Katz for Students

By: Yasmeen Khalifa

Standing room only. More than 50 people stand in a vast room, waiting with anticipation to hear what the man in the prim black suit (adorned with a lapel pin featuring his name alongside the Texas symbol), pale pink button down and business-like rectangular glasses has to say. A group of men stand close together, eyebrows furrowed, arms crossed, stoic expressions frozen on their faces. A slender, well-groomed man in scrubs looks forward with a slight smile, rocking his fussy 2-year-old. A tall, bald man with a wild mustache stands close to the speaker, leaning on a nearby pillar, smiling so big that the corners of his eyes crinkle upwards. The low hum of voices fizzles out as the stout man begins speaking. Suddenly, a roar of laughter rips through the once static room.

“Thank you to Anwar for hosting us … and to Iftikhar. Actually this was all an excuse to get Iftikhar’s food.”

This is Neal Katz. A man who, as UT Tyler Political Science student Jacob Mcleod puts it, “jokes around a lot” and “doesn’t really take himself too seriously.”

Katz was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised in Virginia Beach where everyone on Gladiola Street knew everyone, and his best friend, James, lived right across the street. When he was 16, he decided he was going to attend rabbinical school in Cincinnati after completing an undergrad in political science. Shortly after graduating from Hebrew Union College, he moved to Tyler.

“I wasn’t interested in coming to Texas and certainly not to Tyler, but as I finished up [my student pulpit] here and prepared for my fifth year of school I said, you know what, I could come back … do a few years here to get my feet wet … so they brought me on for a three-year contract and I never left. There’s a phrase in Hebrew. It’s called ‘Kavod HaRav.’ It means respect for the Rabbi. … It’s a good community here; they have ‘Kavod HaRav,’” Katz said.

Katz has been an integral and active member of the East Texas community ever since. He has been a Rabbi at Congregation Beth El for 16 years. Over the course of his residence here, he has been involved in a slew of committees, boards and organizations such as the Hospice Foundation Board, the City of Tyler Arts Council, the Samaritan Counseling Center Board, Art of Peace, etc. You name it, and Katz has been a part of it.

Now, Katz is undertaking a new venture.

He is running for the House of Representatives 6th District as an Independent candidate.

After being presented with the opportunity to run for a city council position, Neal contemplated running for eight months, but ended up deciding against it. But he had “already gotten the bug.” It wasn’t until a former state representative at a Kerrville folk festival suggested he run against the incumbent that the itch was finally satisfied.

“It lit a fire in me,” Katz said. “The only way you’re gonna change public policy and all the things we complain about is to actually change whose butt is in the seat at Austin.”

But he’s not doing it without help. Due to his commitment to getting minority-voting communities involved in the election, he’s pulling in students to help him with his campaign.

“I feel like a win on my part would be disingenuous if I didn’t have their voices [the millennial, African American, and Hispanic communities]. So that’s why I’m getting them involved because I think they all have a valid voice,” Katz said.

Mcleod is the volunteer coordinator for Katz’s campaign. Like Katz, Mcleod is also immersed in various organizations, including on campus groups such as Student Government Association and off-campus endeavors like the Smith County Young Democrats. But his passion for this campaign rose above doubts about adding one more pursuit to his already full plate.

“Two weeks in I was like ‘oh my god’ this is a lot of work; I don’t know if I should’ve done this, but, like, it’s always exciting, and I don’t regret getting on the campaign,” Mcleod said.

Although Mcleod classifies himself primarily as a Democrat and Katz is running as an Independent, they both have a common goal: student involvement and public education.

“I really like how he’s brought young people on the campaign and talks to them and believes in us and our power. He’s really trying to reach college students. … I want someone who will fight for our public schools. … He really will be a big advocate for our public education system and the students,” Mcleod said while gesturing enthusiastically, the shadow of a smile breaking through his serious demeanor.

Like Katz and Mcleod, UT Tyler Student and Campaign Outreach Coordinator Katie Hicken identifies with their ardor for homing in on the education sector. She feels strongly about the financial difficulties students face, such as having to pick between eating or paying for housing.

“Neal understands the struggles that college students face and is willing to support things like a food pantry, for example, that would alleviate parts of the financial insecurity that college students face,” Hicken said.

Katz is passionate about providing colleges in East Texas with the financial support they need to thrive throughout the many changes they constantly undergo.

“Every time there’s a growth at UT Tyler there needs to be a legislative carve out for that growth … so one issue is just being an advocate for those schools [UT Tyler and TJC] down there in Austin. … The second level is for me to just listen to them [college students],” Katz said.

Not only is he vouching for student involvement and higher education, but he’s also fighting for the public school system as a whole. He hopes to combat the voucher system, which he explains as “a way to privatize public school funding with the misleading idea that competition fixes everything. It does if you’re a pizza restaurant but our kids aren’t pizzas. Our kids aren’t commodities to be bought and sold.”

This is an issue Hicken, a prominent student leader, is emotionally invested in. She yearns to one day be a government teacher.

“Public education, within politics, is like one of the most important things to me, and he has some really tangible goals for that, and he actually cares about improving the public education system rather than privatizing it. … It gives me hope that there are still people that care about teachers, especially because I’m gonna be one,” Hicken said, the corners of her lips turning up slightly.

The midterm elections are on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Katz’s opponent is Republican Incumbent Matt Schaefer. Katz has one common message for students and nonstudents alike: “Government goes to those who show up.”

Going with the Beat of Friendship




The redolent scent of impeccably aged paper wafts through the air, enveloping anyone who steps through the creaky wood doorstep in a warm, comforting embrace. Posters featuring a vast array of musicians plaster the walls and even some parts of the ceiling. Neighboring art pieces hang between every few posters, marked with the names of local artists who concocted them along with their prices. A lone, ornate sombrero hangs high above a massive speaker. Its pale pink and maroon felt fabric and gold embellishments stand out comparative to the worn record covers just a few feet below. Large, new, black displays neatly teem with old (and some new) records, filling the small, quaint shop with that wonderfully familiar antique smell and a sense of being in a different time period.

“Whenever I stepped inside of the building, I felt like I stepped into a portal of comfort and artistic expression and I left East Texas in that moment,” UT Tyler student and vintage enthusiast Aaron Cortinas says. “I just settled in and my surroundings were very comfortable and very inviting… I just had a big ‘ole smile the whole time I was in there. Every single one of my senses were stimulated, and it was just really nice.”

This is El Guapo Records. While it seems to merely be a record shop on the surface, it is heralded as much more than that: a solace for the young and old alike; a sanctuary for diversity, love and acceptance of all; a unifying beacon for students, professors, children, grandpas and the list goes on.

Standing in the midst of it all is a tall man who would seem imposing if it weren’t for his beaming smile that stretches from ear to ear and instantly welcomes visitors. Or it could be the proud look on his face that never dissipates. A web of intricate ink intertwines and traverses up his brawny arms, a traditional Mexican sugar skull here, the word “LOVE” there, and beautiful artwork in between. This is Aristeo Rodriguez, proud owner of El Guapo Records, but he would rather just be titled as “human.”

Due to his family’s exceptional appreciation for music, Aristeo has been immersed in the world of music ever since he was old enough to understand what music was.

“I’ve always been around music… life revolves around it. In our house it was always on,” Aristeo says. Throughout his childhood, he spent summers in Mexico where he would follow his brother around to music stores to buy cassettes. As he got older, his love for music persisted as he discovered new genres and forms of music. Ten years ago, he began collecting records, and he quickly realized that his love for vinyl was unparalleled.

Record after record, his collection grew. Stacked against a wall in his living room, the amount of records accumulated until he had about 5,000 records. To put it into perspective, that’s enough weight to break through the floor of a house. And that’s exactly what happened.

Something had to be done. Aristeo decided to begin selling his records at various markets. One hot morning three years ago, he set up his first booth at a friend’s outdoor market called Music Makers and Moss. It was a gathering for local artisans.

To Aristeo’s delight, people purchased a significant amount of his records. But he couldn’t focus on how quickly the vinyl records were selling, for something far more alluring was in his presence. The hustle and bustle of selling record after record and the buzz of people laughing and conversing was drowned out by a captivating melody. Aristeo’s attention was diverted to the intoxicating sound of guitar. Drunk on dynamic notes and invigorating melodies, Aristeo walked over to the guitarist at the end of the night and offered him a record as a tip. His name was Ian Power.

That market was the seedling that started it all.

One year later, a close friend who was doing the electrical wiring for True Vine, a local business, introduced Aristeo to the property manager of the space. They hit it off and in two short months, El Guapo Records was born.

By this point, Aristeo and Ian had developed an everlasting friendship. After Ian lost his job, Aristeo offered Ian a part time position at El Guapo Records.

Like Aristeo, music has always been an integral part of Ian’s life. His father always emphasized the importance of music. Ian began pursuing guitar after a soccer injury when he was 16. As a member of five different bands, he jumped at the opportunity to work at the record shop.

Together, Aristeo and Ian embarked on a journey of unifying the community through music and expression. They hosted block parties, spoken word nights, coffee and jazz Mondays, and DJ sessions.

“You had all these youngsters that would come in and, like, all the talks of suicide, and they were able to get this stuff off of their chest… there wasn’t anywhere they felt safe to do that [before]. Judgment free. Anything goes. That’s how it was,” Aristeo says, reflecting on the spoken word nights. He says that their goal is to create a space for people to “hang around with like-minded people,” and for individuals to be able to freely express themselves and explore different ideas and music. The sizable turnouts at all of their events are a clear indication that people have been starving for such a place in Tyler.

“I think there is a need for building a community in that sense of, like, being able to look around while music is happening in front of you and seeing people loving that with you,” UT Tyler music theory professor Dr. Kyle Gullings says. “That is a great thing that you can’t really get at home on your Hi-Fi stereo system… it doesn’t replicate the experience of making music or watching other people make music in real time.”

Aristeo and Ian’s progress within the past two years is truly impressive. And now, they are on to bigger and better projects.

Aristeo is giving the record shop to his protégé. Ian is soon to be the new owner of El Guapo Records.

“That dude is incredible… Incredible artist. A good person. The whole deal. That dude there – special character,” Aristeo says with a radiant smile. “I owe him half my life. He’s pretty much saved my life. There was some real bad things I was going through, and I gotta be there for him. A bit of that transitional phase is to keep his thing alive and his thing going.”

Aristeo is taking on a new project: ownership of Elite Bicycles. As he starts this new journey, he vows to remain involved with the record shop, but he recognizes that it’s time for a new venture. The bike shop will be located behind Fresh, mere feet away from the soon-to-be Legacy Trail.

As for Ian, he envisions an auspicious future for El Guapo Records, one in which the shop will house a greater sum of Indie records due to his desire “to build a fan base off of bringing records into the store and then bringing the bands in.” His vehement passion for music is what brought him to El Guapo Records, and he hopes to draw other musicians to this sanctuary.

“I really just wanna throw shows and acquire good music for people to listen to,” Ian says with a glimmer in his eyes, the corners of his mouth turning upward.

While Ian envisions a propitious and bright future full of enthralling additions, some things will never change. The heart and soul of El Guapo Records will forever remain. Displays will always brim with a vast array of vinyl records. The sound of electrifying music will eternally permeate through the store. And above all, the evocative scent of weathered record covers will continue to warmly embrace all those who enter evermore.


The End

During the course of this semester, I have learned more in my video production class than I have in any other class. Anita, the lab techs, and the TA’s have greatly aided me in growing as a mass communication student and augmented my love for the field. I really enjoyed the hands on style of the class because I tend to learn by doing. Going into this program, I was extremely nervous and unsure about my decision, but this class has shown me that I made the right decision.

Prior to this class, I despised group work and projects where I had to collaborate with others because I felt like I worked better alone. I am very particular when it comes to the way I do my schoolwork, so just the thought of anyone interfering with that made me want to throw up. However, this class has changed my perspective on working in groups. I feel as though my classmates and I worked really well together and truly enjoyed each  other’s presence. We’re almost like a family at this point. I’ve made some incredible friends due to this class, and I’m sad that it’s ending.

Thanks to this class, I have learned so many skills and developed new interests that I am very excited to explore in the future. I won’t say there weren’t moments where I felt like I was about to implode due to the amount of course work, but in the end, it only made me stronger. I have accomplished so much more than I ever expected, and I am very proud of the work I have done in this class.

So in conclusion, I want to thank Anita, Ben, Maria, Liz, Claire, Maria, Aaron, Chelsea, Sariah, and the rest of my classmates for making this semester so exciting and fun! Until next time, y’all.

With love,


10 min show pic

Photo Audio Story

For our latest assignment in video production, we were asked to create a story using solely pictures and audio. I chose to create a story about my beloved birds in which Coco fell in love with one of my other birds, Snow, who was betrothed to Mini. I added in music and sound effects to make the story more intense. Click the video to find out what happened!


In my video production class, we were asked to demonstrate our knowledge of lighting in divergent conditions. I chose to feature different lighting through the use of bruised bananas. I first took a picture of them using an iPhone 6s camera (with flash) in indoor, fluorescent lighting. The bananas appeared very bright and the details were very evident. While the colors in the picture were very vibrant, they came off as somewhat artificial. Additionally, the angles and depth of the bananas were washed away by the flash. The bananas almost look as flat as the wall behind it.

Flash BananaNext, I moved to outdoor, natural lighting. I put the bananas in direct sunlight; it was very sunny and there was not a single cloud in sight. The resulting picture of the bananas yielded bright colors, but it was so bright that some of the details on the bananas became less evident. Additionally, the direct sunlight created harsh shadows in the area around the bananas. Overall, the picture in direct sunlight resulted contained beautiful colors, but it would have turned out better on a cloudy or overcast day (the shadows wouldn’t be as harsh and the details wouldn’t get washed out).

Super Natural BananaNext, I moved to a shadowed area and took a picture of the bananas in the less intense, natural light. The details on the bananas were much clearer in that particular lighting; the bruises were very profound. The downside to this lighting is that it does not produce colors that are as vivid as that of direct sunlight. The bananas had a slight shadow around them but it was not as intense as the shadows in direct sunlight.

Natural BananaLastly, I took a picture of the bananas in the same shadowed location as the former picture, but I used flash in addition to the natural light. The flash added more depth and shape to the bananas in this instance, but it washed out the color of the bananas and made the bruises look less intense. There were practically no shadows in this picture compared to the last two. The colors of the bananas in this light setting were the worst in my opinion.

Combo Banana

Overall, I believe that the best pictures were taken in natural lighting without flash because it yielded vibrant, yet natural colors and exhibited the details of the bananas in the most appealing manner. The lighting would have been optimal if it were a cloudy or overcast day because the sunlight would not have been as harsh and would have allowed for a healthy medium between the direct sunlight and the natural, shadowed light. But we must work with what we are given, and this activity definitely taught me a great deal about lighting! Until next time, sun…


Concocting a commercial and putting my vision into a script and storyboard seemed like a strenuous feat at first, but it turned out to be a fun experience. You get let your creative side roam free, which I really enjoyed. I absolutely love socks, especially novelty socks, so I decided to create a new type of sock for my commercial. I created Toasty Toes for those whose feet are always cold. Once I had my idea set, I began writing the script. Starting the process was difficult, but my pals Claire and Maria eased the process, and I had a script going in no time. Then came the fun part: the storyboard. I’m terrible at drawing, but it was fun getting to transfer what each scene looked like in my head onto paper. Plus, who doesn’t love horrendous stick figure drawings? Overall, the daunting task of script writing and storyboarding took a pleasant turn, and I can’t wait to start shooting the commercial. Okay, maybe I’m a little nervous about it…

Commercial Storyboard JPEGToasty Toes Script

Audio Interview

Last week, I submitted my first audio interview, and let me tell you, it was quite the rollercoaster ride. We were required to interview someone about something that interests them, edit the interview in Audacity down to two minutes, add in ambient sound, and include an intro and an outro. I chose to interview my dad, who is a homebuilder, because I figured it would be compelling to have power tools as ambient sound. Turns out, my dad stutters and says um every other word. Just my luck. How had I not noticed that before? I guess that’s where I get it from. Anyways, it was excruciatingly difficult editing out all the bad parts of the interview on a program I was unfamiliar with. And to make matters worse, Audacity decided to crash on me the night before the project was due. Again, just my luck. I spent an hour uninstalling and reinstalling the program, but it just continued to crash. In the end, I discovered a different version of Audacity that didn’t crash on my computer. I utilized that version and finally finished my project at around four in the morning. It was an extremely stressful situation, but I learned a lot from it. I became very familiar with Audacity and learned how to edit audio along the way! Come to think of it, it’s probably that darn virus on my computer that caused Audacity to keep crashing… I should probably get that fixed. Any who, here’s my completed audio interview. Enjoy!

My Defining Moment

Lying on the warm sand of the Sahara desert, soaking in the breathtaking rays of the sunset. Wind caressing my face, sweeping serenity through my body. Hot Bedouin tea gliding down my throat, infusing my body with a sense of tranquility. In that moment of inexplicably peaceful bliss, I was hit with something (and no, it wasn’t sand). It was a realization. I suddenly knew that I yearned to be a creator for the rest of my life. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to create or how, but I knew that I wanted to release beautiful works into the world. Something worth marveling about. When I got back to the hustle and bustle of Cairo, I began to ponder that moment more and more. I roamed the streets each day, discovering new hidden beauties as I delved deeper into the city. I was captivated by the culture and beauty that engulfed me everywhere I went, so I began capturing each moment and documenting every detail that astounded me. I had been to Egypt more times than I could count, but for some reason that visit was different. I was seeing the beauty of the country through a differing lens. Perhaps it was due to the enlightening experience I had in the desert. When I got back to the States, I was met with the brutal reality of the proximity of the spring semester. I finished all my core classes the prior semester, so I had to be sure of my major for the upcoming semester. With the backing of my supportive mother, I chose my major, multimedia journalism, on a whim back in October due to augmented pressure from my family, peers, and advisors to decide on a pathway. I was unsure of my decision and constantly berated by my own thoughts. Did I chose the right major? What do I really want to do with my life? Will I regret my decision? I began researching all the opportunities that multimedia journalism could provide for me. As I flew through a vast array of sites, words such as photojournalist, author, magazine editor, publisher, etc. caught my eye. That defining realization I had in the desert of Egypt began to materialize; I began to dream of an endless array of possibilities. I felt more confident with my decision to major in multimedia journalism, and concluded that I would stick with it. As classes started, my insecurities began to flood back in, but I built up a dam and refused to let them drown me. I told myself that I was allowed to dream big and that with the proper motivation, I could achieve my wildest aspirations. While my classes weren’t what I expected them to be, I discovered that they truly fascinated me. I was enthralled by the intriguing hands on projects I would be doing, the engaging programs we would be using, and the innumerable creative  possibilities that lie ahead of me. I could see myself growing in this field. That moment of clarity I had in Egypt gradually metamorphosized into concrete ambition. The future is uncertain, but my goals are not. I am determined to soak up every ounce of knowledge that I can hold, graduate with a multimedia journalism degree, find my career path, travel the world, and do extraordinary things. I definitely don’t have everything figured out, so I’ll just take things one step at a time for now. First step: multimedia journalism.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” – Helen Keller


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