Poverty affects its victims in many ways, cascading one set of problems over another. People already struggling with daily life are victimized a second time when drugs and prostitution move into their already impoverished neighborhoods. Property values drop while an expanding presence of violence and crime forces law-abiding citizens into lives of complacency and fear because they lack the resources to move or reclaim their communities.
The bad news is that Dallas, Texas, is just one of many U.S. cities dealing with the difficulties associated with poverty. The good news is that one inspired resident of the city decided there was something that could be done to help community members fight back against crime in their neighborhoods.
Enter Reid Porter, Texas-Austin ’99, founder and president of Advocates for Community Transformation (ACT), an inner-city justice ministry based in West Dallas with a mission to support communities oppressed by crime and urban blight. Through education, legal representation and spiritual guidance, ACT works to empower residents with tools to take back their neighborhoods and improve them.
Porter’s organization has a simple goal when entering a neighborhood: a 50 percent reduction in crime over a five-year period. Its members do this by helping residents find a resolution for at least 75 percent of the drug houses in their community. “ACT partners with top-ranked law firms to come alongside inner-city residents. Together, they hold the owners of drug houses accountable. We’ll go all the way to the courthouse with them if necessary,” Porter said. In its history, ACT has resolved 83 cases in West Dallas alone and recently expanded outreach to South Dallas with similar goals in mind.
ACT also partners with the Dallas Police Department, the city attorney’s office, local churches and Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation. While removing drug houses is the major mission of ACT, the organization also provides services such as support networks for local community leaders, prayer walks and Bible studies. “Our ultimate hope is that the spiritual lives of those we serve will mirror the physical transformation that we seek. The result is a community transformed,” reflected Porter.
Porter founded ACT in 2009 after leaving a career as a trial lawyer to pursue a calling to revitalize the inner city. He began his work in the West Dallas neighborhoods of Westmoreland Park and Ledbetter Gardens. In 2012, he expanded ACT to Westmoreland Heights, Cross Hampton and Victory Gardens. Not only did ACT accomplish its five-year goal in its first two target neighborhoods, crime continued to drop in the following years. Seven years after the organization’s work began, crime has gone down by nearly 70 percent in both Westmoreland Park and Ledbetter Gardens.
For his contributions to crime reduction in the city, Porter was recently awarded the 2016 Public Safety Leader Award by Safer Dallas Better Dallas and the Rotary Club of Dallas. Still, it is the individuals Porter serves who best demonstrate the impact of his work. People who previously felt ignored or forgotten have a newfound trust in the city, its police and its judicial system.
When asked about the transformation he’s witnessed, Porter spoke about his time on a community advisory council with a man who’d recently had a drug house removed from his street. They sat together in prayer as the man thanked God for being able to walk around his neighborhood in peace and quiet, cherishing the view of children playing in their yards without fear of guns or violence.
Porter credits his undergraduate experience as his chapter’s chaplain and standards chair with teaching him how to help those he cares about while remaining able to uphold his moral code. In a time of divisiveness and harsh rhetoric, Porter’s example shows what it truly means to be a socially active member of a community and what it takes to make a difference in people’s lives.