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.

Tiffani Johnson enjoys Waco & its people

By Erianne Lewis

On any given day, Tiffani Johnson could be found doing something to enrich the Waco community, whether through her job at United Way or in her free time as a Wacoan.

Tiffani Johnson

Johnson, senior director of impact and engagement for United Way of Waco-McLennan County, has held this position with United Way since January 2018. After graduating from college, Johnson was undecided on what she wanted to pursue — due to her various interests — so she decided to serve in the Marine Corps for four years. 

“It was one of the most gratifying experiences and has greatly contributed to the person I am today, the leader I am today,” Johnson said.

Not only does Johnson care for the city, but she cares for the people within the community. Prior to working with United Way, Johnson worked for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and as a teacher in Waco Independent School District. She became teary-eyed when reminiscing on her days as a teacher in WISD. 

Her work with United Way, “allows me to do that work in a different way” with health and education. “But I am still able to connect with the community again to understand what it is that the community wants,” Johnson said. “To help convene local people to make sure that we can begin to help support families in a way that will benefit them and help them to thrive in the county.”

The complexities of Johnson’s position cause every day to be a different experience, which she said that she enjoys.

“There isn’t really a normal day, which I’m excited about,” Johnson said. “I think what draws me to the community is that no day looks the same.”

Johnson has lived in Waco for the last 17 years, having lived in major cities beforehand. She said she enjoys that the people of Waco are unlike people in other cities; they have a strong willingness to dream.

“I think the people of Waco have a vision for who we can be and where we can be, and I see people working towards that, that’s exciting,” Johnson said. “I continue to see people from various communities across the county come together.”

Johnson said she spends her time off enjoying Waco’s outdoors or being with family.

“My favorite places are really outdoors. If it’s not hanging at home with my kids, which is my absolute favorite place, it is being somewhere near water. If I can go sit by Lake Waco at Woodway Park, I will do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s love of Waco is evident in the way she lights up when speaking about it. One of the many things she enjoys about Waco is how accessible community leaders are, Johnson said. 

“[They are] really open minded, and they are of one accord about how we can make greater change here,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she tries to use her job to help the people of Waco to feel appreciated and loved. 

“It’s vitally important to me that there is an avenue with which people from various communities and neighborhoods throughout Waco can speak how they feel. They can speak their aspirations for what they want this community to be,” Johnson said.

Erianne Lewis is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University and hopes to work in print journalism after college.

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.

City of Waco responds to winter weather

By City of Waco Public Information

CITY OPERATING WITH ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL THROUGH WEDNESDAY

Citizens are encouraged to please stay off the roads, conserve energy and be safe!  Protect your family (pets included), pipes and plants.

CLOSURES

The following City facilities and operations will be closed through Wednesday, February 17th. We’ll update with changes as soon as they are made available.

Cameron Park Zoo, Cottonwood Creek Golf Course, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, all branches of the Waco-McLennan County Library, Waco Mammoth National Monument, all community centers (except identified Warming Centers) Cobbs Recycling Center will be closed Wednesday and then evaluated for future opening.

WARMING CENTERS

The City has warming centers currently open at locations around town for residents without power to get warm.

You may stay overnight if needed, COVID-19 restrictions will be in place (masks required), power is currently available, but there is a possibility of power outage at any point. Please bring your own snacks, blankets and warm clothes as needed.

Please drive safely and share with those who may need it – more locations to be evaluated.

·         South Waco Community Center (2815 Speight)

·         Highland Baptist Church (3014 Maple Avenue)

·         Dewey Community Center (925 N. 9th Street)

·         St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (enter from 2900 W Waco Drive)

TRANSPORTATION TO WARMING CENTERS

Waco Transit System is providing rides to warming centers for those in need. Please call (254) 405-4247 and they will make arrangements to pick you up safely. Available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (warming centers only, please).

TRASH PICK-UP

Solid Waste Services has made the decision to cancel residential & commercial collection for Wednesday (2/17). We are evaluating when we’ll make up missed collection days and appreciate your patience. We will notify through our Waco Curbside App and post all updates.  DOWNLOAD THE APP — For immediate alerts affecting your household trash service, download the Waco Curbside Services App available on Google Play and Apple App Store.

COVID VACCINATIONS

Persons who missed their appointments to receive the COVID vaccine last week and those who are due for their second dose are being called to be given an appointment for this Friday and Saturday.  After those are scheduled we will contact those in the 1A and 1B phases of the DSHS directive who are signed up on our waitlist.  We hope to hear about our next shipment of vaccines soon.  When we do, we will continue scheduling from the waitlist.  

COVID Testing

The Texas Department of Emergency Management has closed public COVID testing sites until February 18, 2021.

Urgent Need to Conserve Energy

Demand for electricity continues to be at unprecedented levels. Conservation efforts are extremely important during this historic winter storm as it continues.  All residents and businesses should to continue to conserve energy to help maintain service for our most critical human needs customers.

Conservation Efforts:

  • Lower your thermostat to at least 68 degrees.
  • Businesses should minimize energy usage as much as possible.
  • Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees.
  • Never use an oven or a gas stovetop to heat your home.
  • Unplug electronic devices and turn off lights that are not in use.
  • Reduce shower time and avoid baths.
  • Refrain from using large appliances like your washer, dryer, oven, and dishwasher for the next few days.
  • When in use, limit opening the oven door to prevent wasted energy.
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning.
  • Avoid using your natural gas fireplace, if possible.
  • If you have a pool, do not use the pool heater. Instead, run your pool pump during the coldest part of the day to circulate the water and prevent freezing.

CITY UPDATES:

PUBLIC WORKS: Street/ Traffic

·         Treat dark intersections without signage as four-way stops.

·         Due to outages on various traffic signals, road conditions, and long-term nature of the event, some lights will be in red flash around town when lights malfunction.

·         Streets remains on-call all and will continue to be.

·         Supervisors have been monitoring bridges and street segments routinely and will continue.

·         Trucks and crews are working around the clock to sand Waco streets.

TRANSIT

·         Fixed routes and Para-transit services are suspended.

Municipal Court

·         Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Solid Waste

·         Trash collection for residential and commercial customers is cancelled through Wednesday as we evaluate when to continue and make up the days missed.

·         Cobb’s Recycling Center is closed on Wednesday.

·         The Landfill remains open with limited staffing.

Water Utility Services

·         Staff is expecting an increase in water line breaks and an increase in calls for emergency shut-offs because of broken private plumbing lines. Staff is ready to respond to the changing conditions by bringing in additional crews and call center staff as needed.

Parks & Recreation

·         Tree crew on standby to address issues for any trees affected by the weather.

Development Services

·         Inspection staff will contact anyone whose inspection will need to be rescheduled.

·         Inspectors will be on call for any emergency inspections needed for gas/power reconnects/hookups.

Additional Information and Resources

·         Information on outages – ONCOR

·         Report an outage -or- call 888.313.4747

·         Please do not travel, but if you must here are some tips from TXDOT for winter travel and driving safety: https://www.txdot.gov/driver/weather/winter-travel.html

·         To report a dangerous road condition please call the non-emergency dispatch line 254-750-7500

·         To report a water main break or loss of water you can call 254-299-2489. If the issue is due to frozen or busted pipes at your house, please call a plumber.

Hispanic Chamber employee urges Wacoans 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 Julia-Rachel Dominguez

Dytrun Thirkill, an accountant at Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has lived in Waco since college and never left because he found the community so admirable.

Dytrun Thirkill

Thirkill was born two hours away in Jacksonville, and attended McLennan Community College in Waco. He studied accounting and got an internship with Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber. He has now been working there for eight years. 

“I enjoy my position a lot because it’s what I wanted to do, but also, once I got this position, it opens up more opportunities for me in the future,” Thirkill said. 

Thirkill is very involved in Waco. He serves on the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corp. Board. According to its website, the EOAC’s aim is that “every individual has the opportunity to contribute to the full elimination of poverty.”  

Thirkill is involved with the United Way Financial Committee, as well. On its website, United Way says its mission is, “focused on strengthening our community and creating opportunity for every resident” by fighting for “the health, education, financial stability, and safety net services of every person in McLennan County.”

He also gets involved and is able to help the people of his community through his work at the Hispanic Chamber.

“We host community events such as Christmas Toy Drive, Trunk or Treat, school backpack drives. We have The Floating Mercado, where vendors are able to set up spots to sell their items, and we host job fairs,” Thirkill said. 

Thirkill isn’t just involved because it is part of his job; he says he enjoys going to community events and shopping at local shops to support small businesses in town. There are many things to do in Waco; people just have to look for them. 

Thirkill urged college students to enjoy Waco while they are here and begin to get involved, as well, so they can become a part of the community. 

“Anyone can get involved. You can start with a chamber. There are like seven different ones. There’s community programs, neighborhood programs, and nonprofit ones,” Thirkill said. “Also, I would say to try to serve on committees and boards on some of those chambers that you get involved in.” 

The website, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce  for Waco, has ways to join the chamber, how to contribute to it, and its mission statement. 

“My favorite part about Waco is it is not necessarily a small city, but it’s big enough that they have things here — things you can do. And also there are resources available to people.There is still a close knit community since the town is smaller, so I enjoy that,” Thirkill said. 

Waco has been pegged as a developing city and has seen exponential growth over the past years, with a growth rate of around 1.4% each year, according to a KXXV McLennan County article . Thirkill said he sees a bright future for Waco. 

“I hope that we just keep going in the direction that we are going so that we can create more opportunities for the people of Waco,” Thirkill said. 

Julia-Rachel Dominguez is a freshman journalism major on a pre-law track 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.

Waco is now home for Ke’Sha Lopez

By Gracie Ozburn

Ke’Sha Lopez, a KWTX News 10 anchor, has been an active member of the Waco community for over 10 years. In an interview, Lopez talks about how she stays involved in the “Heart of Texas.”

Ke’Sha Lopez

Lopez said she was first influenced to go into journalism by her cousin who had joined his college news team while growing up in Arkansas. This then inspired her to major in radio and television at Arkansas State University, and she started working on the college’s news station.

 “There were two black anchors at home, and it never registered that I could do television,” Lopez said. “It wasn’t until my cousin came home … and popped in the VHS of him doing a newscast that I was like, ‘I can do that.’”

She had many internships and jobs at stations in Midwest and Southern states, including her first on-air job as a reporter for WKAG-TV in Clarksville, Tenn. Later, she found work in Dallas, which then led to finding a job in Waco. 

Something that she discovered instantly when coming to Texas was the love for the state from the community. “The Texas pride is something I’ve never seen before,” Lopez said. “It’s strong here.”

Lopez has been in the business for almost 20 years. When not reporting, Lopez is working at McLennan Community College teaching a reading and writing course. She started as a substitute teacher because her mom was a teacher and encouraged her to apply. She has since stuck with the teaching path and now teaches a virtual class. It keeps her feeling connected with what is going on in the area and world.

“I feel like I have a different impact on people living here,” Lopez said. “Helping my students learn something that will help them move onto the next level, … that’s rewarding.”

Other ways she stays active is by staying involved in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. It hosts events and had one recently during the election to rally people and get them excited about voting. Pre-pandemic, her work schedule with the morning news show was always eventful, and she was always doing something with her posting about events and talking to groups of people.

“We were so busy,” Lopez said. “We were always out doing something.”

During her freetime, Lopez loves exploring the outdoors and discovering Waco. She especially enjoys walking the trails in Cameron Park. Another spot she finds herself at often is Lula Jane’s, a coffee and bakery shop on Elm Street.

“I love to just go in and see how people are doing,” Lopez said. “There are days where I will just pop in to see what’s going on just to still be in touch with the community around here.”

Lopez said she has also enjoyed watching Waco grow throughout her 10 years of being here. Even though there is construction taking place in many parts of Waco, she enjoys seeing the end result of the projects. 

“It has been really interesting seeing it grow and develop,” Lopez said. “Waco has become my home.”

Gracie Ozburn is from a suburb of Chicago and is a sophomore at Baylor University, majoring in journalism.

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.

Peacock building bridges between Baylor & 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 Belle Ebner 

Waco is a small city that can make a big impact, according to Cuevas Peacock, who works in Baylor University’s Office of External Affairs. It’s a place that is persistently growing and continues to make strides toward improvement. 

Cuevas Peacock

For much too long, people would say Waco is just a pit stop on a road trip to somewhere more interesting, Peacock said. But through his time working with Grassroots Community Development and at Baylor, Peacock has seen the city transform. 

“By being involved in these various things, I am able to see first-hand just what can happen in Waco, and it’s exciting,” he said. 

Peacock said he was a community organizer at Grassroots and was responsible for identifying opportunities for growth in the community. He was pleasantly surprised at the community’s willingness to participate in the city’s success and their receptiveness to new ideas. 

In Waco, there is a strong sense of connectivity one can’t get in bigger cities, according to Peacock. People in Waco wish to find long-term solutions to issues in their community as well as working together to advance equity. Peacock said he is good friends with prominent citizens of Waco, including the mayor.

“Wow,” Peacock said. “Could you have these types of relationships in bigger cities? I don’t think you can.”

Waco is a community built on educational opportunities, Peacock said. If someone wants to gain a skill or knowledge, they have the opportunity at Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and various other educational organizations. 

Baylor University is a large part of the city’s identity, and Peacock said his job includes “bursting the bubble” that surrounds the university and integrating it more into the Waco community. By bridging the two, Peacock believes Waco can become even more culturally vibrant and progressive. 

Organizations such as the Grassroots ensure that solutions are resident-driven and that the people have power, according to Peacock. By making sure the public has the resources to create change themselves, Waco has become a uniquely proactive community.

“If they have an idea, if they have a vision, if they have a thought, if they have a belief, I would encourage them to act on it,” he said. 

There’s a certain Waco attitude that encourages being receptive to new ideas and supporting the idea that change is beneficial, Peacock said. Even if one is tentative to call for change or make a suggestion, there are people in the community who will help them make the necessary steps. 

The connectivity and willingness to support one’s neighbors is what cultivates such a strong community in Waco. The more involved one becomes in providing solutions and improving the city, the more one becomes hopeful for Waco’s future, according to Peacock. 

“I know what’s to come. I see the vision,” he said. Peacock has a vision for an ever-evolving city with a passion for change.

Belle Ebner is from Colorado and is majoring in journalism and public relations 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.