Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of pieces about grassroots leaders in Milwaukee.
On May 21, 2014, 10-year-old Sierra Guyton was playing on the playground at her elementary school across the street from her house. Sierra was hit by crossfire from two men shooting at each other on the street.
Sierra fought for her life for weeks, but in July she died at the hospital.
Like many people across the city, Sierra’s story grabbed the attention of Tracey Dent.
Dent, who is an accountant by day and a community activist at all times, was inspired to work for change.
Dent is part of a small nonprofit organization called Community Forward, whose main focus is violence prevention.
“We host job fairs, clothing drives, (and) when Sierra died, we hosted a couple of different fundraisers to help pay for the funeral. After she had died, her parents lost their house, clothes, everything,” Dent said. The group hosted a drive to collect necessities including clothes, food, furniture and appliances such as a stove and refrigerator.
“With those organizations, we worked with the youth, and our goal was to get them to step away from the violence, and to be able to express themselves positively,” said Dent. “On top of that, we created programs to actively work to reduce… crimes and education problems, as well as dealing with the problems right in the street.”
In 2010-2011, Dent served as an assistant to former State Rep. Elizabeth Coggs.
“She then convinced me to run for state rep myself, so I did so in 2012, and again in 2014, but unfortunately I didn’t win.” He also ran for alderman in 2015-2016, but lost.
Although he hasn’t served in an elected office, running and learning about issues in the community have taught Dent how to improve community life, he said.
“It’s about changing the mindset of people,” Dent noted. He works to open up people’s minds and “get them to realize that the way they have been going about certain things in life isn’t right. The violence isn’t right.”
Dent recently has been working to create a restorative justice program with the Milwaukee County House of Correction.
First-time offenders with a low-level felony or misdemeanor would qualify for the program, which would allow them to do community service instead of serve time in prison.
If a first-time offender does not have the money to pay a ticket, he or she could do 60 hours of community service, or pay the fines over an extended period of time, along with 30 hours of community service, according to Dent’s proposal.
People who are already serving time in the House of Correction also would have the opportunity to qualify for the program, potentially reducing their time in prison.
Dent emphasized that the House of Correction is still evaluating the program.
“We are working on this; we have to get it approved,” Dent said. “But we believe this is a good way to give people a second chance, and to let them prove to the community that they have changed, and are ready to make a change.”