West Dallas 1 recently launched a new website in an effort to engage new neighbors to join their coalition of neighborhood associations and community groups advocating for affordable housing, education equity, environmental justice and public health in the 75212 zip code.
“We’ve got all these new neighbors moving into these apartments” between the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and Hampton Boulevard, says Jeffrey Howard, vice president of the West Dallas 1 coalition. “A lot of young people … and I think that’s an untapped resource. I’m hopeful that this website will be able to help us reach even further out into the neighborhoods.”
Howard, 62, and West Dallas 1 president Raul Reyes Jr, 49, are proud of the coalition’s presence as a strong political voice for the community. Reyes Jr. points to the reexamination of zoning for cement batch plants, the city’s new racial equity policy, Dallas Accountability for Housing Equity, and the West Dallas Community Vision Plan’s contribution to the in-progress Forward Dallas city planning document as examples of how the coalition managed to put pressure on the City of Dallas and lobby on behalf of West Dallas neighborhoods.
“We’re setting the agenda on much of what’s going on in West Dallas,” Reyes Jr. says. However, his six-year term is coming to an end, and he and Howard don’t want to lose West Dallas 1’s momentum. As they prepare to pass the torch to the next generation, they are hoping the website will build support and awareness of West Dallas 1’s continuing impact.
“Our hope is that young people will eventually take over,” Reyes Jr. says. “We’re seeing that our community, as it shifts demographically, more young people are moving into the area. That’s the reality of our community.”
Growing and connecting with the community
West Dallas 1 lacks the “younger energy,” but it can be built up once the next generation connects with the “older leadership network,” says Stephanie Champion, chief of community development and policy at Builders of Hope CDC.
Champion, 36, and Esther Villarreal, 39, who represents West Dallas’ District 6 on the City’s Environmental Commission, are part of a younger generation of West Dallas residents who are heavily involved in the community. They have been involved in the West Dallas 1 coalition for almost five years.
Champion bought a newly constructed home in 2019 in the Victory Gardens neighborhood. Aware of the negative views on gentrification, she says she has tried her best to become part of the “very established neighborhood” that continues to “flourish.”
But figuring out how to get involved was challenging, Villarreal says.
“It was really difficult to find information about West Dallas 1,” she says, “because all we had was a Facebook page” when Villarreal first moved into the Victory Gardens neighborhood.
Villarreal is confident that West Dallas 1’s new online presence — with the website and its social platforms — will “put us on the map.”
“The barrier is actively recruiting,” she says, adding that she hopes the website will be a tool to connect with anyone who is interested.
The coalition is inclusive and understanding to members like her who are “torn between familial responsibilities, sports and work,” but Villarreal encourages parents to involve their kids in the “community effort,” she says.
Howard acknowledges that “it’s a struggle to get folks to come to meetings.” He says there are some in the community who still think, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
But “if we don’t stand up for our neighbors, then who will?” Howard asks. “That’s kind of been behind what’s made West Dallas 1 so successful — being that voice for our neighborhoods when no one else will.”
“The struggle to get younger people in is that they have families,” Howard says. “That’s why you see a lot of folks that go to City Hall and speak at these different engagements [are] retirees that don’t have kids at home.”
“We’ve all got lives, families, responsibilities and jobs, and we need more people to help carry this burden of taking care of our communities,” Champion says. “If we all do our part, it won’t have to fall on those few people who are always stepping up — all the usual faces. They can step back and take a breath, if they know that others are in the fight with them.”
Reyes Jr. says the coalition’s strongest quality is that “anytime that there’s an issue,” whether at a City Hall public meeting or at a neighborhood meeting, “the community shows up.” That is why the coalition’s website serves as a one-stop source of information — knowing what meetings are happening, where they are happening and what resources are available.
The community event/meeting calendar is a main feature on the coalition’s website. There are days when several events stack up on the same day.
That overlap is not the best approach at building community, Howard says. He hopes organizations can see that they are overlapping dates and work together “by combining resources” to “reach a greater number of people.”
“It makes a difference once you get involved and you begin to rely on the leaders of these different neighborhoods to become engaged,” Howard says. “They’ve done a good job of doing that so far, but let’s build on that foundation.”
By the end of January, the coalition will create a nominating committee to prepare for March elections for leadership positions: president, recording secretary, corresponding secretary and treasurer.
“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of one, two or three people to keep [the coalition] moving, Howard says. “If we could get all our positions filled, I think we have a better chance to really move forward, flesh out the things that we want to do, reach out to neighborhoods, and really make a difference.”
“They’ll be able to add their magic,” he says of the next generation. “I’m really looking to see what the next crop of leaders are going to do.”
The coalition meets every first Monday of the month at 6:30 pm, and meetings are open to all neighborhood residents. Meeting details are listed on the website’s community event/meeting calendar. West Dallas 1 can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial note: Raul Reyes Jr. works for Dallas Free Press as a community engagement contractor.