Public affairs sophomore Brooke Lopez runs for Wylie City Council
The Saturday morning of March 31, 2012 dawned bright for Brooke Lopez and her family, as they prepared for their weekly fishing trip.
They were sitting in Mogio’s Pizza, a little parlor in Sachse, near Wylie, at around 11 a.m. when Lopez, now a public affairs sophomore, got a call that would change her life.
Her friend called to say that Nahum Martinez, Lopez’s close friend and a Wylie East High School student, had been murdered in a dispute over a girl earlier that morning. The two teenagers charged for the murder were also Wylie East students.
The grief and horror hit first. Then, the anger came.
“I tell the Martinez family every day — and I’m really close with them — that without Nahum, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “With tragedy comes grace, and the grace I received was knowing what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
And just like that, Lopez decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer or a ballerina like she had wanted when she was younger but a politician who could make change.
On May 9, Wylie will elect its city council, and the 18-year-old, who is also a Student Government senator, is one of the candidates for City Council Place 4.
The stepping stones
On Nov. 8, 2012, six months after Martinez’s murder, a Collin County judge announced the teen accused of killing him would be tried in juvenile court.
Lopez and the Martinez family were upset and shocked to hear that these students, who had used a firearm to kill Martinez, could possibly resume their normal lives once they turned 18, while Nahum had been taken from this world forever.
In December 2012, Lopez sat down with her father, David Lopez, a retired army sergeant, and tried to figure out how else to charge the boy who had murdered Martinez.
David, who has a federal firearms license and sells weapons, pointed out that the teenagers responsible for Martinez’s death would be allowed to carry firearms legally once they get out of juvenile detention.
She decided she wanted to start working on drafting a new law that could address the situation. With the help of local judges, Rockwall District Attorney Kenda Culpepper, the Collin County Teen Court coordinator Julie Monge and her high school teachers Dianne Boone and Amy May, Lopez was able to draft a law.
If passed, Nahum’s Law, as it will be called, will ensure that “a person charged as a minor with a felony involving a fire arm loses the privilege to have their records expunged.”
After several failed attempts to get a Congressperson to back Nahum’s law in the Texas legislature, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg finally agreed to push the law, and it is up for discussion in the spring 2015 legislative session.
Lopez’s mother, Jenny, said that it was hard at first to convince people to back the law, because they perceive the law to be a form of gun control. But, it’s not gun control; it’s simply a punishment, Jenny said.
“We are in support of being able to carry firearms, but we believe as a family, as the law states that you have to be mentally sound to be able to carry that firearm,” she said. “If you proceed, at any age, with an action that causes the death or the harm of someone via a firearm, you should no longer be able to legally own a firearm.”
If passed, the law would also deliver justice to another Wylie East teenager who was murdered in 2014, for the same reasons as Martinez — a dispute over a girl. Ivan Mejia was murdered behind their high school and the accused were also Wylie East students.
The two murders, so close to each other, rattled something within Lopez.
“I just don’t understand why all of a sudden this has happened,” she said. “I mean, we had only one murder in the 130 years of being the City of Wylie, and it was an axe murder over a cheating husband.”
Neither of the murders made sense since both students were kind, straight-A students, she said.
Part of the problem in Wylie is the lack of a support network that a teenager can reach out to during troubled times, Lopez said.
“I think, in our city, there’s really no one you can go to and tell them ‘I’m feeling this anger,’” she said. “People get made fun of for having disorders. It’s a much different environment, and I really wish I could change it in some way, somehow let the teachers see and help in some way, improve communication.”
City Council platform
Lopez’s desire to bring change to her community has spurred her into action, and she filed her papers for the elections last month.
In order to do so, she had to gather 25 signatures on her petition from local community members.
UTD baseball player and mechanical engineering freshman Will Peters, who helped her get signatures, said the reaction from people they approached was mixed.
While some people were very supportive, others wondered why someone so young wanted to run for city council and what she could do for them, he said.
When she went around getting these signatures, many thought she was getting them for one of her parents, Lopez said.
“It made me realize how uneducated people are about politics in a local area,” Lopez said. “They don’t know how much local politics affects their local area. They don’t know how much the city council actually controls.”
Lopez realized how easy it was to run for office and how simple the requirements were, so much so that criminal background checks are not required for candidates. As a result, there are council members on the current council who have arrest records to their name, she said.
Lopez is campaigning for two issues that affect Wylie: water conservation in Lake Lavon, Wylie’s primary water source, and restoration of the Blackland Prairie.
Wylie used to be a small city, and as it grows, fishing roads are getting paved and crop land is being eaten up by uncontrolled real estate development. While Lopez isn’t opposed to growth, she misses the land and the Wylie she knew.
In the past 15 years, Wylie’s population has grown exponentially; there are 12 elementary schools as opposed to the one before, and as each new school filled up, the city added a new one. Ten thousand new students have been added to the school district in that time.
With the growth, there’s been an increase in waste water from pressurized wood coming from the construction sites going into Lake Lavon, which provides all of Wylie’s water, causing longer filtration times and a strain on the city’s resources.
If elected, Lopez hopes to strategize and plan Wylie’s growth and bring in more regulations on water and land use that might slow down growth initially but will result in steady revenues for the city in the long term, she said.
Lopez’s sophomore year English teacher Dianne Boone said it was important for the people of Wylie to realize the significance of such a strategic plan.
“I think that she has a pulse on the future of Wylie, of where her challenges might be for the city in the future, especially with water conservation — and it’s not just Wylie, of course. To run with that on her platform is really important,” Boone said.
The biggest challenge for Lopez is to get people to come out and vote. Last year, only 442 of the registered 29,000 voters, or 1.97 percent, voted for city council. Lopez wants to make voter education accessible to the youth to encourage them to cast their ballot.
“Those 442 people are deciding for all of us and I think, to be honest, if I wasn’t so involved in politics, I would have no idea where I’m supposed to register, what I’m supposed to do, where I vote. It’s all stuff that I’ve researched,” she said. “But, people who don’t have the time to research, who don’t care as much, are not going to do it.”
Her parents and her siblings have backed her on the decision to run, Lopez said. Most of her day goes in planning her campaign and putting together her campaign website. Peters has been helping Lopez with building the website, and often, when she needs a second opinion on her platform and work, she calls him up to use him as a sounding board.
For Lopez’s mother, Jenny, pride and fear come hand in hand, particularly as her daughter enters politics.
“I’m wary and I’m scared and I believe that in this day and age, media tends to twist things as soon as you put yourself in front of the public,” Jenny said. “I do get concerned; I imagine there will be some negativity at some time and how will we handle that as a family, but other than that, I couldn’t be more proud of her and I look forward to seeing what she does.”
Lopez draws her communication skills and her community spirit from her mother, she said.
“(My mom) may not have graduated high school, but she’ll damn well run a campaign no matter what you put in front of her,” Lopez said. “She will sell you any item that you could have never wanted before.”
Lopez’s father has also been a source of inspiration for her, and his willingness to lay his life on the line for his country inspired a sense of patriotism in her and the desire to always do the right thing.
For Lopez, it’s more important that she not let her family down, and she feels she’s living out her parents’ legacy before they had children.
“No one in my family has graduated high school yet. My parents haven’t. My older brother hasn’t, and they just want to see me succeed,” Lopez said.
Meanwhile, Lopez has been selected as one of the top 10 national semifinalists for a young women’s political program, Run for Running Start. Lopez will have to collect enough votes to move on as one of top three finalists.
If she qualifies for the next round, she will be able to go to Washington D.C. for a week to learn more about politics and to donate $5,000 to a charity of her choice.
She has designated that money in advance toward the Wylie Education Foundation under the Nahum Martinez scholarship.
Connecting with her roots
Even as she embarks on her campaign for city council, Lopez hasn’t forgotten Martinez.
With some help from Jenny and Boone, Lopez almost single-handedly organizes Nahum’s Run, a 5K in his memory every year.
Through the process of getting the run together, Boone worked with Lopez as the teacher liaison to be able to provide her access to district utilities and witnessed Lopez’s resourcefulness, as she found a way to overcome challenges no matter what.
“I just like being around her when she does that. It is so amazing to watch,” Boone said. “I like to see her eyes light up when she talks about what she’s passionate about, and she’s passionate about doing the right thing.”
Lopez, who was hurt after a concussion in a soccer match her freshman year in high school, still has panic attacks when she’s in stressful situations. Yet, she is working 20-hour days trying to put together her campaign, juggle school and a part-time job.
As Nahum’s Law comes closer to passing after all the work she has put in, Lopez knows that winning or losing the election doesn’t matter to her. There will be ways for her to get where she wants to be, serving her country through politics, making the lives of others better.
Lopez might be the catalyst for change in youth politics, as she shows other students in Wylie what true leadership is like and that students also have a voice, Boone said. It was impressive to see how Lopez, with her determination and passion, managed to channel her grief into something proactive and positive, she said.
“UTD is lucky to have her, for the leadership that she can bestow on her campus, her community and someday on our world,” Boone said. “She is something special.”
An earlier version of the story was updated with date and place corrections. District Attorney Kenda Culpepper’s name was spelled incorrectly. The Mercury regrets these errors.