Irma grew up in the Kelleye Courts Projects of the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas and was raised by a single mother, whom she credits for her outlook on and success in life. She describes her mother as a strict disciplinarian who constantly reminded her that “we may live in the projects, but the projects don’t live in us.” Irma’s mother ingrained the value and importance of hard work, education, and career goals into the minds of her children. As she reflected on her upbringing, Irma said, “I’m a black girl. I know what the statistics say. They say I should have been behind bars or maybe on drugs… and I have not done any of that. I think it has to do with my mother's discipline.” Irma’s mother also introduced her to politics as she supported their hometown hero, Barbara Jordan, the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate. Irma said her mother brought her along to work on Barbara’s campaign, to “lick stamps, and stuff envelopes.” Irma soon became fond of Barbara as well, referring to her often as a role model.
Irma received her bachelor’s from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia and attended graduate studies at Prairie View and Texas A&M Universities. She was also a part of Sam Houston State University’s Criminal, Alcohol, and Drug Education program’s inaugural class and received a certification in Drug and Alcohol Counseling. Afterwards, she attended Wesley Theological Seminary to get a certification in Christian Education. During her career she worked as a juvenile probation officer and was later appointed by former Governor Ann Richards to the Texas State Board of Pardons and Paroles. As a Methodist minister, she has served in an assistance role to her church’s pastor. Irma says she never planned to be a politician, and in fact, she felt comfortable being in her husband Carey’s shadow as he served in the County Commissioner position before he passed away in 2009. Because she had assisted him with his work as his illness progressed and was most qualified for the position, Irma was appointed to the Carey’s position shortly after his passing.
Irma cited her experiences supporting Barbara Jordan, her husband, and other politicians and her experience manning the local Democratic Party headquarters as a volunteer as crucial to her own campaign’s success when the time came. She also expressed the importance of getting constituents to the polls; “We talk about getting the people registered to vote... but we’ve missed the point, because those same people need to be in the voting booth. Getting them registered is just step one!” Irma emphasized that contact with constituents is crucial for getting constituents to the polls and serving them adequately, and she welcomes any opportunity to speak with community members. Irma also emphasized the importance of county government, saying that despite the public’s focus on national politics and government, local government is really where “the rubber meets the road” and where things directly concerning the constituents are negotiated. She said one of the most pressing problems facing her constituents right now is the lack of funding for public education, as it is of utmost importance that all children receive a good education. Influenced by her upbringing, Irma feels that education is crucial for every child to become a productive citizen and trained for the workforce.
Despite her success in Brazos County, Irma made note of the challenges she has faced as a black woman in politics. She mentioned that women tend to be barred from resources and support even, at times, from their own political parties. She also mentioned that her skin color may have played a role in some of her political challenges. She does, however, recognize the changes taking place today for women to more easily enter the political field. It wasn’t until after her husband died that she considered she should run for office at all. “I didn't think of myself in a political role. I was comfortable with the role of a wife, mother, professional outside of my home. I think when women see others like ourselves in new roles, it broadens the idea of what is possible for women,” she said. Brazos County now boasts two female County Commissioners out of four, a first in Irma’s career serving the county. She expressed hopefulness for future generations of women, saying “The door is wide open, and I hope young women will take advantage of it.” She advices those young women interested in running to “Go for it! Give it your best shot. Do your homework and dream big!” She continues, “There’s something new and different every day. Be there for people and listen; that’s the biggest thing.”