2020 Alumni Features News Spring 2020

Carolyn and David B. Miller ’72, ’73 make $50 million commitment to SMU and the Cox School of Business

When former Mustang basketball standout David B. Miller ’72, ’73 and his wife, Carolyn, made the largest single alumni gift in SMU history, the Hilltop milestone made headlines in Dallas. Longtime business columnist Cheryl Hall ’73, who earned her journalism degree from the University, wrote about the publicity-shy couple for The Dallas Morning News. In this excerpt of the newspaper profile, their generous spirit and their love for family, community and SMU shine through.
How does a guy who went to Southern Methodist University on a basketball scholarship strike it so rich that he can give his alma mater more than $100 million?
Carolyn and David B. MillerHe parlays the finance education that he earned at its Edwin L. Cox School of Business into co-founding one of the world’s largest private equity firms.
And just how David B. Miller came to do that is one of those under-the-radar success tales that Dallas is so famous for.
Miller and his wife, Carolyn, pictured at right, made headlines in October 2019 when they gave SMU $50 million — the biggest individual donation in the University’s 108-year history.
The Millers’ moment in the spotlight was unusual for this Highland Park couple who have quietly given tens of millions of philanthropic dollars since 2006.
The Miller name is already on the event center of Moody Coliseum and the floor of its basketball court, the campus student center at SMU-in-Taos and the ballroom of the new indoor training center.
The couple’s latest donation is intended to keep the Cox School competitive by modernizing and building facilities, hiring additional endowed faculty and expanding undergraduate and graduate scholarships to increase student diversity.
But frankly, a lot of people outside the SMU community don’t know who Carolyn and David are.

“He treats people with dignity and respect regardless of what their lot is in life.
He’s a believer in collective thinking from smart minds.”

– Kyle Miller ’01 speaking about his father, David Miller ’72, ’73

David was a three-year varsity standout center from 1968-72 and earned his undergraduate degree and M.B.A. in finance at Cox in the early 1970s.
Today Miller is a co-founder and managing partner of global private equity firm EnCap Investments LP, which completed its 21st fund last year with 350 institutional partners. That brought the total amount of funds under its management to nearly $40 billion since its inception in 1988.
Carolyn, a former elementary school teacher in Garland and social worker, closely guards her privacy while rolling up her sleeves to work for social causes such as aiding seniors, protecting battered women and sheltering the homeless.
But $50 million is hard to keep under wraps, especially when one intent of the Millers’ huge gift was to lead others to SMU’s next major fundraising campaign.
The Millers sat down for the first time ever as a couple to share how they came to spread such enormous largesse.
David Miller keeps a scrapbook close at hand in his home office. Its title: “A Dream Come True.”
“That dream was to play basketball at SMU,” he says, flipping through the worn pages of newsclips and mementos assembled by his mother.
As Miller was about to graduate from Richland High School, the team’s star center had nearly a dozen scholarship offers but not the one that really mattered to him – SMU.
“There was just nothing bigger in the southwestern part of the country than SMU basketball,” he recalls. “Doc Hayes was their legendary coach. My senior year, SMU beat Louisville, the No. 2 team in the country, in the NCAA regional tournament. I was a passionate fan.”
Two days after National Signing Day, the first day high school players can commit to a college, David told his mother at breakfast that he’d reconciled himself to becoming a Red Raider at Texas Tech University. But Fay Ann Miller, now a 92-year-old SMU alum, urged her son to hold out for one more day.

Celebrating the naming of Moody Coliseum’s David B. Miller Court in 2018.

“It was magical,” he recalls. “I show up at the high school the next day, and there is the legendary coach Doc Hayes and his replacement, Bob Prewitt, who was actually my coach, and they offer me a scholarship. And the rest is history. My dream came true.”
Miller earned his undergraduate degree on a basketball scholarship and his M.B.A. in finance on a teaching fellowship, so he never paid a dime in tuition. He says that as he crossed the stage to receive his M.B.A. diploma, he promised himself that he would give back if he ever could.
His first donation was a $25 gift to the Mustang Club and a $100 pledge to SMU’s general operational fund in 1979.
Little did he know just how much he’d be able to pay it forward.
He started his career in energy lending for Dallas’ Republic National Bank, which was one of the largest financial institutions in the Southwest.
In 1980, the 30-year-old and his buddy, Bob Zorich, left Republic to form an oil and gas company in Denver. Seven years later, when energy boom times went bust, the partners sold out and moved back to Texas.
That same year, Miller — backed by the late, legendary oilman L. Frank Pitts and his son-in-law, Bill Custard — formed PMC for Pitts, Miller and Custard, scraping together energy properties viewed as worthless by most investors.
“The major oil companies had all decided that domestic onshore opportunities wouldn’t move the needle,” Miller recalls. “So they had moved to the deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and international exploration and were selling their domestic properties. There was a wealth of opportunity to buy. You just had to find the money.”
PMC’s first fund raised $20 million with three institutional investors: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a huge medical foundation in Washington, D.C., and two major insurance companies.
PMC eventually became part of EnCap (short for Energy Capital) Investments — co-founded by Miller, Zorich and three other friends from Republic Bank. Frank Pitts considered Miller his adopted son, says Linda Pitts Custard, Pitts’ daughter and wife of Bill.
“Daddy was a wildcatter, as you know, and he appreciated David’s entrepreneurship and his ethical approach to business,” she says. “David is a very personable, warm, affable man. None of his success has gone to his head. He remains just as down-to-earth as he was when I met him 30 years ago.
“The business partnership separated, but the deep friendship remained.”
David’s son, Kyle Miller, made headlines of his own three years ago.
In 2012, Kyle started Silver Hill Energy Partners LLC, an independent oil and gas company, with $12 million in seed money. He sold it four years later for $2.4 billion to Dallas-based RSP Permian Inc., a publicly held Permian producer. The Oil & Gas Journal called it the “2016 M&A Deal of the Year.”
Kyle says his father taught him and his sister, Meredith Miller Bebee, that their most valuable assets were their word and integrity.
“He treats people with dignity and respect regardless of what their lot in life is. He’s a believer in collective thinking from smart minds,” says the 40-year-old founder of Silver Hill Energy Holdings LLC, which he founded last year.
David and Carolyn married 19 years ago — the second marriage for each.
“I have massive respect for her and what she thinks,” David says, looking over at Carolyn on the couch. “And while I may not agree with some of her political leanings, I respect them. Frankly, if you think about the discord that’s going on in the country, that’s probably the solution.
“She’s softened me.”
Carolyn grew up in Magnolia, Arkansas, a town of about 12,000, before earning her degree in elementary education at Hendrix College in 1974. She also holds master’s degrees in elementary education and in gerontology.

“She’s an extraordinary person who has a great humanitarian persona.”

– SMU Trustee Caren Prothro speaking about Carolyn Miller

The causes closest to her heart are The Senior Source and Shelter Ministries of Dallas, parent of the Austin Street Center and Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.
“It’s so important for women to feel empowered to leave an abusive relationship,” Carolyn says. “Most abusers are controllers. So Genesis gives women a sense of control over their lives. And with the increase in homelessness in Dallas County, the need for the Austin Street Center is obvious.”
SMU trustee Caren Prothro says Carolyn is a story in her own right. “She’s an extraordinary person who has a great humanitarian persona. An example of that is her involvement with New Friends New Life, a program for trafficked girls,” Prothro says. “She and David are a wonderful duo. They both have their great strengths and passions. Carolyn holds her own and then some.”

Alumni Features News Spring 2020

Pastor Richie Butler ’93 creates opportunities for crucial conversations about race

Pastor Richie Butler ’93 remembers a particularly heated discussion during a town hall shortly after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014. The conversation grew fiery among the many members of the community in attendance to speak with the leadership of the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the Dallas County Sheriff’’s Office.
“I noticed every negative emotion and energy – division, anger, mistrust, frustration, hate,” and many in attendance felt that justice would not be served, he says.
But out of that meeting, Butler says, came a calling from God: to serve as an activist in Dallas race relations, to unite factions on both sides of a fractious issue and to build bridges among people of all colors. That’s where Project Unity was born.
Through Project Unity, Butler has galvanized the community around the idea that conversations, not confrontations, will create and sustain relationships among diverse groups. And he has brought the topic to a place where many avoid discussing the issues of politics and religion altogether – the dining table – as well as to a place where differences are put aside during the heat of athletic competition – the basketball court.
“What unites us is greater than what divides us,” Butler says.
This year, Butler took on a new post that positions him to build on the social movement he started. He left his pulpit at St. Paul United Methodist Church, which was founded in 1865 by enslaved people in Dallas, to become pastor of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church, long considered a seat for social change in Texas. “This is a historical church, but we also want to make history here,” Butler says.
What unites us is greater than what divides us.
Project Unity has developed various events aimed at helping heal race relationships between law enforcement and Dallas citizens. One of the earliest, “Together We Ball,” is an annual day of family activities for the community culminating in a basketball game between pastors, police officers and community leaders held each August at the P.C. Cobb Stadium in Dallas. The event draws more than 1,500 participants.
“Together We Learn” is a partnership among the Dallas Police Department, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, Dallas ISD, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and others to provide opportunities for teens to interact with law enforcement. Several hundred high school students have lunched with officers and received instructions on how to handle traffic or pedestrian stops.
However, Butler knew he needed broader engagement from the community after five police officers were ambushed and gunned down at a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas in July 2016. The gunman, killed in a standoff with police, was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was angry over police shootings of black citizens and stated that he wanted to kill white people, particularly police officers.
After multiple conversations with faith and community leaders across the city, Butler called for a Year of Unity in 2017. In partnership with white Dallas attorney Rob Crain, then-incoming Dallas Bar Association president, the pair engaged leaders statewide and from organizations, businesses and faith institutions, with former President George W. Bush serving as honorary chair.
Richie Butler: It's hard to demonize 'other' when you have a relationship with them.
Year of Unity rolled out more events with “Together We Heal,” a day of activities at the American Airlines Center that honored the fallen officers. A Year of Unity Choir was created with more than 100 diverse voices, and the group performed at the 2017 State Fair of Texas and at a benefit for Hurricane Harvey victims.
The signature event from Year of Unity, one that is close to Butler’s heart, is “Together We Dine.” The project is a series of safe conversations about race over dinner. At tables of six to eight diners and a facilitator, they answer questions about race while others at the table listen. After everyone answers the question, the table opens for discussion.
Highland Park United Methodist Church hosted a “Together We Dine” in December 2019. The event has been held by design several times at the church, in majority white and affluent University Park, to send a message, Butler says, because it is an area where people of color perceive they are not welcome.
Dozens of members from the church have participated in “Together We Dine,” which has provided “enlightening experiences for our congregation,” says the Rev. Paul Rasmussen ’04, HPUMC senior pastor and a member of SMU’s Board of Trustees. “Sharing a meal and being in conversation with people from different parts of Dallas, who had different experiences growing up around race and discrimination, was powerful. It reminded me that the more we understand what someone else has lived through, the greater the possibility for connection and relationship, even if opinions differ.”
Some of the diners have continued to participate in small, diverse groups around the topic after dining together to learn more “about the realities of racism in our community in a setting that allows for openness and honesty,” Rasmussen says. Others have taken “Together We Dine” back to their places of employment, where there were racial tensions that aren’t discussed openly.
Butler hopes that individuals at “Together We Dine,” who come from across racial, economic and social spectrums, experience an epiphanic moment when hearing stories of encounters with racism, just as he did.
Richie Butler: Activism is in my blood.
Butler was raised by a single mother in a low-income area of East Austin. He attended a Baptist church and excelled in athletics, which led to a scholarship to play football at SMU in 1989, when the football program was being revived after a two-year ban because of sanctions (known as the “death penalty) imposed by the NCAA for recruiting violations. He was recruited out of high school to play defensive back by the late SMU alumnus and pro football great Forrest Gregg ’55, whom Butler still considers a mentor.
“He was good man who modeled hard work, discipline and focus, and didn’t allow us to settle for second-rate,” Butler recalls. “Even though the odds were stacked against us (the team went 2-9 in 1989), win, lose or draw, we were to fight, to give our best effort and not back down.”
Other mentors for the double major in psychology and religious studies included Clarence Glover, who taught the course “Black and White”; history Professor Kenneth Hamilton; law Professor C. Paul Rogers III, who has served as the SMU faculty athletics representative since 1987; and religious studies Associate Professor Richard Cogley. He also interned with then-Congressman Martin Frost (D-Texas) in Washington, D.C. “I found people who saw potential and took an interest in my development,” Butler says. “They encouraged me to push forward, to be all that God wants me to be.”
As an undergraduate, Butler knew he had a calling to preach.
Butler says his SMU experience helped shape who he is today. “I learned how to think critically and reflect on the information I was receiving, rather than just memorize and regurgitate facts. At SMU I was exposed to a world different from my working-class upbringing in East Austin.”
While a member of the football team, Butler reached out to other student-athletes around the Southwest Conference (of which SMU was a member at the time) to launch initiatives to help improve opportunities for them, and he lobbied the SMU Student Senate to create a seat for a student-athlete representative. “Activism is in my blood, and SMU helps foster that by directing students’ energies in a productive way toward improving the community,” he says.
Butler continues that activism today, and gives back to his alma mater by serving on the SMU Board of Trustees and Dedman College Executive Board, as well as on the Communities Foundation of Texas board of trustees, the Dallas Assembly and the Real Estate Executive Council. He has received numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of racial reconciliation, including SMU’s Emerging Leader Award in 2008; the 2018 Silver Anniversary Mustang Award; the Dallas Bar Association 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award; Dallas Business Journal’s 2018 Minority Business Leader honoree; and the 2019 Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards Visionary recipient, among others.
Richie Butler and Dallas civic leaders and police.
While at SMU, Butler established lifelong relationships and networks among his classmates, including his wife, whom he met as a freshman. Neisha Strambler-Butler ’93, vice president of compensation and benefits at American Airlines, serves on the advisory board of directors for Project Unity. Butler credits her with keeping him balanced.
“God brings people into our lives for a reason. She recognizes my calling and cares deeply about social ills in society and how to make them right. She’s a brilliant woman, and I leverage her knowledge and experience with American Airlines for social good. We are partners in ministry together,” he says.
Former classmate Paige Dawson ’94, founder and president of MPD Ventures in Dallas, provides marketing and communications pro bono for Project Unity. She and Butler met while living across from each other in Shuttles Hall. When she read in the newspaper about Butler’s work with Project Unity, she reached out to reconnect.
“A great community builder and fundraiser, Richie has that rare ability to get people to say yes, so naturally my firm joined on to support the mission and raise awareness,” Dawson says. She also has served as a host for several “Together We Dine” tables. “At every one there has been some poignant statement or example from a minority attendee that has literally left me stunned at what people still experience.”
Butler knew he had a calling to preach as an undergraduate, even preaching on occasion while in school. He earned his Master of Theological Studies from Harvard in 1996. When he moved back to Dallas in 1998, he put together his first real estate development deal in South Dallas called Unity Estates, a planned community of 285 single-family homes sponsored by the 70-member African-American Pastors’ Coalition.
Solutions will have to come from the people.
Today, he chooses to go by “pastor” rather than the traditional “reverend” because the invocation of the shepherd brings him joy and affirmation, he says. “There’s a greater level of responsibility that goes along with being someone’s pastor.
He contends that solutions to issues of racism will have to come from the people, not the politicians. And he takes comfort in the knowledge that he is making a difference for his two children and their generation through his efforts to bring diverse groups together.
Charlene Edwards ’95, another classmate of Butler’s, holds out that hope for transformative relationships, as well. She became involved with Project Unity in 2017 when he was seeking program and event planning support to launch the Year of Unity, because she was compelled by Butler’s vision to bridge the divide between Dallas citizens and law enforcement.
Early on, she observed at “Together We Ball” events the “camaraderie among the different groups as they came together,” she says. “People’s lives, perceptions and actions are changed. They think before they say something that might be offen- sive, learn to become more compassion-ate about others.”
Adds Butler: “It’s hard to demonize the ‘other’ when you have a relationship with them, when you see them as a human being.”

2020 Alumni News Spring 2020

Ashlee Hunt Kleinert ’88 shines a light on the tough topic of sex trafficking

A young woman carrying a backpack walked into the Fairmont Dallas bar, sat next to Ashlee Hunt Kleinert ’88 and her husband, Chris ’88, and ordered a glass of water. In her cutoff overalls and tank top, she stood out in the crowd of suits and cocktail attire. The Kleinerts, who were at the downtown hotel for a social event, thought she looked too young to sit at the bar. They guessed she was about 17 or 18.
More conspicuous, though, was the young woman’s trembling discomfort.
“She was constantly looking over her shoulder, scanning the room and scraping her nails along the bar’s surface,” Kleinert remembers. “She seemed terrified.”

New Friends New Life, co-founded by Nancy Ann Hunter Hunt ’65, Pat Schenkel and Gail Turner in 1998, helps human trafficking survivors.

Kleinert, a longtime volunteer with New Friends New Life, a faith-based Dallas nonprofit offering a comprehensive program for human trafficking survivors, recognized the behavior of a young woman being exploited.
“Her pimp likely sat among the patrons, keeping watch while she waited to join a john in a hotel room,” Kleinert says.
When her husband suggested passing along a note about New Friends and the phone number, Kleinert hesitated. Through her volunteer work, she knew that if the pimp were watching, such contact could put the trafficking victim in peril. Torn by the possible ramifications of their intervention, the couple decided not to risk placing her life in jeopardy. Eventually she walked out of the bar alone, leaving the Kleinerts with a new perspective on a growing problem that has been termed a global epidemic.
That experience six years ago became their “paradigm shift,” Kleinert says. The real-time glimpse into the darkness amplified her understanding of the women she had met at New Friends, who were rebuilding their lives with the help of counseling, support groups, education and job training.
“It made us sick when we didn’t know what to do,” she says. “We’ve never forgotten her.”
Kleinert first got involved with New Friends through her mother. Nancy Ann Hunter Hunt ’65 co-founded New Friends New Life in 1998 with civic leaders Pat Schenkel and Gail Turner, wife of SMU President R. Gerald Turner. Over the past decade of volunteering with the nonprofit, she has spent time with survivors as she assisted with meals and childcare and listened to their stories. On her own, she has devoured grim statistics about the international criminal scourge that affects millions worldwide.
She has learned a lot about human trafficking, maybe more than she ever wanted to know. On a topic that can be awkward – or even dangerous – to broach in public, Kleinert has become a vocal advocate for victims.
Walk The Talk
Creating a community that is welcoming to people from all walks of life starts with frank discussions about thorny topics. Since her student days, Kleinert has appreciated the freedom that SMU provides to explore and discuss crucial issues – when she was a student, when her children were students and today.
“SMU students now have such high awareness and regard for human rights issues,” she says.
Ashlee and Chris Kleinert at SMU's The Big Event in 2019.
Ashlee ’88 and Chris Kleinert ’88 at SMU’s The Big Event in 2019.

She graduated with a B.A. in history from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. One of her favorite professors was the late Glenn Linden, a revered historian.
“It touched me, the way he portrayed history as the lives of real people whom we could learn from,” she says. “Throughout history, individuals have made a difference by speaking up – and they still do now.”
Ashlee and Chris Kleinert were involved with New Friends as their three children were growing up. However, like most kids, it took them a while to recognize their parents’ wisdom.
Their oldest son, Tyler Kleinert ’14, ’15 , earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport management from SMU and serves as managing director of The Tritex Group, a startup venture firm focused on entrepre- neurial and civic initiatives. The group’s enterprises include Baldo’s Ice Cream & Coffee, a popular artisanal ice cream shop located across from campus on Hillcrest Avenue. An undergraduate economics class taught by Beth Wheaton opened his eyes to the magnitude of the trafficking problem. Wheaton is a senior lecturer of economics in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences who studies the economics of human trafficking.
“He told me, ‘You’re right, Mom, it’s happening,’” Kleinert recalls about her son’s epiphany. She applauds that “interesting and genius approach” to helping young people grasp the issue through the lens of its everyday economic impact.
Daughter Connie Kleinert Babikian ’12, a senior finance analyst for Hunt Oil Company, holds bachelor’s degrees in finance and economics from SMU and volunteers with New Friends New Life. She served as chair of its 20th anniversary recognition luncheon in 2018.
Their younger son, Travis “T.J.” Kleinert ’16, was motivated by his interest in human rights to pursue a law degree at SMU Dedman School of Law. Now a third-year student, he has provided pro bono legal services for the Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support legal aid program, assisting women with restraining orders and custody rights. He also has volunteered as a children’s activity di- rector at Genesis as well as at St. Philip’s School and Community Center in Dallas.

Kleinert continues a family legacy of taking action where there is need. Her parents, Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt ’65, established the Judge B. Elmo Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women at SMU Dedman School of Law in 2014 . The Center is named in honor of Kleinert’s maternal grandfather, a distinguished legal mind and public servant who served as a judge in Western Missouri for 38 years. New Friends New Life refers clients to the clinic, whose services include helping trafficking survivors clear their criminal records.
“Watching the previous generation do something about an issue fosters a feeling of responsibility to pass forward that hands-on, caring style,” Kleinert says.
Ashlee Kleinert quoteThe work of the Hunter Center and New Friends is more important than ever. The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, describes sex trafficking as modern-day slavery. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable. They groom victims by creating dependency, often providing clothing, food, lodging and emotional support. Once they have established trust, they pressure or coerce victims into prostitution.
Traffickers are always on the prowl for new victims. They often approach runaway teens within their first 48 hours on the street, according to the Dallas Police Department.
The sex trade is big business in Texas. A recent study ranks the state as second in the nation, between California and Florida, for trafficking activity. In Dallas, sex trafficking is a $99 million a year illicit industry, according to a 2014 report funded by the National Institute of Justice.
Addiction, domestic violence, homelessness and other social ills foster the feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability that traffickers home in on, Kleinert says. Once the victim becomes dependent, “a pimp will say, ‘I’ve been taking care of you, and now I need you to help me,’” she says.
She points out that sex trafficking can be more lucrative and less risky than drug trafficking, which carries stiffer criminal penalties in Texas. A person can be sold 10 times per night compared to the one-time sale of cocaine or heroin, Kleinert explains. Also, today’s technology makes it easy for johns to remain anonymous. They can select their victims and pay in cash through websites and mobile apps.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline ranks Dallas as No. 2 in the state for trafficking activity – a stain on the city, as far as Kleinert is concerned. She worries about Dallas becoming defined by it.
“Trafficking is evil,” she says. “A perpetrator sells human beings like commodities and eventually discards them like trash.”
Ashlee Kleinert: Candid Conversations
While the topic of sex trafficking can be a conversation killer, it’s too important to avoid. Dodging it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, Kleinert says. “Sex trafficking thrives in the dark,” she says. “Awareness, education and dialogue light the path to stop it.”
She embraces opportunities to talk about New Friends New Life’s restorative programs and encourage the public to become involved. However, she’s careful to assess her audience first.
“I’ve learned to gauge interest in how much they want to know,” she says.
More often than not, people want to learn about the crime that hides in plain sight, she says. To engage as many people as possible in their efforts, New Friends created a men’s auxiliary in 2015, the Men’s Advocacy Group. Chris Kleinert served as the organization’s inaugural chair.
The group spells out its mission as mobilizing men “to take action against sex trafficking and exploitation by raising awareness through advocacy, education and volunteerism.” A key component of its educational focus is the manKINDness Project, an interactive learning curriculum aimed at teens and young men. It’s designed to challenge masculinity myths and nurture respect for females and one another. MAG volunteers lead young men to connect the ways demeaning language, including obscene comments and jokes, attitudes and behaviors contribute to an environment where sex trafficking is ignored or tolerated.
Call To Action
Last year, Kleinert partnered her popular Ruthie’s Rolling Café food trucks with Dallas’ Café Momentum, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth, many of whom are homeless and vulnerable to traffickers. Graduates from that organization’s culinary training program can secure paid externships on the food trucks. “We talk about signs of human trafficking with our employees,” she said. “Unfortunately some of these kids have been on the inside of it.”
Sex trafficking happens everywhere and touches all parts of society, Kleinert says. “It’s hard not to see trafficking, once you know the signs.”
A case in point: Kleinert contacted authorities after observing a suspicious situation at a Dallas-area business park where the Ruthie’s business offices were located in 2011. She reported an uptick in parking lot traffic and a sudden surge of men frequenting a neighboring office space. After a period of surveillance, law enforcement shut down what was, indeed, a trafficking operation.
To raise awareness, New Friends New Life and the Men’s Advocacy Group sponsor a free monthly bus tour guided by representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Participants observe telltale signs of human trafficking and exploitation while learning about real cases worked by Dallas law enforcement.
Kleinert advocates bringing as many people as possible, especially those who regularly deal with the public, into the conversation. Electricians, plumbers and other trades professionals can be trained to spot red flags, such as a private residence housing an unusual number of young women.
In recent years, flight attendants have made headlines by spotting teens being trafficked, which points to the importance of training those in the airline, transportation and hospitality industries to learn the signs and join the fight.
“Everyone can be part of the turnaround,” Kleinert says.
– By Cherri Gann ’15
In 2015, Robbie Hamilton turned to SMU’s Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women for help in cleaning up the criminal record she acquired over 25 years of working in Dallas strip clubs, battling drug addiction and experiencing repeated arrests for drug possession. On January 11, 2020, on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, she was issued a full pardon by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after a unanimous vote by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The pardon wiped away convictions for petty crimes that were the final trace of a dark era in her life.
“I’m humbled and thrilled with this. It seems like the beginning of something bigger,” says Hamilton, a youth mentor and survivor advocate at New Friends New Life, the Dallas-based nonprofit that offers a comprehensive program for formerly trafficked women and children.
The Hunter Legal Center, established in 2014 with a gift from alumni Ray L. ’65 and Nancy Ann Hunter Hunt ’65, is named in honor of Mrs. Hunt’s father, a distinguished judicial leader and public servant who served as a judge in Western Missouri for 38 years. The clinic’s services include helping trafficking survivors determine whether their criminal record convictions can be cleared either by order of nondisclosure or expungement. As public information, criminal records appear on housing, employment and other background checks and get in the way when victims try to rebuild their lives.
“Since its founding, the Hunter Center has worked to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not carry the burden of criminal convictions resulting from their victimization,” says Natalie Nanasi, director of the Hunter Legal Center and assistant professor of law.
For about four years, Hamilton worked with Nanasi and student attorneys who filed legal petitions to seal or expunge five convictions from her record, including three of her four felonies. In 2017, student attorneys began using the web-based Texas Fresh Start Application, a legal app developed by Dedman School of Law students to streamline the process.
“We have successfully represented many clients like Robbie and celebrate this hard-earned victory,” Nanasi says. “We will continue representing survivors, removing hurdles that inhibit their ability to move past the trauma they endured.”
Student attorneys in the Hunter Legal Center also engage in advocacy efforts, educating Texas lawmakers about the need to expand eligibility for post-conviction relief. “We will keep speaking out about this important issue,” Nanasi says. “And joining with partners, advocates and lawmakers to ensure that criminal histories cease to be a barrier to survivors’ healing.”
For Hamilton, the pardon vindicates her own hard work and the persistence of her legal team and New Friends colleagues. “This feels like being part of a shift toward seeing that women are the victims in trafficking and exploitation, not the criminals,” she says.
Now free to live wherever she likes, Hamilton plans to find a new apartment. She also wants to join a Dallas-based ministry that assists the homeless – an opportunity previously barred by her criminal record.
“I’m holding my head up higher,” she says. “I can look the world in the eye and know I have every opportunity that others do.”
– By Cherri Gann ’15