Story by Shardae White of Dallas Free Press

Janie Cisneros credits her neighborhood-based activism to serendipity.

She is the leader of Singleton United/Unidos, a newly established neighborhood association in West Dallas, fighting for clean air and the removal of the long-standing roofing shingles plant, GAF, from her residential neighborhood.

Portrait of Janie Cisneros near her home and the GAF plant on February 12, 2022, in (West) Dallas, Texas. (Nitashia Johnson/ Dallas Free Press)

Cisneros grew up in the neighborhood and returned as an adult, with her perspective evolving from childhood to motherhood. In our interview with her, Cisneros introduces us to Singleton United/Unidos and what makes them a front for their community.

How did Singleton United/Unidos form?

This all kind of started with the fact that I agreed to host the air monitor for Legal Aid [of Northwest Texas]. And once I got a report of the data that was coming in, I mean, I was really just shocked and alarmed by that. I was like, “OK, that’s not OK. Why is nobody doing anything about this? This is poison in the air. This is not clean air that we’re breathing, and we have vulnerable populations out here.”

Luckily, Evelyn Mayo had already been kind-of canvassing the neighborhood — collecting feedback back in the spring [2021] for the Neighborhood Self-Defense Project— getting people’s input on needs in the neighborhood. I learned about her through the Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. So when I came along and sent her an email, she at that point had already kind of connected with some residents, and Downwinders at Risk had installed some PurpleAir monitors at residents’ homes. Because she was already canvassing and hearing people’s stories, she knew that GAF was a big problem. She informed me about other residents who also have air monitors, and I was like, “Well, I’d love to meet them. I want to know who they are because we clearly have shared experiences.” And so she connected me with those people who had interest in taking action.

So, we had our first meetings in the community, and from there we kind of got down into the smaller group of residents — to get involved, to start talking about, “Well, what are we going to do? What’s our course of action here? What is our plan?” 

That happened in August 2021, and we’ve been meeting weekly ever since. Like second family at this point.

I think the Neighborhood Self-Defense Project helped people to start thinking about things in the community, and seeing things. And then also the fact that there were air monitors going up. I think those things just laid a foundation for our group getting started. And having that shared interest with GAF.

So, getting rid of GAF has been the focus from the beginning?

I have a little girl, right? And so if I can’t go outside to play with her, that’s a problem for me. And my mom, who lives across the street, she’s immunocompromised. You know, it’s a problem. I have people on both ends of the spectrum.

That brought us together. So we started meeting as a group and it was really the issue of, “What are we going to do about GAF here?”

So we knew that we needed to consider the neighborhood plan, but in order for us to consider a vision, that vision includes getting rid of GAF. So, it’s always been kind of like half and half. It’s like, “OK, well, if GAF goes, what do we need? What are the needs of the neighborhood? What’s lacking? What do the residents want?” It kind of goes hand-in-hand with getting rid of GAF. Where are we going from here?

You grew up in West Dallas?

Yeah, I actually live on the same street I grew up on.

So, I left for college, and ended up working in another city, and then came back in 2017. I was always just amazed at how Dallas was changing. The Dallas I came back to was not the Dallas I left. And I think, coming back, I have to get reacquainted with my community, my family, the city. But I think because I stepped away and came back, it provided a different perspective.

So GAF was just kind of like this backdrop, right? It was just this presence that was always there. Sure, there’s smells and noises. but, you know, that wasn’t where I was focusing, and nor did I really understand much of how the world works.

But coming back, and then especially becoming a mom. Then it’s just like, “Hold on. What is going on here? How is this a thing in the middle of a residential area where we have daycares? And the library and a lake and churches? Kids using the field to play soccer. It was just like, whoa, how is this OK? This is not OK.”

How did you choose what to call yourselves?

So we were meeting for a while, and the name didn’t come until much later. What we did was just talk about the characteristics of the neighborhood, what images come to mind when we think about where we live and our culture out here.

We created a poll and we sent it out to the community to see how many people could weigh in on the different variations of the name that we had come up with. So that was fun to see where people landed. We picked Singleton United/Singleton Unidos, and we wanted to make sure that it was bilingual because our group is bilingual.

And the design of your logo?

Yeah, I had a friend and I was like, “Do you have some extra time?” I pulled together the concept with different elements and images, and what it is that we were trying to convey. And she took all of that and created what it is now.

So we’re all neighbors. We’re those three houses. Like, we’re literally from the three parts on the north, the east and the west of GAF. And because our community is Black and Brown, we have our arms that are united together, working with each other. One hand is meant to be more feminine, to show that there are women leading the charge. The outside of the circle is the railroad tracks. We’re all bound by those railroad tracks. So, we’re all kind of connected because of that, and that’s another special characteristic of where we live and how we live. We all know what it feels like when the train passes by and your house starts to shake, or the sounds of the honking of the horns as the trains pass by.

Singleton United/Unidos logo

But the arms are really meant to be the roots and what’s budding out of those arms — out of the roots — is new life. It represents the growth that we expect to see. The life that we’re wanting to put into our community. Leaves, of course. Green. We want clean air. I think it does a great job of symbolizing those conversations that we have and what binds us together.

Why become a neighborhood association at all instead of just a neighborhood?

Well, for one, it makes things easier for identification. For example, when we put out flyers, we have an entity to say, ‘This is our neighborhood group.’ 

It also shows that there’s unity. There’s a tension to this area. Oftentimes people feel forgotten. It’s kind of isolated. GAF is right in the middle of us. It helps to have a name that represents all of us. When we request meetings with some of our U.S. representatives, things like that, you know it’s coming from Singleton United/Unidos. It’s showing that we’re a group of people that have come together to improve our community and to represent our community. 

I hope that it encourages people to be more vocal, because there’s someone who’s looking out. There’s an entity that’s representing them because there’s an entity that might know just a little bit more about what’s going on and how to get things done. And so hopefully, that’s also an encouragement for all the residents that feel like this area has been abandoned or forgotten. I’m hoping that that also is an outcome of being organized.

What’s next for Singleton Unidos regarding GAF? 

We’re really getting the ball rolling on this one course of action option: amortization. 

We’re still working on that, doing our research on all matters pertaining to amortization — how it works, what’s needed, who needs to be involved. Because we understand that this needs to be a unified effort by a lot of people because this is a pretty big issue. So no doubt that it’s going to take people at all levels at the city, state. A lot of people supporting us. We’re waiting on that GAF debrief meeting with city staff to inform our path.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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