Brian Spann – 20 Under 40

To Be Like Me
27 | Education: Dallas Baptist University

Brian Spann, People Newspapers’ first posthumous 20 Under 40 honoree, died in December 2021 at the age of 27 after a nearly lifelong battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

He left a lasting legacy as a leader with the nonprofit To Be Like Me and Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church’s Epiphany Ministry.

To Be Like Me’s disability awareness program is geared toward school-aged kids, graduate students, and special groups.

Hollis Owens, founder and executive director of the nonprofit, said it was Brian that sparked the idea for the organization as a means of disability awareness education.

“Brian entered into my life about 21 years ago when I was working as a research physical therapist for Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. Brian was 6 years old, and he had just been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Over the years, though my career took me to other pediatric hospitals, Brian and I kept in touch. Brian was especially good at messaging me and keeping me up to date on barriers that exist in the community for people with disabilities as well as accessibility challenges he faced along the way,” Owens said. “I remember meeting with Brian at his house about my ‘idea’ for To Be Like Me. He was thrilled with the idea of people with disabilities sharing their stories with school-age children.”

One common thread throughout his life was his desire to connect with people, as shown in his church and nonprofit work.

“He was a brilliant speaker, and after interacting with him, people would often comment that they had never met anyone with a gentler spirit or sweeter soul,” Owens added.

Spann also served on the board of YoungLife Capernaum North Texas, a faith-based organization also meant to celebrate people of all abilities, and with the Disability Ministry Network of Dallas.

“I love getting to connect with other people and getting to teach them something new,” he said in a video shared by To Be Like Me. “One big thing is I like to give back to the community and grow in fellowship with other people.”

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, former deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order.

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