How Ex-Addict Found Personal Redemption by Helping Impoverished South Dallas Neighborhood

COMMENTARY Religious Liberty

How Ex-Addict Found Personal Redemption by Helping Impoverished South Dallas Neighborhood

Nov 29, 2022 34 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Kevin Roberts, Ph.D.

President

Dr. Kevin Roberts serves as the seventh president in Heritage’s 49-year history.
Daron Babcock on "The Kevin Roberts Show" podcast. The Heritage Foundation

Daron Babcock was in dark times for his personal life, and his addictions to alcohol and drugs were at their breaking point.

“I remember falling on my knees that night and just crying out to God and saying, ‘God, I don’t know you, and I don’t even know if you’re real or not, but if you are, I quit.’ And I’m in rehab.”

And once he left, he saw the institutional inequalities of Bonton in South Dallas, Texas, and decided to move to the neighborhood to serve his community and bring the poverty-stricken neighborhood back from the brink. 

Babcock joined Heritage Foundation President Dr. Kevin Roberts on “The Kevin Roberts Show” podcast to discuss his story of addiction and struggle, his move from a corporate life to a life of community building, and the successes of his large urban farm, Bonton Farms, in the heart of South Dallas.


Listen to the episode below or read the full transcript:

Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to “The Kevin Roberts Show.” It is always a pleasure to have every guest we’ve had on this show. We have a lot of great episodes coming down the pike, not because of me, but because of the guests. But the thing we look forward to, not just speaking for myself, but my colleagues behind the camera, is getting out of the swamp and talking to people who are doing great work where they live. 

Obviously, there are a lot of great patriots inside D.C., but I’m really animated right now because I’m in my adopted home state of Texas with one of the friends I met along the way here.

I’m excited to be sitting with him. And I’m just letting you know, even if you’ve not heard of him, if you’ve not heard of what he’s doing, and although he’s modest, and he wouldn’t want me to say this, he is one of the most important people applying the principles we hold dear to the lives of everyday Americans. 

You’re going to hear that. So, you can be someone who works in a congressional office. You can be someone who’s kind of a thinker or a writer or just kind of a passerby. This conversation, because of my friend and my guest, is one you will never forget. So, my friend, Daron Babcock, it’s good to see you.

Daron Babcock: It’s great to see you.

Roberts: We were joking before we came on camera, my colleagues behind the camera are used to this as a Texas Longhorn, that you’re an Oklahoma Sooner, but I love you anyway.

Babcock: I love you, too.

Roberts: Thank you for being here, man.

Babcock: It’s great to be here.

Roberts: We can talk about a lot, including football, and we have talked about football over the years, but we’re not going to do that to the audience. We’re going to talk about the great work that you do. And that really is heartfelt. I would not say that if it were not the case. And I’m just going to start with something that’s very real. One of the many times that I visit Bonton Farms … And by the way, I have visited when you didn’t know, because I wanted to show my wife and kids, sometimes we’re visiting our oldest, who’s in college there, just to show them.

One of the times I was there, I remember sitting around the table with some of the folks you were serving with our mutual friend, Ron Simmons, former Texas legislator, and I had tears in eyes and chills, because it was very obvious to me from the people who were benefiting from your work and your sacrifice, not that you’re looking for any credit for that, that their lives had been changed. So, tell us what you do at Bonton Farms. We’re going to get into your story, but I think on the lead, we just want to let people know why it’s important.

Babcock: Yeah. Well, I think it’s important because the truth that I hold dear says that everyone was made in God’s image, and yet we live in a world that’s fallen, and things are difficult. And I don’t think there’s anything more difficult than life in our inner cities, in our country, at least. And I don’t think that’s ever been addressed before, really, in a holistic way. And so, I’ve gotten to know people that are just the most beautiful, resilient people in the world, but they’ve suffered greatly, and their lives are like this smaller, perverted version of what they could be.

And when we get to walk alongside them, it’s just loving them well, caring about them. And if you care about somebody, you see that they have the resources and tools they have to live a dignified, good life. We try to say that we try to walk alongside people so that they live in the full potential that God created them, that we overcome all of the things we’ve been through, and that they get to realize and live into that full potential. So, how do we get there together?

Me included. I’ve yet to reach my full potential. So, it’s this mutual journey, and I get to see people that you sat with that were likely murderers and have done horrible things in their lives because of a lack of hope and direction and a host of other potential things. And then when you get to see them when that curtain’s been lifted, there’s no remnant of that left. You get to see who they were intended to be. And I don’t think there’s a greater reward beside heaven than that.

Roberts: That’s so well said. To me, that’s really the heart of conservatism. And you’re not someone who’s worried about, certainly, political labels, not even philosophical labels like the one that I just used. And I don’t really even mean it in a political context. We’ll talk a little bit of policy later in the episode. But you mean that from the most basic point of view, which is the human one. And so, in order for our audience to really apprehend what is so special about the work at Bonton Farms, tell us where it is, about the history of that historically black neighborhood. And when I say historically, it’s significant in the history of Texas. I mean, there used to be a tremendous civic pride about that part of South Dallas. So, walk us through that, and then we’ll get into your story.

Babcock: Well, I think it’s not just Texas, right? It’s not just Dallas. It happened all across the country, that post-slavery during emancipation, black families were freed. And I try to always put myself in the shoes of families that I walk alongside, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be told you’re free, but you can’t live anywhere where there’s anything already established. And so, Bonton is a freedmen’s community. It was established after slavery, and it was a freedmen’s community because it’s on the bank of the Trinity Rivers, and it was a flood plain, so nobody else would live there. And that’s how they got started.

And then because of segregation, really led to prosperity, most notably in what you hear about Black Wall Street. But that happened all across the country, and it certainly happened in Bonton. Before it was Bonton, it was known as Bomb Town, because as we prospered and started buying property closer to the white communities, they bombed them. And so the answer to that was to adopt a new policy that was to build public housing in those places to keep black people separate. And so the big question of Bonton Farms is what happens when you build entire communities around the idea to keep a certain people group separate from the goods and services and tools and resources and opportunities that we all had to build our lives with.

Roberts: And so, how long has the farm been in existence?

Babcock: I moved to Bonton in January of 2012, and we started in earnest in 2016. There were a couple of years there where it was all about just building relationships and trying to see whether they were going to escort me out in one way or another, or whether they were going to let me stay. There’s a lot of history and a lot of people that look like me that are the reason for a lot of the problems we have, so there’s a trust issue that exists there, as you can … . And we have to be willing when we go and extend a helping hand, that we’re willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge that and earn that trust individually and not expect it.

Roberts: And it makes perfect sense that it would take awhile for that to happen, given the history of that particular community. But as you said so well, the history of that particular community is the history of so many around this country. And even though I think almost every American is trying to get past that legacy, it’s one of the many noble aspects of this republic, the reality is, that’s still the history. And I can speak for myself as a conservative and someone who studied history. It’s good for us to embrace that very difficult reality for the very purpose of getting past it. You live that every day.

Babcock: Yeah, I don’t think we can get past it until we acknowledge it. And I still don’t think we do. I think we want to say, “It was so far in the past, let’s move on.” And I don’t think we can move on until we say what happened, and how did it happen, and what remnants still remain, and how do we address those remnants so that we have a society that lives up to the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

Roberts: That’s really what the American [inaudible 00:07:41] about.

Babcock: That’s it. So, let’s live it.

RobertsExactly. Exactly. So, Bonton Farms has been in existence about a decade. What’s your story leading up to that point? Because you did something radical in uprooting yourself, your family, and heading down there. And now I know, I don’t think I remembered this, that it took a few years for you to get going. But what were you doing before then?

Babcock: I was a businessman in corporate America. I’m an entrepreneur by nature. My first wife got cancer and passed away a couple years after that, and I had no faith framework or really anything else to hold onto. And that, coupled with some other things that happened in my life, I just didn’t have the bandwidths to handle that well. I wound up in a recovery center. I used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate something that I didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with on my own, and wound up almost dead.

Roberts: Wow.

Babcock: And if it weren’t for family and friends, I would’ve been. And so, they surrounded me. When I had quit, they didn’t. And I’m here today in part because of them. But the second part of that is, in rehab, I think the hardest thing for people that have struggled with addiction is not the sobriety part. It’s what you have to face when you get sober, the shame that comes from what happened and what you did. We have to recognize and acknowledge that’s who we are. And that’s the hardest part of my journey.

I’m in my room one night trying to think about, “I don’t know how to resolve all the damage I’ve done. I don’t think it’s possible.” And so, I always say there’s nothing more dangerous than a person without hope, and I didn’t have hope. So, I remember falling on my knees that night and just crying out to God and saying, “God, I don’t know you, and I don’t even know if you’re real or not, but if you are, I quit.”

And I’m in rehab. My whole life is still a wreck. Nothing’s really changed, but there’s something that changed in me that day. And so, I think my story is a story of trying to figure out what it means to quit to a God I didn’t know. And I’m still chasing that. I know who God is now, at least to the limited ability that a human being can understand that. And I think everything in my life is predicated on trying to live that commitment out that happened that day on the floor of that rehab facility.

Roberts: And so, in that striking and still moving story, I say “still moving” because I’ve heard you recount this at least a few times, and it’s as moving each time. I think a lot of people can relate to that. And I would presume that even though you look different than the folks in Bonton, and you had a different experience than they did, that your authenticity and your story probably helped build trust in ways that would’ve been difficult for someone else who had the same good intentions. 

I presume people in Bonton have told you that.

Babcock: Oh, yes. It’s an unequivocal. It’s a strange thing to say. I find myself saying things that I’m like, “Do I really mean that?” But I am so grateful for my addiction. I would’ve died an inch deep and a mile wide. And it has given me a chance to truly live and to have a depth to my life that there’s no way I could have found it any other way. And I certainly couldn’t have related to the people of Bonton if I hadn’t suffered in that way.

Roberts: So you’re at rock bottom, especially after the tragedy of your first wife’s passing. You go to Dallas. It takes a few years to get this going. We’re going to talk about what you actually do here momentarily, but man, there had to be periods of doubt once you were there, right?

Babcock: It was way harder than I would like to say that I thought it was. Leaving stuff and comfort behind, we talked about that on the walk to this room, is … I think comfort is our greatest enemy. We live in a great country that has afforded us this great luxury of comfort, and I think in that lull to sleep, we’ve been asleep at the wheel for a long time, and we’re losing so much of what our Founding Fathers fought for to establish here, and it’s just disseminating in front of our very eyes.

Roberts: And so when we encounter something that isn’t comfort, we stop, we quit, we run away, we call it something else. We’ll talk a little bit about policy here. I mean, I’ll just say that what you’re saying is most important for society and culture, which, by the way, is where The Heritage Foundation would prefer to be doing its work. I mean, when we were founded half a century ago, as you probably know, while we were founded, in fact, to affect policy, it’s easier for us to affect policy when civil society is healthy. And not to put this in academic terms, because it makes it sound abstract and cold.

Babcock: I’m not going to understand it. I’m a Sooner.

Roberts: No, you would. Well, you made your own Sooner joke.

Babcock: I’m a Sooner.

Roberts: You shouldn’t do that.

Babcock: I lobbed you a softball.

Roberts: You did.

Babcock: It was either I was going to swing at it, or you were.

Roberts: Yeah. That’s what my daughters say, is, “Guys know this rule. You got to be preemptive.” You did a good job. OK, not bad for a Sooner. I don’t even know what I was going to say, Daron. Actually, I do. You lead what social scientists call an institution of civil society, but you don’t wake up in the morning and say, “This is an institution of civil society.” You wake up and say, “This is God’s people with some differences and people who have had some challenges, some of them self-inflicted, and Bonton Farms is a place that, more than anything else, instills hope.”

And so many Americans take for granted because of the material comfort we have, but also the social comfort we have, that everyone has hope. And when I visited Bonton and I met you for the first time, and I visited with some of the people who worked there and spent some time walking around the neighborhood, these are people who now have hope, but they did not.

Babcock: Absolutely.

Roberts: Explain that for people who want to understand, but might be scratching their heads.

Babcock: Man, how can I get there without rambling?

Roberts: Feel free to ramble.

Babcock: When we first started the farm and we grew our first crop … I’m not a real farmer, by the way. And so, it’s like we’re trying to do everything organically, so how do we do this? What do you do? I know it takes things from the soil to grow food, so how do you do that? And well, you read about it, and most farmers let their land rest, sit fallow. We don’t have any extra land, so I bought two tractor trailer loads of compost and had it delivered. And the day it was delivered, it started raining, and [it rained] for three days.

So, when we’re finally going to be able to get to it, I gathered everybody around. We’re going to have to do this. We had no equipment, so we’re going to do it a shovel load at a time. I handed out packets of seeds, and I said, “Look, all that food we grew all year didn’t come without a cost. It took things, and if we don’t put it back, we’re going to wind up bankrupt. And so, we’re going to do this really hard job of taking this compost a shovel load at a time, putting in the garden. And when you’re done, you’re going to take those seeds you have in your hand, and you’re going to put them in that restored soil. And before long, that seed’s going to look like a picture on the packet you took it out of.”

And one of the guys looked back at me, and he said, “Hey, your seeds are dead.” I was like, “I just bought them. Why would you say that?” And he said, “Because that’s what dead things look like. They’re shriveled up and dry.” I said, “Well, I’ve never thought about that before, but I promise you, if you put that seed in good soil, and you position it the way we have the garden where the sun passes overhead, and if you give it the right amount of water, that seed will almost assuredly become what it was created to be.”

And one of the ladies was crying. And I’m used to saying stupid stuff. I’m in a different cultural context, so I’m always saying things and I’m having to back up and say, “What did I do?” And I said, “Help me understand.” And she said, “We’re just like those seeds.” I’m like, “I’m a dude. I still don’t understand. You’re going to have to go a little slower for me.” And she’s like, “Well, we grew up here, and what was our sun, soil, and water? What did we have to build our life?”

And what she was saying were two things. She’s not what she’s done. She grew up in a single-mother household. Her father was incarcerated. Bonton was a really dangerous place. And so, they knew when their dad came home from prison, things were going to get better for them, and instead he was broken and abusive to the mom and molested the girls. And the only way this daughter felt any self-worth was when men showed her affection, so she winds up getting prostituted out and hates herself for that, so she starts shooting up dope and then goes to prison. And now she’s here teaching us this lesson.

Roberts: And there’s that cycle that millions of Americans have gone through. In spite of the nobility of our noble aims of a republic, we’re dealing with humans and human nature, and she’s the one telling the story. I mean, it’s scriptural.

Babcock: And really, Bonton Farms, truth be told, she founded it. Because we were building a house a room at a time without any plan until she said that. And it slowed us down to say, “What are sun, soil, and water for people?” And see, that’s the problem with our inner cities, is we created these spaces that have none of the tools or resources that we all use to build our life with, and they still don’t. And so Bonton has … We call them human essentials. They’re these six things that people that grow up in most inner cities don’t have access to that are absolutely essential to human flourishing. And without those tools there, most people won’t make it.

Roberts: What are those six?

Babcock: Economic development. I know you know this, but in Dallas, we have almost half the population of our city living where only 5% of our jobs are. Because we’re isolated and separated, transportation. Access to fresh, healthy food because we’re a food desert. Health care, nonpredatory lending or financial tools, and education that prepares our kids to compete in a free market economy.

Roberts: How many communities in the country would you estimate have that problem?

Babcock: Thousands. We have 75, what they call in Dallas, infrastructure deserts, which means all of those things, plus internet and sometimes poor roads and sewer systems and all that. But there’s 75 in Dallas County alone. It’s pervasive.

Roberts: Yeah. I mean, this is an American problem.

Babcock: Let me say this: Twenty percent of [children] born in the United States [are] now born into a place of poverty. You see, it’s no longer a racial thing. It started that way. Now, it’s just a poverty thing. If you happen to be born into a ZIP code that doesn’t have those tools and equipment, you are likely not to make it simply because of where you were born. And I think our country, we should do better than that.

Roberts: Well, we should. When I first met you was at the invitation of two mutual friends who were in the Legislature, Matt Shaheen and Ron Simmons. We had a series of meetings, and you and I hit it off that first time. But the point that I’m making there is that we show up, we dress like we work in and around politics, which you still smile about. And we sat down, and everyone tolerated us. And you knew we had a heartfelt interest in trying to figure out what was going on and how we could scale it, right?

Babcock: Mm-hmm.

Roberts: Because of the extent of the problem. And one of the things you told me, point blank, and of course, the folks who were working at Bonton Farms told me, too, was, “Don’t come here … .” And they meant this actually very politely, but I said, “Be real with us. Don’t come here in your suits, learn what we’re doing, go back to Austin or the state Capitol, write some stupid bill, and think you fixed the problem.” Right?

Babcock: Yep.

Roberts: And almost every time I have seen you in person, we have talked, you have reminded me of that. And so, it leads me to this question. We clearly have to fix this problem. It is one that I happen to believe as sort of a cultural conservative, if you will, that is to say, I want communities and neighborhoods and families to be so healthy that what we have to do in policy is so small. That’s a very different way of saying, “Unlimited government.” Right?

Babcock: Yeah.

Roberts: It’s a way of saying, “Government can be limited because government’s people are flourishing.”

Babcock: Right.

Roberts: Right? That’s God’s image. But to get to the question, Daron, it seems as if there’s still a role for policy to play, either at the state level or the federal level. Have you had any time over the last several years to give some thought to what that would look like?

Babcock: Yeah, I think it has to happen at every level. When it comes to housing and where jobs are located and how health care’s done and things like that, I think that’s local city and county politics. We talk about criminal justice reform and property taxes and things like that, and I think that’s state level and federal level. And then I think at some point as a country, we have to decide who we really are, and are we going to live into those principles that we were founded on? And if so, there needs to be a reckoning where the federal government has a program that says, “We’re going to go into these forgotten places.”

It’s a root cause issue, so, our cities are drowning under homelessness. They’re drowning under addiction and drugs. They’re drowning into human trafficking and domestic abuse. And communities like Bonton feed into those disproportionately, because our folks wind up in those situations. And so we need to fix that root cause and stop the bleeding, and I think that’s the role of the federal government to establish policy to say that these underserved communities, these communities with no infrastructure, are going to get a foundational uplift to see that they have the basic resources that human beings need to flourish.

Roberts: Well, and at the heart of that is, among other virtues, values, is the dignity of work, which I mean, that’s just fundamentally human. And it reminds me of a conversation we had across Heritage a couple weeks ago, the day after Labor Day, where I mentioned, and many people were already talking about it, that if you think about the work that we do … And this is really going to be a point about Bonton Farms, not about Heritage, but it’s instructive.

I think if you think about the work we do at Heritage, whether it’s taxation policy or education policy or foreign policy, at the heart of that … I mean, the ultimate aim is human flourishing, but one of the symptoms of that, a good symptom, is that people understand that the reason they work isn’t for money, although that can be good if put to noble uses.

It’s for the dignity that comes from that. And therefore, it seems to me, as I observed to my colleagues, that the more a think tank, as it were, can talk about the dignity of work, we humanize the policy that we’re doing, and it puts us in much closer contact with people like you and the folks in Bonton who are living this every day. I mean, I think, because I’ve read so much about what you’ve done, and I’m very familiar with it, that is one of the striking things, is that Bonton Farms is a very poignant reminder that the issue is about flourishing and the dignity of work.

Babcock: Well, I think that that is something that is not up for debate. I believe that, because biblically it says, “If a man doesn’t work, you shouldn’t eat.” I mean, it’s a principle. The social sciences say that a huge part of human flourishing is predicated on work that has purpose and meaning, and that we derive as human beings … . Our general nature is that we derive a portion of our dignity and purpose of who we are through our work. And if that’s taken from somebody, then it has horrible consequences.

Roberts: So, what are the lessons learned based on that, or any other aspects of Bonton Farms, that you would encourage policymakers—in particular, elected officials? So, members of Congress will sort of make this a federal question, although we’ve done some state work together. Members of Congress, but also, a big part of this is in the executive branch, what we call the administrative state, that … . Let’s just posit for a moment that there are people who are well-intentioned there who actually want to help people in spite of the nature of bureaucracy. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. What lessons do they need to be focused on? In a lot of ways, it’s sort of a homework assignment for Heritage, because that’s our [inaudible 00:22:57].

Babcock: Yeah. I mean, think that some of the most pervasive problems I see is that throughout history, there’s really been three mechanisms for people to uplift themselves from poverty. The number of kids you had, and everybody rode together to see that the family would move up socioeconomically, but now we’ve made it illegal for children to work. And so, we have kids in our community that are the head of their household, and they walk home from school, and they pass the corner stores where there’s 10 or 12 guys trying to get them to come sell dope, and they don’t.

Every day they walk past that. And they walk in one day, and their mom’s sitting at the kitchen table crying, and they’re like, “What’s wrong, Mama?” She’s like, “Nothing. It’s OK.” “No, what’s wrong?” Well, they got an eviction notice. So, what does the kid do? I can’t get a legal job, so I walk back up to that corner store, and I opt into something I don’t want to do. And I see that happen in my community alone every day, kids that don’t want to do that but have no other option. And that’s a policy issue.

I think that taking trades out of the schools and reducing the options for success in our country to only go into higher education is a major flaw, because we’re not all made for that. In Dallas alone, I think the running number is, we have about 40,000 jobs a year in the trades that are unfilled. And so we’re not preparing our kids for that. And I think those are two major issues that happen, and I think we need to do a better job of having policy that causes economic development to be more dispersed through our cities and not just congregated in the shiny places.

Roberts: It’s really important. And I have been for years, although it gets a little more attention now that I’m president of The Heritage Foundation, offered a critique of American conservatism. And keep in mind, I’m a lifelong proud conservative, so this is a critique from a friend, almost to myself, that while the free market is good and the gross domestic product is good, and you’re an entrepreneur, you would agree with that, that we sometimes don’t do a great job as conservatives in explaining that is but one thing we’re trying to achieve, that ultimately, we want those things to grow out of really healthy communities.

And therefore, as conservatives, we need to spend a lot more time right now, as we have fellow Americans suffering. By the way, fellow Americans of all ethnic backgrounds, every state, almost every city with more than 50,000 people. And as conservatives, we ought to embrace the reality that they’re going through. And for me, and I can say for all of us at Heritage, given the work my colleagues are doing in this arena, success of all of our policy will be if we really begin to eradicate that reality for Americans, because I mean, it’s tragic that we’re sitting here in 2022 having this conversation.

Babcock: Four or five years ago, I got invited to give a TED Talk. And I’m sorry, I’m going to go down a bit of a rabbit trail here.

Roberts: Please.

Babcock: But I have to say it, because I’m telling somebody else’s story. Nobody’s ever asked somebody for Bonton to come tell their story, but they ask me. Well, that’s a weighty thing. It’s not my story to tell, and so the first thing I had to do is ask for permission. And they said, “Please go tell our story and build a bridge, and one day it will be us,” which says something else about us as a society. So, I never did think about the purpose of a TED Talk. I just wanted to represent them well.

And so, they asked me to come talk about food deserts, and I always hate to do that because that’s a symptom of a problem, and we love to attack symptoms and not root cause. But I did it. And the guy that spoke before me was a “smart cities” guy talking about how predictive analytics make our cities more efficient, but he spent a great deal of his time talking about the fact we have autonomous vehicles on our highways today that make over a billion calculations a second at 70 miles an hour to be safer statistically on the highway with you and I behind the wheel.

Roberts: By the way, I don’t believe that.

Babcock: That’s a big deal.

Roberts: Yeah, it is a big deal.

Babcock: I mean, if you can have a car drive itself, there’s been a lot of horsepower put into that, right?

Roberts: Yeah, that’s right.

Babcock: Intellectual horsepower. Well, the lady that spoke after me was a geneticist from the Mayo Clinic talking about organ transplantation. We have a lot of really poor health outcomes in Bonton, so I was all ears. One of my best friends was dying from kidney failure. And she said the whole thing of checking the box on your driver’s license to, God forbid you get in an accident and they have to [inaudible 00:27:07], and the integrity of the organs staying [inaudible 00:27:09] to the danger, the surgery, to the rejection medicine. All that’s a thing of the past, because they can take stem cells from your body and, with your own DNA, make brand new hearts, livers, and kidneys and lung.

And then I have to stand up there and say, “We’re in the richest country in the history of the world, and we have 40 communities in Dallas County that don’t have food, that are classified by the USDA as a food desert. We import 40% more food into our city than we consume, and we’re not smart enough how to figure out that problem.” 

And for me, the reason I tell that story so often is because I think it shows that this is not only possible to do, but it shows just a lack of appetite. And I think sometimes when we get slapped in the face with the reality of, this is just something we’ve chosen not to make a priority. It’s solvable. A lot of times people talk about poverty and stuff, and they start to get overwhelmed, and I don’t want to let us off that easy. This is something that we have no excuse for, and one day we’re going to have to answer to.

Roberts: Man, absolutely. The juxtaposition of the story you were telling on behalf of your neighbors, your friends, with those two really important achievements, is really telling in a lot of ways, and I don’t mean this to be gratuitously critical of the United States, which I love … . And by the way, I think we’re going to solve all of these problems eventually. It does say a lot about how much emphasis we place on comfort, especially material comfort. Not that we want somehow the United States to be in some long-term economic disaster. What you and I are saying is, we can have all of the above if we so choose.

Babcock: Yeah. There’s no greater country in the history of the world than the United States, bar none. The thing about being great is that you always strive for better. That’s what makes you great. So, this is not a critique. I think we are amazing. But, man, if we ever stop striving, we have the propensity and potential of losing what we have. And so, I think part of it’s just striving for better, always fighting for the underdog.

Roberts: Soas you know, we’ve done this before. I’d sit here and talk with you for a few hours, but you need to get back to Dallas. We’re, by the way, for our audience, taping this near Austin, my adopted hometown, because Texas Public Policy Foundation, a friend of both of us and a friend of The Heritage Foundation, was kind enough to have us down and talk about some of these things. But all of that’s to say, you need to get back to your community, so I’ll ask you two final questions. And we’ll have you back, maybe when you’re in D.C. 

The first is, for people who are trying to figure out what they can do … . They’ve listened to this, or they’ve watched this podcast, and they’re inspired by what you’re saying, the story of your neighbors and friends. Whether it’s to help Bonton in particular or something else, what would you encourage them to do as an action step?

Babcock: I think that to understand the problem … And Bryan Stevenson, an author that wrote the book “Just Mercy,” talks about the importance of proximity. If we’re not close enough to the problem, we’ll never truly understand how to go about solving it. So, I think we need to cross the lines and go to the other side of the tracks and get to know one another, and not rely on the news to tell us who they are and what they’re doing, and vice versa. 

This whole conversation about race in our country is just … I live in a predominantly black community and travel all over the city and the country, and I think you get treated the way people treat you.

I don’t care what race you are. We live in an amazing melting pot that, generally speaking, people respect one another. And I haven’t ever seen that anywhere else in the world. So, that’s a lie. But I think that right now, unfortunately, I think Bonton is one of the few experiments in the country where this is happening. So, I would say, invest in us and help us get to a position where we can scale. What we try to do is to build all of our solutions in a way that are replicable. We don’t do it if it’s just good for us.

So, it has to be an innovative thing that’s able to scale. And we hope to position ourselves in a way where we can share this with other communities. I was telling you before we started, I had a lady from North Carolina down last week, and this haunts me because this happens monthly at Bonton Farms. People come from all over to tour, and they say, “We desperately need this here.” And this particular lady had lost both of her sons to gun violence in the inner city, and she said, “You have to bring this to my community. We can’t keep losing our children.” And I cannot sleep at night until I can see that we can take the amazing work that’s happening in Bonton to around the country.

Roberts: Yeah. It’s both frustrating, but also inspiring, because I think Americans are going to realize that we can begin to fix this. So, this is a question that’s a little bit of a spin on the typical last question, but before I do that, where does someone get more information? Website?

Babcock: Best place is to go to Bonton Farms. I think the amazing thing is that if you just Google “Bonton,” you may have to Google “Bonton Dallas,” but there will be a plethora of articles and stories about the good news that’s coming from our community, which I take great joy from, because 11 years ago, when I moved into Bonton, all of the stories were about crime and violence and murder. And the city actually tried to change the name of our neighborhood to Rochester Park because Bonton had such a negative connotation. And I take great joy and pride in the fact that you can Google it today, and you can’t find a negative story about our community.

Roberts: So, you want to fix Google’s algorithm, do what Daron did, which is help your neighbors, a quintessential American and Christian and conservative thing. Last question is usually along the lines of, why do you wake up optimistic in the United States? And the reason I always ask that, now addressing our audience, is because one of the things I find distressing is that, in spite of all of the reasons we have to be very happy about waking up in this country and hopeful about the future, in spite of the challenges, fewer and fewer Americans actually are hopeful.

And I don’t even mean that in the sense of patriotism, although patriotism—properly understood—would be a certain hopefulness about the future. So, I know why you’re optimistic, because I know you well, and I think our audience has figured that out, but is there one story from one of your friends, neighbors, who’s been involved with Bonton Farms that you could relay to our audience that really encapsulates why you continue to do what you do?

Babcock: I have so many. The first name that popped into my mind when you asked that question is a gentleman named Eddie. Eddie was born into a really bad situation, was orphaned and was a product of the foster care system. And the family that brought him in trained him to mule dope from a really young age, and he was a heroin addict by 13. And I still don’t know much of this story, but he did 27 years in solitary confinement. I’ve never heard of that before. But Eddie was noncommunicative, so he got released to a halfway house, and his friends that stayed in the halfway house brought him to Bonton Farms.

And I don’t know how to serve somebody that you can’t communicate with. So, he’d sit under the pecan [tree], and we would try to figure it out every day. And we weren’t doing very well, but it happened to be in the fall when the pecans were falling, and Eddie would sit under the tree and shell the pecans, and the squirrels and birds started coming closer and closer to him. And one day … This was over a course of a couple of months. One day I walked through, and every morning we’d go by and say, “Good morning.” We’d get nothing back. And this one morning, I walked by and said, “Good morning, Eddie.” And he said, “Good morning. Can I talk to you?” And it was like … I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials … .

Roberts: Absolutely.

Babcock: … but everybody froze and stopped because Eddie spoke. And he said, “I don’t trust you.” He’s like, “But I know I need to. These animals are showing me that I need relationships. I’ve never had a human being I can trust before.” And to see him, somebody that we discarded, that didn’t really have a chance or choices along the way because of what he was born into, to see that with a little bit of compassion and nurturing and viewing him as a human being, that all of those years of treating him less than can be unraveled and redeemed and see him flourish … . We see that happen all the time, but I don’t know that there’s a more powerful story than that, than Eddie’s, of 27 years of isolated in a cell, where 23 hours a day he was alone, and lost his ability to speak.

Roberts: Daron Babcock, my good friend, thanks for that. Thanks for being with me.

Babcock: Thank you.

Roberts: God bless you.

Babcock: Thank you.

Roberts: Hope you enjoyed that. As I told you, it was going to be very good, and it was. We will definitely have Daron back over the years, perhaps people who work and live in Bonton as well.

Babcock: Oh, gosh, yeah.

Roberts: Wouldn’t that be fun?

Babcock: Yeah.

Roberts: Yeah. My colleagues are behind the camera smiling because they love telling the stories of real Americans. So, I’ll use a verb I try not to use much. We promise we’re going to do that.

Babcock: All right.

Roberts: Thanks for making this show possible. Take care. We’ll be back with another great American soon. “The Kevin Roberts Show” is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. The executive producer is Crystal Kate Bonham. The producer is Philip Reynolds. Sound design by Lauren Evans, Mark Guiney, and Tim Kennedy. For more information and to subscribe, please visit heritage.org.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal