Victor Alvelais grew up in Oak Cliff. It's “a section of Dallas I love dearly to my heart,” he said. But he hasn’t been around for a while. He enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Franklin D. Roosevelt High School. During his active duty in the early '90s, Alvelais got into a brawl at a Virginia nightclub that ended with bullets. He shot and killed the man he was fighting, and at 20 years old Alvelais began a 26-year prison sentence for the murder.
All he could think his first night in prison was, “What the hell have I done?”
Nowadays, you can often find Alvelais back in Oak Cliff around Overton Road and Illinois Avenue. He’s usually wearing a bright orange T-shirt that says “Dallas Cred.” “Cred” is short for credibility.
Dallas Cred is an extension of Youth Advocate Program Inc. (YAP). Youth Advocate Program Inc. is a national nonprofit organization that provides alternatives to youth incarceration and services like violence interruption. Dallas Cred violence interrupters fan out to four crime-heavy areas of the city: Overton and Illinois, Webb Chapel and Lombardi, Loop 12 and Jim Miller, and the areas around Camp Wisdom and Gannon.
They don’t intervene in active violent situations. Their job is to interrupt patterns that lead to violent behavior and wreak havoc on communities.
Mayor Eric Johnson pushed for Dallas to adopt a violence interrupter program as one of his Safe Communities task force recommendations.
“We cannot and should not rely on police alone to stop the violent crime increases in our city,” Johnson said in a statement. “Violence interrupters, which were highly recommended by my Task Force on Safe Communities, will stop conflicts before they become violent and can help our people and our neighborhoods to grow and thrive."
In early May, City Council approved a $1.6 million contract for YAP to run the violence interrupter program. Last year, the council also voted to allocate $800,000 to hire violence interrupters. The 12-person team rolled out for one of the first times in late June.
Alvelais was released from prison at the height of the pandemic. About a year later, he was back in Oak Cliff with an opportunity to help his community on the Dallas Cred team. “This is a passion that I found while inside,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives so I couldn’t keep saying, ‘I’ll wait till I go home.’ I started doing a lot of advocacy, activism work inside of prisons, dealing with self-help and cultural events and things of that nature.”
“This is going to allow people to begin to heal." – Victor Alvelais, Dallas Cred
While in lockup, he worked as a coordinator for the Virginia Department of Corrections Veterans Housing Community. He says he established a veterans housing unit, created a rehabilitative program for residents, organized work projects for veterans and advocated for different resources and opportunities for them. He’s also the author of L.I.F.E. Sentences
, a daily affirmation book that helps prepare incarcerated people for a successful life after release.
“I just said, ‘I want to continue this once I’m released,’” Alvelais recalled. So he did.
An elderly woman was recently killed near South Oak Cliff High School. In the days after, Alvelais and others with Dallas Cred reached out to community members to ease tension and try to prevent retaliatory violence.
“This is going to allow people to begin to heal,” he said. “We can say we want to stop violence, stop the shooting, stop the killing, but what we want to do is help people. We want to give people the resources and tools to help themselves. Then, we want to cheer them on once we’ve given them all the tools they need.”
Sometimes the tool a person needs is a steady job. Other times, it’s a ride to that job, help gettting food on the table, or conflict resolution between community members before violence ever happens. Still, nothing is textbook. Every day is different and every situation requires its own approach.
Alvelais said people are more open to talking to the Dallas Cred team as opposed to the police because they are more rooted in the communities.
“Since [the police] don’t live in their neighborhoods, it’s like you’re foreign, you’re an alien, you are an intruder to a degree,” he said. “When you have that personal connection, it makes people open up their eyes and say, ‘This person really is me.’ It’s less than six degrees of separation. Now, it’s just two or three.”
Mar Butler, the Dallas Cred program director, predicts that in the next year or two, there will be bright orange shirts in every part of the city “because it’s that effective and we need it,” he said. “Every fire starts with a spark."