Honoring our veterans: a different perspective

By Robert J. Rush, Sr.

Robert J. Rush, Sr.

My brother, Frank, recently sent me a link to an article about a history making event at the navy.  The article is entitled “A Military 1st: A Supercarrier Is Named After An African American Sailor.” He correctly thought I would particularly be interested as a retired sailor.  He was more than correct.

The article goes on to explain that the event was particularly amazing because super carriers are normally named after U. S. presidents, not enlisted sailors, and especially not enlisted ‘Black’ sailors.  Well, you should be proud to know that according to the article, a supercarrier now on the drawing boards will be christened the USS Doris Miller, after our own Doris Miller from Waco, Texas.  That is an awesome honor.  

After reading the article, I thanked Frank and decided to expound on the story some, providing a brief historical update on Blacks in the navy since the days of the heroic actions of Doris Miller.  I would like to share that with you.

As covered in the article, the heroic actions of Doris Miller in the heat of battle demonstrated to many that Blacks could do more in service to our country that just be messmen or stewards, who took care of naval officers by laying out their clothes, shining their shoes and serving their meals.  That’s almost all we were allowed to do at the time in 1941.  Even touching the guns and firing them as Doris Miller did was against the regulations at that time.  However, his actions caused many senior military and non-military leaders to rethink how Blacks were being used in the navy.  The impact of what he had done started the navy to training Black sailors for other rates/jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman and radar operator.   It even started them to think about the idea of having a Black naval officer.

Projecting the story a little forward in history, the navy decided to give the idea of making Black officers a try.  First the navy experimented in 1944 by selecting 16 enlisted Blacks to be secluded and trained to become naval officers.  This ultimately led to the “Golden 13,” the first group of Black naval officers (12 commissioned officers and 1 Warrant Officer).  Seems the navy just arbitrarily chose 13 of the 16 though all of them excelled and passed all of the tests.  One claim was that by doing so, it kept the commissioning percentage in line with the other commissioning sources.

Later, in 1945, the esteemed Naval Academy admitted six Blacks into its halls as midshipmen, including Wesley Brown.  The five men who came before Brown as Midshipmen were chased out of the academy altogether.  (No reason was given in the source articles).  So, Brown was the first to make it to graduation/commissioning in 1949.  From there he forged a successful 25-year naval career, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4).

Fast forward again and the navy tried another experiment.  They experimented with commissioning Black officers into the navy through a traditional Historically Black College or University (HBCU).  They tried this in 1968, choosing Prairie View A&M as that HBCU, out of three HBCUs that were being considered.  That’s how PV got it’s NROTC unit, of which I (from Waco, TX) became an original member in 1968, my freshman year there.  

To complete the unit, in addition to our freshman class, they allowed some upper-class army ROTC students to switch over to the NROTC.  The first class of the PV NROTC graduated and received their commission in 1970.  There were 13 of them.  They chose to revive the moniker, the Golden 13.  That class set records for performance during their time in service, yielding 6 or 7 O-6 and above officers (i.e., naval Captains and Admirals) out of that class.  This was and remains today to be an unprecedented percentage for the whole navy’s commissioning sources, including the Naval Academy.

My class graduated in 1972 as the first, full 4-year class from the historic unit.  After 20 years of active service, I retired in 1992 as a Lieutenant Commander (O-4).  We all celebrated the unit’s history back in 2018 at the 50th Anniversary ceremony of the PV NROTC unit.  Johnitha and Rashaad supported me by attending the event with me.  They got the opportunity to see and hear about the proud history of our unit.  They also got to meet my best friend from my active days in the navy, CWO4 Dean Johnson, who has since gone to be with our Lord and Maker.  As an aside, some others of you may remember meeting Dean.  He and his wife Karen came to Waco to support me at Mary’s funeral.  

How about that for fitting the Doris Miller story into an even larger story with even more personal and Waco relevance?  Coincidental to us, especially considering I never planned to have anything to do with the military.  Not coincidental to God, who has blessed me all along the way and continues to do so each and every day.

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of The Anchor NewsThe Anchor News is a free, monthly publication of Crawford Publishing.  The Anchor News is dedicated to serving the community and surrounding area, focusing on positive news and accomplishments of minorities.  For more information about The Anchor News including how to subscribe or where to pick up a copy, please visit The Anchor News website.

New MCC project aimed at increasing success of Hispanic and underserved students

By Olivia Evans

McLennan Community College has a long-standing focus on providing quality education to under-served populations in Central Texas. The College will continue those efforts with the help of a $3 million Title V grant from the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Program of the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will fund a project entitled First Year Focus: Developing Academic and Co-Curricular Student Support Structures to Improve First Year Outcomes. The College will receive about $600,000 annually over a five-year period.

With this project, McLennan will work to increase course completion, graduation, and transfer rates of Hispanic, low-income, and first-time-in-college students. The primary goal is “to build innovative support structures to create enriching academic opportunities that foster student success.”

“When students drop out or stop out, most of the time it’s not because they can’t do the work. It’s because life gets in the way. Providing more support will help them overcome the barriers that derail their progress,” says Paula Unger, McLennan sociology professor and grant project director.

To serve McLennan’s Hispanic and other underserved students, the program will implement a three-pronged approach to supporting first-year students: student engagement, supplemental instruction, and revamping the freshman orientation course, Learning Framework. This restructuring will focus on academic support services, peer leadership, career planning, financial literacy, and cultural competency.

“Our Title V efforts are about equity and meeting students where they are,” says Unger.

The First-Year Focus Team is confident that these newly-implemented programs and resources will be beneficial not only to Hispanic students in achieving academic success, but to all first year and returning McLennan students as well.

“As a College, we can’t progress if those who need a little extra help are ignored or left behind. Our community needs everyone’s gifts,” says Unger.

Olivia Evans is an intern in McLennan Community College’s Marketing and Communications office. She is a senior at Baylor University studying Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Olivia is a Houston, Texas native and plans to work in sports and entertainment digital marketing.

Civic Insights: Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Coming to a Road Near You

(City council, school board, planning commission, county commissioners – these groups and several others represent us.  They do the day to day work of running our community. It is our responsibility to keep informed about their work so that we can help them represent us effectively.  “Civic Insights” by Jeffrey Vitarius is a regular feature of Act Locally Waco.  Its purpose is to help us understand decisions that shape our community so that we can participate effectively as informed, engaged residents of Waco. – ALW)  

By Jeffrey Vitarius

On Tuesday November 10, 2020, the Budget & Audit committee of the City Council met. Their only discussion item was a review of the proposed Capital Improvements Program (CIP) and the associated debt impacts. Let’s breakdown what all this means and how it relates to the street in front of your house.

What is the Budget & Audit committee of the City Council?

This is the group of City Council members charged with taking a closer look at the city’s budget and audit functions.

So, is the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) a kind of budget?

Well, it is similar to one. Broadly speaking the city “budget” can be thought of as broken down into two parts, the operating budget and the CIP. The operating budget covers the services the city provides as well as its day-to-day work (we touched on an interesting summary of these services last week).The CIP covers large-scale projects. As this year’s budget explains “The CIP includes those items typically thought of as ‘infrastructure’ – streets, water and wastewater lines” (hmmm…streets, water, and wastewater sound familiar). 

Since the CIP involves projects that span over multiple years, involve large dollar amounts, and often have a variety of funding sources (including debt) they are dealt with through a process separate from the operating budget.

Why is the CIP being dealt with now? Wasn’t the budget process in September?

In previous years, the CIP was developed at the same time as the operating budget (prior to September). This year, however, there was a change. The CIP process was moved to the winter after the budget process was concluded. 

There were a number of reasons for the change, but two stand out. First, moving the CIP to its own time of the year allows staff and the City Council to focus on it alone in the winter rather than trying to split focus between developing the CIP and the operating budget. Second, moving the CIP to winter means that staff can work with certified property values.

As you may remember back when the Operating budget was adopted, the McLennan County Appraisal District was only able to issue a certified estimate of property values in Waco. At the time almost $1.8 billion dollars of value was still being protested (meaning it was still unclear exactly what those properties would be valued at and how much property tax revenue they would generate). The potential changes from the protest process make it difficult to build any kind of budget, but they are particularly problematic when you have to project a budget out for the multiple years required for CIP development. 

So what does the CIP tell us?

In the broadest sense the CIP is a list of all the “infrastructure” projects the city plans to tackle during the year along with how it plans to pay for them.

What has happened so far in the process?

Back at its September 8th meeting the Budget and Audit Committee discussed the timeline change noted above. In October they held a preliminary discussion with staff regarding priorities. This week they reviewed the CIP drafted by staff in response to the discussion in October. 

What is in this year’s proposed CIP?

Details of the proposed CIP can be found in the meeting packet for this week’s Budget and Audit Committee meeting. From a high level this CIP proposes $112,879,149 of capital spending in fiscal year 2021. $31,635,519 is planned for streets (see map below), $1,050,000 for park development, $6,150,000 for solid waste, $7,595,000 for airport improvements (mostly funded by CARES act funding), and finally $66,448,630 for utilities (water and wastewater).

The other critical part of the CIP is how all these projects are to be funded. A substantial part of the costs listed above are planned to be covered by the issuance of new debt (approximately 71%). The City staff is aiming to issue this debt in early 2021 (how the City issues debt is an interesting topic for a different time). 

One last interesting take away from the proposed CIP is the chart below. It references a measure called PCI. This stands for pavement condition index. In short this is a metric for measuring the quality of streets. It runs from 0 to 100. This chart compares spending on various kinds of roadwork to their PCI impact. Overall, the anticipated PCI change is 1.43 (including the natural decay of the existing inventory). This would move Waco from 49.3 to 50.73 (an improvement of 3%). 

What comes next?

  • December 15th – City Council plans to approve resolution related to the issuance of debt for capital projects
  • February 2nd – City Council plans to approve final CIP

Meeting Basics 

  • Budget & Audit Committee Regular meeting – Tuesday, November 10, 2020, 1:30 pm
  • To watch the recorded session click here (City of Waco Cable Channel on YouTube)
  • For the full agenda click here
  • For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here

Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and spearheaded its Vision 2025 process. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.

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 ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.