Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the Fort Worth Report’s series on emerging leaders. To view other installments in our “Profiles in Leadership” series, please click here.

When his school was threatened, Carlos Turcios mobilized the community to save it. He did it again when the school district proposed a bond. And again when Tobi Jackson was running for school board to get her elected. 

At only 20 years old, Turcios has achieved more in the Fort Worth political scene than most twice his age.

School board president Tobi Jackson was present at his first public political stand when he was 15, a school board meeting advocating for his campus to stay together.

“That we had a kid who was organizing the entire school, that was powerful for a child of that age,” she said. 

His father, Juan Turcios, is from El Salvador, and his mother, Elizabeth Turcios, is from Mexico. They immigrated to the U.S. at different times, both fleeing poverty in their home countries.

Both his parents started working at a young age. His mother started working in a shoe shop in Juarez, Mexico, at 12 years old and did not finish her education. His father lived in a rural part of El Salvador and did not have proper electricity.

“They didn’t really have beds for everyone; they would just have a blanket,” Turcios said. “And you would just sleep there and have to share it.”

(Alexis Allison | Fort Worth Report)

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But his father still managed to go to school, which he knew would give him more freedom. Then a civil war in El Salvador led him to immigrate to the U.S. in 1986. He graduated from Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth and went on to have a successful career managing dialysis clinics, even though he did not go to college.

His mother came to the United States years later in the early 90s. She moved with her siblings in hopes of escaping poverty. She did not finish high school or middle school, so she stressed the importance of getting an education, which many children in Mexico cannot do because they have to help take care of their family.

After they arrived in the U.S., Turcios’ mother and father met at church in the early 90s; his mother’s sister introduced them. After they married in 1994, they had their first child, Carlos.

“My parents taught me when I was growing up to appreciate this country because a lot of the freedom, a lot of the rights, opportunities, they don’t exist in many parts of the world,” Turcios said.

That appreciation for his country and his education lit a fire in Turcios that propelled him at age 15 to fight to keep his school from closing.

In 2017, Fort Worth ISD was considering splitting the World Languages Institute campus because of overcrowding. Some students would be sent to a school created within Western Hills High School.

Turcios attended the institute — which offers advanced placement, dual credit and honors classes all while studying up to four languages — and said he and other students and parents did not think the move made sense.

Turcios started his first political movement, gathering parents, students and others to attend school board meetings and speak against the change. He also called every trustee and set up meetings with Superintendent Kent Scribner.

The fight lasted about four months, and at first Turcios said he was met with a lot of arrogance and a refusal to budge from the district.

“Some parents were, of course, undocumented,” he said. “And some did fear that if they were to continue doing this, they would get deported. That was the ugliness that we had to face.”

Jackson remembers Turcios speaking at a meeting from the heart. He was passionate, she said, but some at the meeting took it personally and told him he needed to be more respectful.

She noticed the effect this had on Turcios and spoke to him after the meeting, encouraged him to keep his head up, saying he was learning and finding his way.

Turcios and other advocates persisted, and the superintendent met with Turcios and agreed to scrap the plan. Instead, the school was moved to 4921 Benbrook Highway  to accommodate grades six through 12.

“I was just overwhelmed that we have a kid who is organizing an entire school,” Jackson said, “and made everyone listen and hear him say we need a bigger school. And this is a great school, and it would be an even better school if it was larger.”

Ann Sutherland, who also was on the school board at the time and is now retired, worked with Turcios to get a new campus for the institute. When the district called to tell Sutherland they had a recently vacated campus they could use, she said, “Let me call Carlos.”

And he told her he wanted to see it for himself, Sutherland, 82, said. So she, Turcios and about 50 other students and parents toured the campus, which she called “immaculate.” 

What makes a good leader?

For Turcios, a good leader is “someone that sticks with their principles, but most importantly, is willing to cooperate and work with everyone that’s on the table. I think that’s the most important thing.”

“But at the same time, stay true to yourself,” Turcios said. “People on the City Council, for example, you have some that are progressive, some are conservative, some are moderates. But they stay true to themselves. I think those things are what makes a good leader, and I do see myself in the future, when I run for office, to basically work with whoever is there, and to ensure that things get done for the community.”

Turcios never planned to become so politically involved, but the effort led him to an interest that remains today. He excelled at leadership in high school, becoming a member of the student council and volunteering in the community and with Fort Worth Sister Cities International, traveling to Italy once.

Today, he is studying political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

After his campus was saved, he started to volunteer for school board candidates, helping canvas during elections. He also got involved in city politics, helping with Mayor Mattie Parker’s campaign.

Through the years, Turcios has grown his activism. He organized Back the Blue marches in the summer of 2020 in Fort Worth and Dallas. He is now organizing protests and parents to get a new superintendent and remove critical race theory from Fort Worth ISD.

Most of his activism goes back to Fort Worth ISD, and sometimes he and the board do not agree. Listening to everyone and having mutual respect for differing opinions can help the district improve, Jackson said.

Jackson also sees the side of Turcios that isn’t about politics, the side of him that’s a 20-year-old college student trying to make his way in the world. She said her daughters, ags 18 and 22, both have a great relationship with Turcios.

Jackson respects that Turcios works hard, earns his own money, is in school and still helps his family.

And Sutherland sees the side that isn’t politics, too. When she needed to go to the hospital one day, her husband was unavailable to take her, she said. Once Turcios found out, he called her and said he would pick her up. 

She and her husband now live in Fort Collins, Colorado, to be closer to family, but she and Turcios still call each other and check in often.

“Helping Carlos was the best thing I ever did for the school board,” Sutherland said.

Along with working on the mayor’s campaign, he also is the director of Save Texas Kids, an organization fighting critical race theory in schools.

His footprint is growing in Fort Worth, and Jackson predicted he will grow into a great leader. He organized against the Fort Worth ISD bond in November 2021, saying the district raised taxes in November 2020 and got millions in COVID stimulus funds. The voters approved raising taxes in the November 2020 election.

In 2017, Turcios supported and campaigned for a bond for the district, and he said a majority wanted the bond. This time, he said people were split about 50/50 and were receptive to his door-knocking. He said the opposition was much greater this time.

Turcios also was invited to the 2020 Republican National Convention acceptance speech after volunteering for the Donald Trump campaign and is a Republican Party precinct chair.

A lot of his life is political, but Turcios said it goes back to caring about his community.

“I grew up in Fort Worth ISD,” he said. “I went from pre-kinder to 12th grade in Fort Worth ISD. My sister is going to Fort Worth ISD. I want to see my home improved. I want to see it more robust and ensure kids are reading, writing and doing math and getting things done and prepared for the workforce.”

Even more importantly, though, Turcios said, his experiences have made him want to get even more involved.

“I was dealing with adults … when I was a teenager,” he said. “And it is my home. After fighting for World Languages Institute, I realized how much more needs to be done because there will be more schools like World Languages, and other groups and other problems.”

Although his activism thus far has aligned with mostly Republican causes, Turcios said he wants to be able to work with people across the aisle. He sees himself running for office one day, but the office depends on the time and place. He could start with the City Council, or maybe school board or the statehouse.

“I see a bright future for Carlos,” Sutherland said. “The one thing about moving to Fort Collins, and this is a good place for us, but the one thing about moving is I would really like to watch Carlos as he grew up.”

Carlos Turcios Bio

Birthplace: North Richland Hills

Moved to Fort Worth: Always lived here.

Family: Father Juan Turcios is from El Salvador, and mother Elizabeth Turcios is from Mexico. His sister, Tatiana Turcios, was born in the U.S. 

Education: Graduated from the World Languages Institute in 2020, and currently a sophomore attending the University of Texas at Arlington. 

Work experience: Census Bureau enumerator, Craig Goldman campaign, Mattie Parker campaign, political consultant. 

Volunteer experience: Tarrant County Food Bank, Former Fort Worth Sister Cities Youth Board, Donald Trump campaign, Georgia state run-off canvasser, Tarrant County GOP Community Involvement Committee

First job: Census Bureau enumerator

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Don’t be afraid. Be bold and continue the work to make an impact. Don’t let people discourage you. Make your journey. 

Best advice ever received: Do not be afraid to ask.

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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