doesn’t necessarily push forward a policy or action. Now, I think of myself as someone who has the tools to translate opinions into action. Now, I’m concerned with being effective, not just being right.”


“This class was amazing! I learned so much about other social movements in Dallas that I did not know about previously such as the Chicano movement and the civil rights movement in Dallas.”


“The information and knowledge gained from the College is invaluable for anyone at any stage of outreach, political gaming, activism, or simply in business or life.”


“The volume of the materials that were provided alone is worth quite a bit. The instruction was helpful, and the privilege of getting to hear from and visit with the guest speakers is invaluable. Throw in a good group of classmates and free pizza and it’s over the top.”


“The College is the best way to learn about historic progressive battles in Dallas, connect with a diverse group of committed citizens, and learn how to be a pragmatic, effective organizer.”


“The College is an incredible opportunity to meet and learn from other passionate organizers and leaders looking to make Dallas a better, more equitable place.”


“I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would become informed on the history of progressive politics in Dallas; I didn’t anticipate getting to meet so many incredible organizers in the city (both lecturers and students).”


The depth of the class, as well as the opportunities to actually discuss and learn from those “in the trenches” and behind the scenes of significant events of the past couple of decades. It was invaluable seeing the different strategies and techniques used to accomplish goals.


“I loved learning more about the organizing history of Dallas. It gave me important context to frame my work. Meeting other organizers also helped me understand how to be a better advocate for the organizing community and speak to how different people approach frustrations with the City, industries and corporations, etc.”


“…the camaraderie and connections with other local activists that, despite my extensive network, I had never met before, was immeasurably important to the work I’m currently doing and plan to do in the future.”


“I really, really loved learning more about the distinction between activism and organizing, and how to use your power as an organizer to empower and uplift community members in their fights.”


“The level of insight that Jim has from his years of organizing was invaluable and very well organized/structured. The resources, thoughts behind each class topic, and chance to both connect with fellow aspiring organizers and meet/network with veteran difference-makers more than met what I was hoping for this course.”


“I absolutely loved your class and feel like I still touch on so many aspects of the things we learned. Now that I work at the ACLU of Texas, I feel like your class was the most valuable training I received in prep for this work.  I’ll recommend your class  because I feel like your class offers such a diverse range of experiences, resources, and lessons. I also just found out that they did not know about Peter Johnson’s work and he alone is a reason to join your class.”


“This class was incredible! It was informative, fun, and inspirational! I definitely feel ready to raise hell and be a better advocate.”






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