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Raul Reyes Jr., Fierce Advocate for West Dallas, Dies at 50

Reyes Jr. fought for fair housing and against polluters in his West Dallas neighborhood. He leaves behind three children, his parents, and a community that mourns him.
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Raul Reyes Jr., seated, with neighbors, other advocates, Dallas environmental director Carlos Evans, Dallas Environmental Commission Chair Kathryn Bazan, and Council District 6 liaison Laura Cadena. Courtesy Omar Narvaez

Raul Reyes Jr. was a dependable fixture in West Dallas, whether as a sounding board or the person neighbors trusted to represent their interests in rooms with powerful people and entities. 

On Tuesday, Reyes died at the age of 50. And with his passing, the community he loved so much now grapples with its loss and mourns for his family.

He grew up in the Los Altos neighborhood, the son of Mexican immigrants. He became an indefatigable voice for West Dallas as he championed the causes of his neighborhood, as well as La Bajada and others. He fought against environmental polluters and advocated for housing to prevent the displacement of longtime residents. He pushed for access to healthy food. He made sure his community was heard at City Hall. He served on several city boards and commissions, too, most recently the Dallas Public Facility Corporation.

When facing down the GAF shingle factory, which had operated and polluted the community for decades, Reyes worked alongside various community groups—including Singleton United/Unidos—to communicate their expectations to the company. When the spigot of information from the company dried up, it was West Dallas 1, the organization helmed by Reyes, that stepped into the void to help provide information to residents. 

Many communities have their passionate advocates. But West Dallas had a champion in Reyes who understood the stakes for his rapidly gentrifying community and the constant environmental threats it faces. He never stopped fighting for his neighbors.

And that’s how many eulogized him Tuesday and Wednesday. Singleton United/Unidos member Janie Cisneros, who frequently worked with Reyes as they negotiated with GAF, said he “became my sounding board.”

“I could count on him to keep it 100 and give me the advice I needed for all things West Dallas,” she said. “That connection has now been cut—and cut way too soon. The gloominess outside accurately reflects the mood in our community.”

Dallas ISD Trustee Joe Carreon said that Reyes was a mentor, neighbor, and friend and that he was “honored to have been in his most inner circle.”

“He saw the world around him and decided to make a difference. And he poured his entire heart into it,” Carreon said. “He invited us into the work of making our community better. He empowered so many of us. He set expectations for us, and he held us accountable. He is irreplaceable. I will miss my friend forever.”

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Raul Reyes Jr., flanked by James Armstrong of Builders of Hope and Dallas ISD trustees Maxie Johnson and Joe Carreon. Courtesy Joe Carreon

Local leaders also took to social media to mark Reyes’ passing and to explain what he meant to Dallas in general and West Dallas in particular.

“Raúl will always be remembered for his dedication to creating a healthier environment, making housing more affordable, and supporting public education for our children,” said state Rep. Venton Jones. “Raúl will be missed, but he will forever be West Dallas Strong.”

Dallas City Council Member Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas, said Reyes’ presence was a constant at community events and that “his leadership helped unite many different groups and people across West Dallas.”

“He loved West Dallas, and he really loved and was so proud of his children,” Narvaez said. “We are a better West Dallas because of Raul, and I will miss his big smile and his grandiose speeches and especially the candid conversations we would have.”

Reyes also had an insatiable love for learning. He once told me he believed that “if you’re not learning, you’re not doing.” He continued to take classes at Dallas College and accepted every opportunity to learn about what makes his city tick through workshops and cohorts led by nonprofits like Leadership ISD, United 2 Learn, and others.

He passed his love of learning on to his three children. In our very first conversation, he told me he was proud that they were carving their own paths in the world with college degrees in hand. He also said they were part of what drove his advocacy for his neighborhood. He wanted to change things for his children and future children who would grow up in West Dallas.

“I remember when I attended Pinkston (High School), and how the air would be so bad it would hurt to breathe,” said Reyes, who graduated in 1992. “And then my son is at the same school, practicing on the football field, and he’s breathing the same bad air.”

Looking through our conversations, I remembered one of the last times I quoted him in a story. He was referring to the neighborhood’s fight against encroaching developers, but the quote was quintessential Raul Reyes.

“I ask that we have learned lessons from our past and WE better understand our community’s challenges,” he said. “We can’t be passive, we can’t wait, we can’t accept the status quo, and we can’t be complacent.”

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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