Throughout One Of The Most Trying Years Of Our Lifetimes, These 14 Dallasites Gave Us More Than A Few Reasons To Be Proud Of Our City.
Since March, for better or worse, we’ve all come to know a different Dallas than ever before.
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked every corner of our city. From the service industry to our struggling health systems, North Texans — just like most everyone in the entire country — have been put through the ringer. This year left people jobless, facing eviction and in the hospital (if not worse).
Then, just as we were trying to get a handle on our new normal, we were once again engulfed in the ongoing struggle with social and racial inequality both at home as well as nationally. (Health experts say this struggle is just as deadly as the pandemic, by the way.)
This year tried its damnedest to crush our spirts, but Dallasites never threw in the towel when things got tough. And hey, even if you did, we won’t blame you. This year was total shit, and just getting through it was an obstacle of its own.
Fortunately, for every asshat practically begging to be cyber-bullied this year, there were many more people who gave us a reason to be inspired in spite of the onslaught of so many disheartening days.
Here, we honor those Dallasites who brought a little light into 2020’s darkness. — Alec Spicer
Activist of the Year: Tramonica Brown
In a year so polarized by the formidable social justice movement of Black Lives Matter, it feels nearly impossible to pick just one person to represent the lasting impact it all had on us. But Not My Son founder Tramonica Brown, in tandem with copious other Dallas activist groups like Next Generation Action Network and We Take The Streets, proved a particularly valiant voice on the city’s streets after a summer of ongoing protests in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Dallas is better because of her organization’s commitment to actively working toward repairing the city’s vastly damaged relationship with local law enforcement — and she’s not done doing good, either. In 2021, Brown plans to run for the Dallas City Council District 7 seat currently held by Adam Bazaldua. — AS
Bartender of the Year: Rosey Sullivan
In late March, Rosey Sullivan, then the general manager of Deep Ellum’s Armoury D.E., kept in mind one of the most valuable and vulnerable sects of the service industry as the pandemic hit — undocumented workers. Just days after the first shutdown, she launched the Undocumented Workers Fund of Dallas and distributed over 130 small grants to families that are too often overlooked and underappreciated, despite making up a significant portion of the industry’s workforce. Now, Sullivan is not only a bartender at the highly-acclaimed Parliament cocktail bar, but a people’s champ and a true service industry hero. — Jessi Pereira
Community-Beloved Chef of the Year: Justin Holt
For the food community and beyond, Salaryman’s closure was an unexpected devastation — but that disappointment was quickly overshadowed by concern for owner and chef Justin Holt’s health following his acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis. Almost instantaneously, the service industry community — from back-of-house to front-of-house workers and even guests — banded together to raise money for Holt’s costly medical treatments. From GoFundMe campaigns to sold-out Lazy Sunday Dream Boxes, the love the community showed one of their own suddenly turned a layered tragedy into a beautifully inspiring display of communal strength. — JP
Sports Disrupter of the Year: Sarah Fuller
Apologies to Dallas’ own Bryson DeChambeau and his scientific, PGA Tour-busting, U.S. Open-winning approach to golf, but no North Texan did more to change the dynamics of the sports world this year than 21-year-old Wylie native Sarah Fuller, who became an inspiration to millions as the first woman to ever play in a Power 5 conference college football game. When the coronavirus tore through the Vanderbilt University football roster and kept the team from being able to field enough players to maintain its schedule, coaches turned to Fuller — a standout goalie on the title-winning Commodores women’s soccer team — to sub in as kicker. And she lived up to that challenge — first by executing a kickoff and, in following games, by knocking in a pair of extra points. Though her football career may now be done, North Texans can look forward to seeing more of Fuller in 2021: She’ll be joining the UNT soccer program as a graduate transfer next year. — Pete Freedman
Fashion Designer of the Year: Venny Etienne
If Black is king, then indie Dallas designer Venny Etienne was formally inducted into the royal court this year. Coming off a lauded run at New York Fashion Week just before the pandemic struck, Etienne’s world came screeching to a halt right as he reached the most important moment in his career — well, until Beyonce donned his custom floral blazer on her Black is King visual album. How exactly do you top a co-sign from Queen Bey? Well, for Etienne, it’s only just the beginning of his raising Dallas’ status in the fashion industry. Moving forward, he plans to only up his advocacy for representation. As he told us back in July, he’s “ready to take it to the next level,” and we can’t wait to watch. — AS
Lawyer of the Year: Michelle Simpson Tuegel
Following a previous lifetime spent as a member of the junior U.S. water ski team who went pro at just 15 years old, the Fort Worth suburbs-raised Michelle Simpson Tuegel has become one of the most foremost names in lawsuits relating to athletics. After earning her law degree from Baylor University, she first cut her teeth by representing some of the football players accused of sexual misconduct in her alma mater’s football team’s notorious sexual misconduct scandal. But in the years since, she’s wholly switched over to the other side, representing accusers in both the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal and a Title IX case brought this year against the SMU football team. In 2020, her advocacy extended also to social justice: After Dallas Police officers injured protesters by firing tear gas and “less lethal” weapons into crowds with seeming impunity, Tuegel was part of the legal team that got the courts to temporarily halt cops from using such weapons, helping thousands of Dallasites rest a little easier in their efforts to change this city for the better. — PF
Politician of the Year: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Listen: 2020 has shown us that, even when we think politicians can’t be any more incompetent, they’ll just go on right ahead and tell us to hold their masks. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, however, has been the most steady local hand in navigating the shitstorm of embarrassing pandemic responses from North Texas lawmakers. Whereas our mayor was hard to find (well, when he wasn’t handing out milk), and Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were spouting off about gambling with grandma’s life to stimulate the economy, Jenkins consistently followed the science and remained pragmatic, only to somehow end up with misguided blame from the “we can’t let the cure be worse than the virus” crowd. He’s far from perfect, we’ll grant everyone that. But he made the rest of our elected officials look like clowns by comparison this year. Yes, we know that’s a low bar. — AS
Visual Artist of the Year: SM Sanz
Panamanian illustrator, graphic designer and muralist SM Sanz had herself a killer year in 2020 by transforming Dallas’ visual landscape and making it a lot more badass, femme and delightfully colorful through her large-scale murals. Following much acclaim for her contribution in the 2019 Wild West Mural Fest and unraveling the “Stay Wild TX” mural enhancing the city’s skyline near the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in West Dallas, Sanz hardly fell into complacency; rather, she kept the momentum going big time in 2020. Unafraid to play well with others, Sanz collaborated with Dallas-based artist Brent Ozaeta at the 2020 Wild West Mural Fest to add some cheerful charm to Oak Cliff. Our community is literally brighter for her contributions to it. — JP
Sports Hero of the Year: Anton Khudobin
Even following an exciting win at the Winter Classic it hosted at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, few could have foreseen this year’s Dallas Stars lineup offering area sports fans the deepest playoff run this city has seen since 2011 — or that the team’s Kazakhstan-born backup goalie would be the driving force behind its first Stanley Cup Final trip in 20 years. But with starting netminder Ben Bishop injured and usual top goal-scorer Tyler Seguin hampered by his own physical issues, the man they call “Dobby” (he dons a nod to the Harry Potter character of the same name on his helmet) rose to the occasion, posting a 2.69 playoff goals-against average and wholly embodying the team’s “We’re not going home!” mentality. Though the Stars’ title dreams came up just short, Dobby was rightly rewarded a three-year, $10 million contract for his efforts – and lifetime Dallas hockey icon status, too. — PF
Filmmaker of the Year: Cooper Raiff
At just 23 years old, the world is already Cooper Raiff’s oyster. This year, the young filmmaker capably established himself as one of Hollywood’s brightest young filmmakers to watch with the October release of his lovelorn college romance film, Shithouse. As Raiff explained to us earlier this year, it’s pretty wild that he even arrived at the point of having a movie available for all to stream on demand already, especially considering that the path to the film’s release came though a toss-off email he’d sent indie film darling Jay Duplass just in the hopes that one of his film influences might consider taking a look at a student film he’d made. Well, it turns out there’s value in shooting your shot: Shithouseisn’t just moderately adored by snobby critics; the movie Duplass helped Raiff produce (complete with its many Dallas nods and local music-filled soundtrack) now boasts a 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Where Raiff goes from here is anyone’s guess — but we can guarantee you we, and Hollywood alongside us, will be watching. — PF
Restaurateur of the Year: Julien Eelsen
It’s nearly impossible to recall all of the efforts administered by service industry heroes at the start of the mess that was 2020, but Whisk Crêpes Cafe chef and owner Julien Eelsen definitely shined as brightly as any of the others. At the very start of the pandemic, he teamed up with his neighbors at Cooper’s Meat Market and Cox Farms to become one of the first spots in town to offer free delivery food service, pick-up options for fresh produce and meals to service industry members, musicians and artists. This year, perhaps more than ever, was about community crutches stepping up when we needed them — and Eelsen was among the most ready to offer our local service industry friends in need with an institution to lean on. — JP
Actor of the Year: Jonathan Majors
One of the breakout film actors of 2020, Jonathan Majors may not have been born in Dallas, but as he told the Dallas Observer earlier this year, his love of acting was honed right here in North Texas after he moved to the region and honed his craft in the theater department of Cedar Hills High School. After eventually graduating from Duncanville High School and later earning his BFA from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and his MFA at Yale University, Majors earned his first major onscreen role in 2018’s White Boy Rick before scoring his breakthrough gig as one of the leads in 2019’s acclaimed The Last Black Man in San Francisco. This year has only furthered his ascendency, first through a high-profile part in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods and then perhaps even more notably as the lead in Jordan Peele’s wild-ride Lovecraft Country on HBO. A magnetic onscreen presence more than capable of handling that show’s significant emotional heft, the self-proclaimed onetime NorthPark “mallrat” is poised to become a Hollywood fixture for years to come. — PF
Legend In The Making (Or Maybe He Already Is) of the Year: Luka Doncic
We already knew after his impressive (and stylish) rookie campaign that the Dallas Mavericks had something special on their hands with Luka Doncic. But in his second NBA season — even a weird bubble one — the just-turned-21 Slovenian truly elevated himself to superstar status through heroic, championship-level play, and earned the admiration of league royalty in the process. It’s already been overstated just how fortunate the Mavs’ fanbase is to have seamlessly transitioned from the Dirk Nowitzki era to Doncic’s domain, but fans in 2020 were able to learn even more about their Jordan Brand-approved MVP candidate this year — like that he digs fishing and also his large, funny friends. Best of all, though, Luka seems to love Dallas back, having purchased himself a home in the city this year, and thus firmly planting roots in the region for years to come. Here’s hoping he never leaves. — PF
Readers of the Year: Our Patreon Supporters
How do we even begin to thank our Patreon supporters? Because of them, our scrappy little publication has fought our way through another year — one filled with frontline reporting throughout this summer’s protests, keeping the city’s public health in mind and, of course, another year of giving shine to our thriving arts and culture scenes. We can’t stress this enough: Y’all stepping up to support one of Dallas’ only truly independent, local, alternative news sources has fueled our fire and made us prouder than ever to report on this city we call home. We can only hope we lived up to your expectations this year. From the bottom of our hearts: Thank you. — AS