On a cool evening in March 2014, Dominique Alexander stood in front of A. Maceo Smith High School with scores of other mourners, candles guttering in the twilight. Nearby were pictures of Alexander’s childhood friend, D’Lisa Kelley, whose body — beaten, strangled and eight weeks pregnant — police had found in a vacant East Oak Cliff home.
Kelley had gone missing a week earlier. Alexander, like her family, was upset that police didn’t begin their search sooner, particularly given a foreboding last phone call to her sister: background sounds of a man muttering threats while Kelley screams at him to stop. There’s an Amber Alert for missing kids and a Silver Alert for missing seniors. Why, Alexander wondered, wasn’t there something for the ages in between?
Alexander established a nonprofit to push for legislation to fill the gap with the Kelley Alert. But after protests against police brutality erupted that summer in Ferguson, Missouri, his focus expanded into a broader push for social justice, and he folded the Kelley Alert into his new organization, the Next Generation Action Network.
Since then, with an intuitive genius for garnering publicity, Alexander has made himself the Dallas face of an emerging social justice movement. He helped lead the local #BlackLivesMatter protests that spilled onto Interstate 35 and stopped traffic last November. In March, he organized a picket of the Dallas home of a University of Oklahoma student recorded belting out a racist fraternity chant. And in June, when a McKinney cop pulled his gun on black teenagers at a pool party, Alexander was there, loudly calling for reform.
Alexander has become prominent enough that The Dallas Morning News, after quoting him extensively for months, recently devoted a piece to detailing his criminal past: convictions for car theft, domestic violence, fleeing from police, and, most troubling, violently shaking a 2-year-old child in 2009. (He maintains that the child’s injuries came from an accident in a bounce house but that he couldn’t afford a decent attorney.)
Three years removed from his last run-in with police, Alexander is forthright about his past but frames his story differently. He’s not a convicted felon grasping for the spotlight; he’s a symbol of structural inequality. His mother was 13 when he was born. His biological father was 16 and went to prison for murder while he was still in diapers. His uncle died in a hail of police gunfire. He grew up in a neighborhood with few jobs and chronically failing schools. Given the circumstances, it would have been more remarkable if he didn’t wind up in prison.
Alexander’s protests can seem scattershot and reactive, but latent racism doesn’t lend itself to well-targeted campaigns. And it’s all in service of Alexander’s ultimate goal, which is to ensure that his two kids -— and all kids — don’t get trapped in a situation as hopeless as his was.