Help on Ice: St. Alban’s serves as warming center

By Andrea Zimmerman

Tuesday morning, Feb. 16, the winter storm had brought life in Waco to a halt. With our calendars suddenly empty, yet still being a goal-driven parent, I was in the middle of a Marvel Avengers Movie Marathon with our sons when my husband, Aaron, got a call. 

Aaron is rector (senior pastor) of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. The city was calling to take him up on his offer to open up the church’s new Parish Hall (what some churches call a fellowship hall) as a warming center. We had zero experience with this type of emergency but were glad to put our resources to use for the community. The church still had power and water, and since we live near the church, we could safely get there on foot. 

For us, like every other Wacoan, experiencing negative temperatures and an ice/snow/ice sandwich was dumbfounding and surreal. Couple that with the loss of power, heat, and water by so many, it created a real crisis for everyone. This was especially true for the most vulnerable in our community, many of whom depend on electricity for medical devices they need to live. 

Our family rushed to the church to arrange the space and prepare for the City of Waco to deliver cots and blankets. Our kids shoveled snow with the snow shovels we brought from our years living in Pennsylvania. I started coordinating the whole endeavor. 

Our social media (@stalbanswaco) got the word out that the space would be available. Then we started calling people to help; this effort was led by our associate rector, the Rev. Neal McGowan. We knew it would be challenging to find volunteers who could (1) get to the church, and (2) who were vaccinated against or who had active COVID-19 antibodies. We would soon see God provide. 

While doing all that, we were hit with the reality that we hadn’t used this space in the church since Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras) 2020. The kitchen was bare. Supplies were minimal. So we had to quickly figure out how to turn snacks from the Youth Room into enough food to feed our anticipated guests. 

It was not lost on us that it was in fact Shrove Tuesday 2021, the one-year anniversary of our grand opening of this new, beautiful, 5,000-square-foot space. We had intended to use the space to serve the congregation and community with lectures, seminars, events, and large gatherings, but had shut down due to the pandemic. Now, the space was coming back online, but in a new and surprising way as a warming center.  

As we opened our doors and guests arrived, it was clear St. Alban’s was equipped to serve the specific needs of our guests. Our first volunteer, who showed up out of the blue, was Elizabeth “Liz” Ligawa. Aaron had gotten to know Liz, a medical social worker and faith-based community organizer, through working together on the COVID-19 crisis. I was happy for the help, but at first I didn’t think we needed so much expertise. Well, it turns out we did, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

As we began to welcome guests, it became clear that some needed more than just a place to stay warm. For example, one extended family included a mom two days away from giving birth. They needed a way to keep warm while staying isolated and COVID-safe. We were so pleased (and so were they!) to place them in Higgins Parlor, a beautiful “living room” type space named for our founding minister. Here they had a private restroom and could isolate safely. 

Many churches, but especially Episcopal churches, concern themselves with feeding their guests. Our congregation’s life consists of pancake suppers, Lenten soup dinners, parish picnics and potlucks, newcomers’ wine-and-cheese parties, and big all-church catered dinners — and of course, that holy meal of bread and wine every Sunday. 

For me personally, when I’m hosting an event, I am especially concerned with feeding my guests. So our limited food options at the church presented quite the conundrum for me. Additionally, as a church, we were committed to loving these folks (and volunteers) with hot meals. 

Enter Corey McEntyre of Milo All Day and Danielle Young of Revival Eastside Eatery, who both reached out to us to donate prepared food. Between these two angels, we were able to not only serve every guest and volunteer for four days, we were able to send every guest home with food to cover at least a day, maybe two, of meals (remember, power was out and stores were empty at this point). We somehow managed to still have soup left when we closed the center, so our volunteers delivered it to elderly neighbors. 

Perhaps the most stunning piece of this experience was the way we were able to serve some guests with unique needs. With power and water out across town, one of our local hospitals could not discharge patients to their power-less homes since they depended on oxygen and required wheelchairs. Not only did we have space available to host them, I knew we could find the right medically-trained volunteers. 

Thanks to the many people who said “yes” to our calls — and were brave enough to drive through the tundra — we were able to provide around-the-clock care from a combination of nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals from our church and community. Thanks to the direction of Liz Ligawa, who was at this point our resident medical social worker, we did full assessments of each guest and were able to connect them with their regular medical services (home health, hospice, family, etc.). We were also able to secure oxygen so they could be transported home. When it became clear that power wouldn’t be restored to one of our guest’s homes for some time, we were able to get this guest into a skilled nursing facility who could meet their needs better than we could. 

Thanks to volunteers with four-wheel drive, we were able to send teams to check on the power and water situations at our guests’ homes. (We figured sending our guests to do the checking themselves — “wheelchairs and oxygen on ice” — was a bad idea). This also helped us connect with neighbors and assist them in this crisis. 

I can’t end this without telling a couple stories of ways the Waco community stepped up to meet specific needs. 

The first story relates to Mr. T, one of our guests, who mentioned to a volunteer that he really liked cereal. We didn’t have any cereal, so this volunteer made it her mission to find some. But she couldn’t find milk because there was no milk in Waco at this point. Well, not even 30 minutes later, the city showed up with a huge donation from Coca-Cola that included a milk drink perfect for cereal. So we sent this now-beloved guest home with milk, cereal, and a bunch of other food to get him situated until he could get to the store. 

The next story is about water. We were quickly running out of bottled water and with the looming possibility of a boil order, we were concerned we would not have clean water for our guests. While I was mentally cycling through options, a volunteer texted she was headed to the store and could she pick something up for us? “Water!” I said. She went to Mission Waco’s Jubilee Market, which graciously allowed her to purchase more than the ration. When she went to pay for the water and other supplies, the credit card machine was down and she was short on cash. Jubilee Market gave her a gift card to cover the rest of the supplies. Even with this water from Jubilee, we realized we would need more. At that moment, in walks a parishioner with several cases of water donated by the Robinson Fire Department. Not only did this meet the current needs at the warming center, this allowed us to send water home with every guest. 

Last story: flowers. Flowers? Yes. We are Episcopalians. We are flower people. We are Easter people. We do the fancy things. And to my surprise, on day two, some of our parishioners arrived with huge crates of beautiful flowers donated by H-E-B (where we usually get our Altar Flowers). They arranged and placed flowers all over the Parish Hall, bathrooms, kitchen, and anywhere with a flat surface. What an expression of God’s lavish love! Also, it helped freshen the air because we are on day “too many” of not having showered due to the water crisis. When the center closed, volunteers wrapped up the bouquets and delivered them to neighbors around the church. 

Wacoans, I could go on and on with stories about how your community met the specific needs of your neighbors in this time of crisis, and we were just one of the facilities serving last week. I think we all agree that this unwelcome historic weather event could have been the straw to break our already weary backs. And yes, we are still weary because we are still in multiple crises. But let’s take a break and rejoice in what just happened in our community. 

Take heart that some of our most vulnerable residents did not return home to freeze. On the contrary, they had wonderful care including hot drinks and gourmet meals. Not to mention, compassionate care from some of the finest medical professionals in town. Let’s be thankful we have excellent leadership in Waco, leadership that sees the community through such an unprecedented time. Well done, friends. Well done.

Andrea Zimmerman is a native Michigander, educated in New York City and has lived in Kazakhstan, Boston, Pittsburgh, Houston, and now Waco for nearly eight years. She has worked in the fashion, nonprofit, and churchy arenas. During non-COVID times, she works as a full time 4th & 5th grade tutor focusing on STAAR readiness at Provident Heights Elementary School. 

Special thanks to volunteers from St. Alban’s membership and staff: 

Sarah Aynesworth

Anna Beaudry

Troy Beaudry

Abel Castro

Stephanie Drum

Emily Edwards

Austin England

Susie Farley

Katherine Goodwin

Johnson Hagood

Vanessa Handy

Kenn Harding

Alan Jones

Stewart Kelly

Tracy Kelly

Michael Larsen

Kara Leslie

Missy Lowder

Neal McGowan

Darren Metting

Holden Miller

Sue Parrigin 

Jeff Raimondo

Angela Tekell

Jhonas Theill

Sue Townsend

Meghan Watkins

Christopher Williamson

Andy Wisely

John Wood

Aaron Zimmerman 

Abigail Zimmerman

Andrea Zimmerman 

Athan Zimmerman

August Zimmerman

Special thanks to Waco/McLennan County Community Members & Organizations:

Michael Attas

Linda Bostwick

Anna Clark-Martinez

Emma Clark-Martinez

Coca-Cola

Elesha Coffman

Lily Coffman

Ryan Dirker, Asst. Emergency Mgt. Coordinator, City of Waco

Amanda Harman

Clint Harp

Kelly Harp

H-E-B Floral Department 

M’Lissa Howen

Elizabeth Ligawa, MSW, Central Texas Interfaith

Corey McEntyre, Milo All Day Restaurant

Andy McSwain

Chris McSwain

Lee Pahimeyer 

Robinson Fire Dept

Noah Sutton

Waco Fire Department

Waco Transit

Melissa Wray

Danielle and Travis Young, Revival Eastside Eatery

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org. 

Baylor’s Lakia Scott working to improve urban literacy

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Lauren Combs 

Lakia Scott, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction with Baylor University’s School of Education, pursues research alongside teaching undergraduate and graduate students. She decided to dedicate her research to improve urban literacy. 

Lakia Scott

“My research for the last three years has been on the Freedom Schools program,” Scott said, “and that is a summer literacy initiative that is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund that helps to lessen summer reading loss.” 

Scott said students who don’t have access to resources like summer enrichment programs or tutoring opportunities typically fall six to nine months behind before returning to school in the fall. 

“They’re actually returning to school as if they are in the mid-year of their previous academic school year,” Scott said. The program she created and continues in partnership with the CDF model seeks to “reduce that learning loss, that summer reading gap, so that students can go back to school in a better frame of mind academically.” 

Scott said the Freedom Schools program uses culturally relevant texts at all levels that are developmentally appropriate to increase students’ exposure to reading. The students have three different opportunities to engage with texts throughout the day. 

“They’ve become more fluent readers. They also build comprehension skills because they’re reading things they really, really care about, and that makes all the difference,” Scott said. “Whereas a sixth grader may come to me on a fluent reading level of fourth grade or right under fifth grade, they may leave Freedom Schools in a 30-day time span over the course of two months at a seventh grade level.” 

Scott said the students who participate in this program are also positively impacted because they are appreciative of reading, academically motivated, and likely to become leaders in their classrooms and communities. 

“I know reading is only one of those core subjects taught,” Scott said, “but reading is seen in every other subject. And so if we don’t equip our students with those foundational literacy skills, it has long-term impacts.”

Waco ISD has a reading proficiency of 30%, which means 30% of the students in the district are reading at or above grade level. “My goal, if I were able to cast this larger vision for the City of Waco, would be to see that reading percentage increase exponentially to the 90 percentage range,” Scott said. 

Scott said the community has already been doing a lot to help achieve this goal, but she would like to continue to see community members making their presence known in the schools with opportunities like mentoring programs. She also encourages sororities, fraternities and other service-based organizations to continue being advocates in school settings. However, Scott also said there are other, less direct way to increase the literacy levels. 

“Something that I think is really overlooked is attending school board meetings. The presence of community members at school board meetings is powerful because so much happens there— the ways budgets are allocated, the ways resources are allocated— all of those things are talked about and discussed and voted upon at the school board level,” Scott said. 

Scott even encouraged community members to run for school board positions and community leadership opportunities. 

“If we are really serious about making change in ways that are going to positively affect the students that are in the community,” Scott said, “we need to be more vocal about it.”

Lauren Combs is a Baylor University sophomore from Virginia majoring in journalism who hopes to pursue magazine writing or public relations for nonprofits or ministries.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Waffle Chic’s Evans: ‘Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Skylla Mumana

For many new to the area, and even some long-term residents, navigating the city may prove difficult and finding things to do may seem even harder. However, local figures such as 38-year-old Shamica Evans are proving that the city has so much to offer. 

Shamica Evans

Evans is founder of Waffle Chic, a local food truck. There, she works to deliver classic Southern comfort food for the Waco public to enjoy. Her goal is to create community, which she continuously strives for by serving up fresh, mindful ingredients with a smile. She came up with the idea of her truck from her own personal experiences with single-motherhood.

“The name Waffle Chic originates from me being a single-parent with my kids,” she said. “The waffle is kind of like the mom, and the chicken is the chicks, my little chicks.” 

By selling chicken and waffles, Evans wanted to bring a fresh, new perspective to the food truck scene in Waco and expose the public to good, Southern cooking on the go. Inclusivity is a staple in her kitchen, and she strives to accommodate the needs of her customers every chance she gets.

“It’s healthier for those that are healthier, it’s still Southern for those that like Southern because I’m still using all the Southern spices. Kids can eat it, and older people can eat it, too,” Evans said. 

To Evans, Waco is a booming city that has room for both big and small businesses. She also thinks Waco continuously fosters a wholesome sense of community that rivals small towns. Growth and connection are two factors that help drive the Waco community and lead to what she describes as outstanding community building. 

“I don’t feel like we’re in competition. I just feel like we’re all growing with each other,” she said. “We’re a village here in Waco, and we’ve got plenty of giants who are willing to build empires and kingdoms with each other.” 

Evans is heavily involved in programs and organizations within the Waco area, such as Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Hewitt Chamber of Commerce. All of these organizations were instrumental in helping Waffle Chic get its start. Not only that, but Evans is also known to actively help out the homeless. Fueled by her faith and background, she hopes to give back to a community that gave so much to her. 

“They’re really the ones experiencing hardship,” Evans said. “I just see them as family as well, and still to this day each of them will come to my truck, and they’ll come to just say hello.” 

When it comes to describing how special Waco is, Evans had her own acronym to share.

“I could give Waco four words or phrases just by using the letters in its own name,” she said. “Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.”

By connecting food and community, Evans proves that not only does Waco have a variety of eateries to choose from, but it also is a city that is filled with people who inspire and prosper. 

“I’ve lived here in Waco my whole life,” Evans said. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else.”

Skylla Mumana is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University from San Antonio. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

‘Blasian’ family brings Cambodian food to Waco


In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Gi’erra Cottingham

Time does not always permit us to book a flight, pack a bag, and travel to experience foods around the world, but sometimes it comes to us. Two community leaders have brought Cambodian food to the heart of Waco. In 2016, Chevy and Mike DuBose introduced The Blasian Asian, an authentic Cambodian cuisine, in Union Hall. 

Mike and Chevy DuBose (right), with their, daughter Arianna, are with two of their employees, Aaron and Geneva.

“The menu is 100% Cambodian food,” Mike said. The word Blasian comes from the combination of their race and ethnicity. Mike is Black, and Chevy is Cambodian. “Our baby is a combination of Black and Asian,” DuBose said — Blasian.

“Mrs. DuBose and I lived in Seattle for about 20 years where I was an aeronautical engineer, and she did aerospace repair. I accepted a job promotion in Waco, but when we got here, she was really craving Cambodian food,” Mike said. “Eventually, she started cooking for me. I’d share the food with my staff, and they highly encouraged her to invest in a food truck. Our business took off from there. We’ve now migrated from the food trailer of three years to a restaurant in Union Hall that we began in March” last year.

The couple’s determination to fulfill their mission in sharing what they love with the Waco community is appreciated among local Waconians. The Blasian Asian was voted “Best Food Truck 2019” and “Best Asian Food 2020.”

“My personal favorite dish is the garlic fried rice. There are two popular dishes on our menu: the garlic fried rice and the Blasian itself,” Mike said. “The Blasian has a large variety that includes chicken, beef, pork, noodles, and egg rolls, while the garlic fried rice has been voted the best in Waco. Most customers have commented that they were obligated to use soy sauce at other restaurants to increase the flavor and didn’t need it for ours.”

Due to the couple’s community involvement and leadership duties, Chevy’s availability to consistently cook in the kitchen is slim. She oversees the quality of the food as she’s the only one who knows each Cambodian dish intimately, but most of her time is spent preparing and making sure the food meets her expectations, while The Blasian Asian’s employees are trained to cook and present the dishes. 

“Since we moved to Waco, my wife and I have been a part of community tasks. We are active members of the NAACP Waco chapter where we participate in meetings, functions, and events. We are also members of the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Mike said. 

The Blasian Asian’s owners have persevered during COVID-19 and are hopeful that other small businesses do the same. The couple began their dream from simply sharing Cambodian food with friends and has made it thus far despite setbacks. 

“The advice I would give to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is to keep on. This is temporary,” Mike said. “We have a lot of support from the community during this time, but the most important thing to remember is to not give up and find ways to reduce costs without shutting down.”

Gi’erra Cottingham is a freshman at Baylor University, majoring in broadcast journalism. She was born and raised in Houston where she attended Carnegie Vanguard High School. Her hobbies include being outdoors, spending time with family, and writing. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

MCC Hearts in the Arts Gala features mystery & fashion

By Kim Patterson

When I was a kid, my favorite board game was Clue. Something about being transported inside an imaginary mansion to solve a murder mystery awakened my inner detective, and I loved assuming a serious poker face as I deduced “whodunit.” 

If you, too, enjoy the fun of solving a mystery, join us for “Clue: The Musical” Hearts in the Arts Gala sponsored by McLennan Community College.  This year, due to recent weather disruptions, the event has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 4, at the MCC Ball Performing Arts Center. 

Now in its 19th year, the Hearts in the Arts Gala has become a community favorite with its blend of dining and a musical performed by McLennan Theatre students.  This year’s production provides loads of inspiration for patrons who enjoy dressing to the theme of the show, and Professor Plum and Miss Scarlet are already on the guest list. 

Kermit Oliver
(photo courtesy of Waco Tribune-Herald)

Adding to the fun, and also extended one week, are ticket sales for a chance to win one of two Hermès scarves designed and autographed by internationally renowned Waco artist Kermit Oliver. Oliver is the only American artist ever commissioned for the exclusive Hermès Paris fashion house. Generous supporters of McLennan Arts donated the scarves and acquired the autographs on Oliver’s highly sought-after Kachinas and Pawnee designs. An Hermès scarf bearing Oliver’s unique artwork and signature is exceptionally rare and virtually priceless.

Hermès Kachinas Scarf

Tickets for the Scarf in the Arts raffle are $20 each or six for $100 and are available online until 11:59 p.m., March 3 at www.mclennan.edu/foundation/scarfinthearts. Tickets may be purchased in person at the March 4 Gala until intermission when the winning tickets will be drawn. Winner need not be present to win.

“Clue: The Musical” opened off Broadway in 1997 to mixed reviews, but the clever show has experienced a renaissance in community theatre in years since. The musical offers an interactive feature in which audience members help determine which of the show’s colorful characters killed Mr. Boddy, what weapon they used and in which room of Boddy Mansion the murder took place. Based on the cards drawn, there are 216 possible endings to the show — a feature that will challenge the acting chops of the cast. The McLennan production will be directed by theatre faculty choreographer Joe Taylor.

In-person tickets for the Gala are sold out, but virtual guests may view a live stream of the production at a secure link. Tickets are $100 each and include a generous voucher for dining at Di Campli’s Italian Ristorante in lieu of the usual cocktail dinner.

Hearts in the Arts is an affinity group of the MCC Foundation that supports the arts at McLennan, and event and raffle proceeds benefit scholarships for area students. Gala reservations are due by Thursday, Feb. 25. To make reservations, or to inquire about the Scarf in the Arts raffle, contact the McLennan Community College Foundation at 254-299-8604 or reservations@mclennan.edu.

Kim Patterson is executive director of McLennan Community College Foundation and the Office of Institutional Advancement. Patterson is a graduate of Baylor University with degrees in journalism and marketing. In 2017, she earned a master’s degree in management and leadership from Tarleton State University. She and her husband Frank have two grown children and enjoy camping, fishing, and hiking. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Jury Service: Moving from “How can I get out of it?” to “How can I be faithful?”

By Rev. Susan Finck

Because I come from a family of lawyers and almost became one myself, I am usually drawn to all things legal. But I must confess, when I received a little white card in the mail summoning me for jury duty, I was contemplating how I might avoid serving. How could I have enough time for sermon preparation? What about my other responsibilities? What if I got “stuck” on a horrible, violent case? I knew it was part of my responsibility of being a citizen, so I headed downtown, wrestling with my inner objections.  

I was chosen first for the larger panel, and my interest and curiosity turned to concern as we were seated. I noticed the racial disparity in the room.  The defendant was the only AfricanAmerican.  Perhaps two of the 50 or so potential jurors might have been Hispanic or people of color. Everyone else was white: the attorneys, the judge — even the bailiff. (The room did not reflect our county: 55% white, 27% Hispanic, 15% Black.) “How does he feel?” I wondered, as I looked at the defendant. 

My mind flashed back to all I had read about Waco’s troubled racial history, and the racial history in this country. From slavery, to reconstruction, then Jim Crow.  The segregation that had been entrenched in our own community, that my older church members recall vividly. The phenomenon of mass incarceration throughout our country. “Will he be able to truly get a fair trial?” I wondered, as I looked at his court-appointed attorney. I know they are frequently overloaded with cases and often can’t provide the same high quality defense that money can buy.   

Then I was chosen for what became an all-white jury of 12. It was the defendant’s fourth DUI, and he was arrested after swerving markedly while driving (without a license) and testing substantially over the legal blood alcohol limit. The prosecutor presented a video where we saw the car swerving, and we heard the officer’s respectful, appropriate interaction with the defendant. We saw documentation of the defendant’s blood alcohol level. Sadly, I voted for a guilty verdict.  

After being seated in the courtroom once again, we heard information we had to consider when issuing the “punishment.” Here is where I agonized. The prosecution was recommending a sentence that could put him in prison the rest of his life, since he was an older man. I asked if there was a way that we could sentence the defendant to mandatory confinement in a rehab facility or other location where he could receive the medical/psychological intervention we all felt he needed.  I asked about alternatives: programs to help him, rehabilitation.  He had been sentenced to those before and had done well while in prison.  The problem was when he would get out of prison, “family members couldn’t keep him from behind a wheel.”     

It took us several hours to deliberate the “punishment phase.” Most of the jurors were ready to hand down the recommended sentence.   I was overcome with the weightiness of our task. We would be responsible for sending a man away from his family and depriving him of his freedom.   We also had a duty to protect society.  There wasn’t a good solution.  It was sad and hard — made harder by the racial dynamic.

“I need for us to ask ourselves the question,” I said. “If he was white, would we be taking this same course of action?” I got a mix of responses, all from the perspective of “color doesn’t matter.” One of the other jurors confronted me: “If he goes free, and you pick up the Trib and read where he kills a child, how are you going to feel?” Obviously we are weighing odds and probability. I changed my vote. 

We were escorted back into the courtroom. His family filled two rows of the gallery, the only African-Americans present. I was praying as I looked around. Then, one of the older women caught my eye. It was like she read my thoughts, overhearing my prayer. For an extended moment, we were connected. 

I’m not usually a cry-er. As much as I tried to fight it, and as much as I was embarrassed, I cried in the jury box that day. I cried for the family. I cried for the defendant. I cried for our history in Waco; and for “the system.” I cried from the weight of the decisions I had to participate in.  

I came away from that experience with a deepening of a conviction that we need more attorneys in our county who are people of color. And jurors, especially jurors. Jury service pulled me out of my own self-focus and broadened my perspective, making me more passionate about the justice I say I believe in. I found many of my beliefs and biases challenged; I had to choose between a list of heartbreaking options.  How “severe” was what he had done? How do we equate that with a number of years of someone’s life?

How did depriving him of his freedom balance with protecting society or even his own life?  

If you get the little white card in the mail, I want to encourage you to think beyond how you might be inconvenienced. Jury service will cost your time and your mental and intellectual energy. You will have to find others to cover work and home responsibilities. Things will go undone. But it takes all of us to make our society work and work fairly. 

The little white card may be your invitation to be faithful to your values or your God, if you are a person of faith. Instead of, “Oh, no, how can I get out of this?” What if you thought: “If I am called, I will willingly serve to do my part to witness for truth and justice. My voice, in dialogue with those of my fellow community members, is needed.”   

Besides serving if you are called, I want to invite you to think of any Hispanic or Black young adults you know who might make good lawyers.  Ask them if they’ve considered this path. Tell them you can see them in this role. Encourage. Plant that seed.  

Finally, join Waco NAACP Black History Month Criminal Justice Series (on Zoom): 

Who Let George Zimmerman Go?: How Being a Juror Serves Justice,” 6:30-8 p.m., Feb. 22, free. One juror could have prevented George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, from being acquitted. Yet, African Americans are routinely prevented from serving on jurors. Worse, many African Americans actively work to avoid jury duty. William Snowden, founder of The Juror Project, aims to eliminate both these problems.

“Breonna Taylor Could Have Gotten Justice: The Power of Grand Juries,” Feb. 28, 6:30-8 p.m., free. Had the members of the grand jury who heard the Breonna Taylor case known the power they had to call witnesses or issue subpoenas, the outcome might have been different. Award winning, board-certified Criminal Defense attorney Tyrone Moncriffe, explains the grand jury procedure, the power that jurors have, and why it is crucial that African Americans serve on them. 

Rev. Susan Finck serves as the pastor of El Calvario Presbyterian Church in North Waco and a board member for Greater Waco Legal Services. She is passionate about literacy and education in our city, and encouraging opportunity for everyone to fulfill their callings. She and her husband, Dr. Bill Lockhart, a long-time instructor at McLennan Community College, have lived in Waco since 2001. They have four adult children and two grandchildren.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

College Access Network urges students to finish strong & reach postsecondary goals

By Hermann Pereira

I grew up around sports and have always revered the role of the coach. The coach sets the tone and is always focused on making sure their players are prepared to begin well and to finish strong. 

Coaching concept. Chart with keywords and icons

In local education, we have a group that functions as community coaches — McLennan County College Access Network, which is a network of professionals who work in the K-12 and higher education space. They meet monthly to discuss how they can support students and families as they look to make college and career access more equitable across our county. 

Members of this network serve as coaches of our McLennan County students and are urging students to finish strong and reach their postsecondary goals. I have complete faith in our community coaches in this space, but I want to encourage you to become an honorary assistant coach along with us. A couple of key conversations that you could help with are:

— Have active dialogue with any high school student about their future. Share with them how you got into your career and what lessons you have learned.

— Remind students to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

— Share with students the higher education opportunities that exist in McLennan County. Between Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Texas State Technical College students can find just about any degree they are interested in. 

— Encourage students to meet with their high school counselors. Counselors play a pivotal part in this process and just about all of them are available by phone, email, Zoom, or in person. 

I hope you will step up and become an assistant coach with us because community-wide issues require community-wide involvement. If you have any questions or would like to hear additional ways to get involved please reach out to me at hermann@prosperwaco.org.

Hermann Pereira is Prosper Waco’s senior content specialist for education.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Baylor professor enjoying Waco & giving to future generations

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By George Schroeder

Mia Moody-Ramirez came to Waco for a job 31 years ago and ended up staying to pursue more education and a new career path. “Waco really grows on you,” she said. “It’s the right size, not too small, not too big, and I like that Waco is centrally located.”

Mia Moody-Ramirez

She moved to Waco in 1990 to work with the Waco Tribune-Herald. Then, while pursuing her master’s degree in journalism at Baylor University, Moody-Ramirez was asked to teach a class.

“I found out it was something that I was passionate about, and I decided to pursue teaching,” Moody-Ramirez said. “After graduating with my master’s degree, I decided to immediately go on and get a Ph.D. in journalism and after I got my Ph.D. I just stayed on at Baylor.”

Today, she is chair of Baylor’s journalism, public relations, and new media department.

Though she thought she would move on to a larger city after receiving her degrees from Baylor, she wanted to continue working at Baylor and decided Waco would be a good place to raise her family. 

Moody-Ramirez appreciates the simpler, more affordable aspects of Waco. She loves to walk with her family around downtown, along the Brazos River, and around the various parks and lakes. 

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun,” Moody-Ramirez said. “You can just walk around and take pictures. It’s beautiful. It’s very scenic, so I like that part about Waco.”

While her sons, much of her time revolved around them and involved taking them to their various activities, Moody-Ramirez said. As they have gotten older, she has been able to focus on more of what interests her around Waco. 

“I like to go to wine tastings, book readings, poetry readings, just pretty chill events like that, that are melo where I can relax,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I’ve pretty much been shut in since March, but traditionally those are some of the things I would do.”

Apart from leisurely activities, Moody-Ramirez is a member of three organizations in Waco — Jack and Jill of America, The Links, and Delta Sigma Theta. Many of their events have gone virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

These organizations revolve around service and civic engagement, she said, and most of her activity is now centered around them. When it comes to local events, she likes a two-pronged approach.

“They are fun on one hand but are also sponsored so you can raise money to give back to an organization,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I like to give back to organizations that are focused on you, organizations that will have an impact on our future generations, on children.”

Specifically focusing on children with the Waco Chapter of Jack and Jill, Moody-Ramirez attends “Jazzy for a Healthy Heart” every January. At this event, having a strong heart is promoted through healthy food, jazz music, and various speakers.

“It’s one of the things I look forward to every year,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I like that organization because I participate in it with my children. The money we raise from that event will go to an organization that’s for children.”

With her emphasis on giving back to the community and specifically younger generations, Moody-Ramirez has become a valued member of the Waco community, and is a caring teacher and leading voice at Baylor.

George Schroeder is a journalism student at Baylor University.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Stewart brings leadership & compassion to his ‘home community’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Kristin Hookassian

Local heroes make efforts to ensure their communities are not only taken care of but embraced. They make changes in their community and create relationships with the people in them. 

James Stewart, Jr.

James Stewart, Jr., is a local hero in Waco and Waco ISD.  He is principal of Waco High School. After graduating from Waco High School in 1997, he attended Southwest Texas State University to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration in management and finance while playing football. 

He then earned his master’s degree in education administration at Tarleton State University. 

Stewart began his educational career in his hometown of Waco. He took a leadership role as the athletic campus coordinator at Lake Air Middle School in 2002. He then began his work at Waco High School to coach football and track while teaching computer and business classes for six years. He worked as an assistant principal at Waco High 2014-2018 and as principal at Carver Middle School in 2019. 

Born and raised in Waco, Stewart said he knew he wanted to work in his hometown after working his first job.

“My first job out of college was working with Wells Fargo for about two years. I like the small-town feel; there’s not too much of a small-town feel anymore. I got involved with coaching and teaching because of 9/11 and the connections I had with former teachers, mentors, people that raised me along the way,” Stewart said. “So, I figured, why not Waco? I figured if I was going to do something in the community, I figured I’d want to do it for my home community.”

Stewart’s compassion and overall influence on Waco ISD students was largely based upon his experience growing up in Waco.

“I know what it’s like to come from generational poverty and so to try to come back and explain to kids, ‘Hey there’s a lot more outside of the city that you may not get to experience.’ So, I’m trying to make sure that they understand that education is the ticket out,” Stewart said. 

He gives his students advice about life beyond classrooms and cafeterias.

“One thing I say on the announcements quite often is, ‘You have to get paper to make paper.’ First you have to get your diploma, then you have to work on getting a certificate of a trade or some kind of a degree,” he said.

Since working with Waco ISD, Stewart has made it a priority to make changes in his community starting with the most vulnerable.

“I usually mentor at least two young boys and try to take them, when I take my daughters to Texas State games or college games, I try to give those kids an opportunity to come with me and my family, so they get to see what college life is like,” Stewart said. My biggest calling is to “give other kids the exposure or chance to see what it’s like outside Waco.”

Seeing local kids grow and mature is the most rewarding part of his career in education. Kids come in as “squirrely freshmen,” but they mature and learn to “walk away from incidents that they didn’t walk away from when they were freshmen.” They grow into young adults, and “that’s the biggest highlight as a professional,” Stewart said.

Kristin Hookassian is a junior psychology and advertising student at Baylor University. She is from Tennessee. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

McLennan’s first Black commissioner encourages others to get involved

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Lauren Boyt

McLennan County Commissioner Pat Miller has a unique view of the Waco community, as she has served on several local committees for over 20 years. Being the first Black woman to serve on the commissioners court, the Precinct 2 representative knows a few things about the ins and outs of local government and its importance in the lives of everyday people. 

County Commissioner Pat Miller

With 23 years of experience, Miller easily won her position on the court back in 2018. She said she knew not many people were as qualified as her, which gave her the confidence to run. 

Miller said the commissioners court “has always been a gentlemen’s club.” There are 254 counties in Texas, with 1,014 commissioners total. At the time Miller ran, only 50 women and six Black women served in the role statewide. 

Miller has paved the way for not just women, but specifically Black women in local government. 

“What I hope that my term on the court says to young women is that the ceiling is only as high as your talents and your vision. Nothing out there is off limits or out of reach,” Miller said. 

Miller has served on many councils, including Live Oak Classical School Community Outreach and Engagement Committee, Community Race Relations Coalition Board of Directors, the Eastern Waco Development Corp. Board of Directors, Compassion Ministries Board of Directors, United Way Allocations Committee, and the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board. 

The commissioner has noticed county government to be unknown to many citizens, which is interesting to her because, “it touches our day-to-day lives in ways people don’t really realize,” Miller said. 

Miller strongly recommends watching and attending city council, commissioners court, and school board meetings as a way to begin involvement in local government. Miller said those three areas of government “touch your lives in all ways.”

“To really be in tune with what is happening to you and your children, you need to at a minimum watch [the meetings] on TV,” Miller said. 

Watching and attending meetings, volunteering to be on commissions and taking advantage of connections is the best way to get involved in local government. Miller said attending these meetings might pique one’s interests in a specific area. One can then reach out to the person in charge of that commission or coalition to ask for ways to be involved. 

“We all crave volunteers, especially young volunteers to start serving and working in some capacity with us. It won’t be hard to get pulled in as long as you avail yourself,” Miller said. 

Reminiscing on the personal effect of her time in local government so far, Miller said, “a lot of my long-lasting alliances have come through a period of crisis that working through has evolved into long-lasting friendships.”

Miller loves her Waco community and is dedicated to serving it. She has enjoyed friendships that have lasted decades.

Waco is “kind of like coming home to grandma; it’s welcoming, it’s warm, and it’s nurturing for all intents and purposes,” Miller said. “Anyone that comes to Waco should get the sense that Waco wants you to succeed.” 

Lauren Boyt is a sophomore public relations major at Baylor University from Midland. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.