2017 Greatest Hits #8: Communities of Waco…King’s Landing

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

by Rebecca Melton Mercer

A good friend of mine often texts me with the best conversation starter, “So what’s really good?”

So what’s really good, Waco?

Here’s something I think is really good. A new hot spot in town that is the product of a 32 year-old family business and a community that has been gathering since long before #Wacotown was a thing. Back in the corner of a shopping center at 1427 S Valley Mills Drive, just a short walk from Bankston’s Comics, people of Waco are gathering. People of all walks of life, and all ages are meeting up to discuss their common interests in a place that welcomes all, where they can grab a meal, play games, or geek out about things they love.

It’s called King’s Landing.  It’s a little hard to describe exactly what King’s Landing is.  Proud owner Brent Bankston told the Waco Trib it was a “Game Café and retail location.”  I would call it the best clubhouse ever!

Geeks and Gamers. Fans and Food.

The force of community is strong here. And like several places in Waco, the community that is building here is one that looks like Waco. There are truly people from all ages and stages and walks of life. Everything from a mutual love for “Walking Dead” to Super Mario Bros. is bringing them together.

Game night demos with Wade, photo by Kyndall

Bringing people together is something the gaming community is experiencing in big ways in recent years as people are seeking ways to spend time interacting, and gaming seems to be just part of what is bringing people together. As long-time Bankstons employee and my friend Jamie Cooley said recently, people who love playing games of all types and many who had played years ago are “coming out of the closet AND going in to their closets” to drag out sets of Magic the Gathering and Pokémon games, board games, and video games to play with friends and family. There’s a noticeable movement to spend more face to face time in the age of FaceTime.

The thing about “geek culture” is that it was once seen as limited to a few. And those few weren’t always understood or loved by the rest. But in recent years that has changed. ComicCons are more mainstream, “geek” has risen from a put-down to a badge of honor, and the characters, teams, and sub-cultures people love have become a way to strike up a conversation with new people or safely bond with those we already know and love.

2016 was noted for divisiveness, and there’s something beautiful about watching people dive in to a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons and just enjoy a game and a story together. Or to watch the Central Texas Artists Collective (CTAC)  folks walk around their newest display of artwork on the walls and discuss their creative process with King’s Landing guests.

I can grab a locally brewed-beer or locally roasted latte, then head back to the back of the building where a family enjoys pinball and arcade games together and a few folks debate which of the retro video game systems they love the most and why. My husband can again admire the mounted Hylian Shield and Master Sword that he really, really likes. (That’s from the fandom of Zelda, if you, like me, didn’t know.)

I’ve never dropped by and not had to navigate around smaller groups of patrons intently enjoying a game or conversation. But even though I’m fairly new to all of this, there’s an air of welcome and openness.

From King’s Landing you can easily walk over to Bankston’s Sports Memorabilia, Comics and Collectibles  and catch a conversation about sports teams of old, check out that autographed picture of the famous punch thrown by Nolan Ryan, re-hash Baylor/ home team sports, or watch a parent and child head towards the carefully-maintained comic book wall to catch up on the latest story line.

Events. Events. Events!

In either location, get the scoop from employees about the many upcoming events. The crew travels to schools and ComicCons, and locally hosts community fundraiser events, book signings, artist meet and greets, cosplay volunteers, meet ups after movie releases, and the ever-growing Free Comic Book Day celebration every May. There are LGBTQ groups who meet, ladies who lunch and gather for fierce Mahjong play, groups who paint miniature game pieces, artists who draw together, community gatherings, private events, and on and on. Whew! Good thing there’s social media to help spread the word on all the things. (Check out the Epic Valentine’s Day Event this weekend!)

Family Business

Talking to Brent Bankston will quickly get you to the topics of community and family. Brent’s children and many other members of his family work here when they can. The catering business his wife Lee started in their home kitchen has taken new life in Butter my Biscuit, the delicious cafe part of the multi-faceted business that draws people to the shop on Valley Mills every weekend with scratch-made biscuits crafted into savory entrees, sandwiches, snacks and sweet treats. This business deeply cares and seeks to intentionally build a tolerant and positive place that serves our community.

Join the Fun!

Whether you’re looking to let your geek flag fly, are curious, hungry, bored, new in town, looking to reminisce, connect with some friends and family or what the heck ever, I encourage you to check this place out. If we’re there, my husband is the guy with the Batman tattoos who speaks way more geek than me. But all are welcome here, even a muggle like me.

Rebecca Melton Mercer moved to Waco (on purpose) from Houston in 2007 and claims Waco as her adopted home town. Although the “job” she’s most proud of is Mom to two smart kids, nowadays she also spends a lot of time teaching English at LaVega High School, and runs a small business as a social media consultant that gets her out in the community and is as much fun as it is work.  Rebecca has been active in building community through her work with Social Cents, her social media consultancy that serves small businesses and non-profits, with The City Review, a local alternative and entertainment newspaper, teaching in local private and public schools, and volunteering with non-profits that serve the Waco area. Rebecca, along with her husband Jeremy Mercer and the two awesome kids previously referred to, enjoy supporting the creative and positive things that Waco has to offer.

Whether it’s playing trumpet in the “Friday Band” at MCC or playing board games at King’s Landing, One of the wonderful things about Waco is that there are lots of ways to find community here.  Where do you find community in Waco?  Would you be interested in writing about it? If so, let us know.  Email AshleyT@actlocallywaco.org if you have an idea for a post.  You could be seeing your own picture on this page!





“We create because we have been created…” creating a culture and arts identity in Waco

by Angie Veracruz

“We create because we have been created by the creator of all things; therefore, it is in us to create. It is an abundant circle.”

I often speak these words in conversations about why we on a conscious/semi-conscious level collectively do art: the creation of paintings, sculptures, dances, music, writings, etc.  Art’s intended purpose, whether intuitively or intentionally, abstract or skillfully accurate, is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, to be appreciated primarily for its visual or emotional power.

I observe you and can see the divine creation you were intended to be. I can see where life hardened and wrinkled your once smooth features, has now softened your edges as the years pass by. I want to paint you, but mostly experience you in all your amazing wonder. To hear the music in your laugh. To watch as tears create streams down your face. To feel your presence within reaching distance. To me, you are already a wondrous work of art needing no more labels, definitions, separations, or divisions. You are artwork and the artist. You are human.

Arts and Culture in Waco

Waco’s arts community has been growing for years. I believe we all understand the benefits a thriving arts and cultural community imparts on a city. Here are a few reminders as described by Fiona Bond, Creative Waco Director, a thriving arts and cultural community…

  • attracts artists and cultural enterprises to the community
  • encourages business and job development
  • addresses specific needs of a community
  • establishes tourism destinations
  • preserves and reuses historic buildings and historic community assets
  • enhances property values and fosters local cultural development.

Over the past two years, Creative Waco has pulled together our community by highlighting many of the wonderful arts and cultural activities happening around Waco. After a long and tedious process with many meetings, emails, opinions, suggestions, events and art happenings, the application was finished, submitted on time, and Waco was awarded a Cultural Arts District status.

What next?

Now more than ever, however, we cannot take support for the arts for granted.  The Texas Commission on the Arts, including the $5M appropriation for Cultural & Fine Art Districts secured through the legislative advocacy work of Texans for the Arts in the 83rd Session, has been removed from the Senate budget. This will directly affect Waco’s newly established Cultural District.

It is up to you, me and every citizen of Waco to show support for the arts.  I recommend two ways.  The first is direct advocacy.  There are several ways you can get involved to show your support.

In addition to direct advocacy, get involved with creating the arts and culture identity of Waco.  It’s easier than you think. Every day we in Waco are creating our arts and culture identity through the initiatives we support and our attendance at new and favorite festivals such as Deep In The Heart Film Festival (2/16-19), Illectric River Festival (3/18), Texas Food Truck Showdown (4/01), and Art On Elm (4/8).

When we gather with friends for live concerts at the Backyard, when we attend a play or two at Waco Civic Theatre and Jubilee Theatre we are creating our identity. When we enjoy the full orchestra, a concert band, a jazz band, or any blend of musical talents at Waco Hall, Ball Performing Arts Center, or Indian Spring Outdoor Amphitheater we are creating our identify.  When we catch an independent musician performing at Dichotomy, Common Grounds, or any fine establishment we are creating our arts and culture identity.

When we start looking, something visually unique and beautiful finds us. Walk through our local galleries such as Art Center of Waco, Martin Museum, or Studio Gallery.  Or, enjoy the art in businesses like the Hippodrome, Tea2go, Rufi’s Cocina, Shorty’s Pizza Shack, and so many more places!  You can find all the wonderful murals while driving around our beautiful city, and take in the outdoor sculptures that can be found like hidden gems. These are all a part of our arts and culture identity.

Looking for creative ways to get involved in our community?

This past August, Central Texas Artist Collective created a walkable art exhibit called EKPHRASIS: Art & Words. The premise was to pair a visual artist and a writer to collaborate and create an ekphrastic display. The artwork and written pieces were exhibited in the storefront windows of 13 businesses facing Austin Ave between 6th and 8th streets. Over 50 artists, writers, and musicians participated in the exhibit. The opening event drew in community members from all over McLennan County and friends from out of state attended to support their artists.

Although the 2016 exhibit did not have a theme, the overall idea was about community and communication. The purpose was to step out of the traditional art gallery and to feel free to roam from location to location. The viewer had the option to take a tour, led by myself, or explore on their own. Exhibit maps were given to the participating store locations for those who just happen to stumble upon the exhibit.

Then something wonderful happened  — during the Friday voting night and Saturday opening event day —  communication. Free flowing, engaged dialogues full of questions and support. Community members showed up and started having conversations about the artwork and written pieces with each other and the artists who were present near their work.

This year CTAC intends to reprise the EKPHRASIS exhibit by focusing the displays and dialogue on a specific community issue that is necessary to address, difficult to navigate alone, and should have a positive impact towards change in our community.

Currently we are putting together an Ekphrasis Committee who will decide the theme, determine every one’s strengths and level of commitment, then plan a timeline for the exhibit. Our first committee meeting was held at the Provender Store, 60 Austin Ave on Feb 4, 2017 at noon; monthly meetings will occur every 1st Saturday and as needed until the event.  If you are interested in joining the committee, please email CTAC at: centexartistcollecive@gmail.com.  If you would like to stay informed about the call to artists & poets, and any other community creative outlets, like artjams, exhibits, artisan markets, and more! “like” the CTAC facebook.com/CenTexArtists page.  You are a part of the arts community of Waco!

Angie Veracruz is an intuitive artist who is influenced by the world around us and reflective insights. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and their biggest education advocate. She is also a Co-Founder and Executive Director of Central Texas Artist Collective. She is a member of Texans for the Arts and an arts advocate in the making.

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.org for more information.

MCC wants you to succeed!

By Madison Albee

McLennan Community College recognizes that life can sometimes get in the way of achieving educational goals. That is why we have set up a series of student success initiatives, so students may find the resources, encouragement, and guidance they need to be successful now and in the future.

Completion Center

The Completion Center understands that there is more to a student’s life than college. MCC provides Success Coaches to help students find a way to balance it all. They are able to help students who want to see change in their lives, whether that be academic or outside of the classroom. Success Coaches meet with students one-on-one to help them with assetiveness, leadership, time management, decision making, and facilitating positive change. They also help students find resources for food, shelter, transportation, and health when needed. A student’s Success Coach continues to mentor them throughout their time at MCC to make sure they are overcoming their obstacles and meeting their goals.

Student Services Center, Second Floor, Completion Center
254-299-UCAN (8226)

Support and Empowerment Program

Started in 1979 as community service by the Junior League of Waco, Inc., The Support and Empowerment Program has now helped more than 7,000 students find the strength to begin a new life. McLennan Community College offers special services to single parents and displaced homemakers who want to continue their education but might need some help doing so. Some of the services available include funds for childcare, crisis intervention, academic counseling, stress management, and parenting workshops.

Adrienne Potts is a nursing student and mother who has participated in the program for most of her time at MCC. Potts feels that the Support and Empowerment program counselors have helped her greatly with trying to balance school and home life. “I can see they genuinely care about me and my success as a student. They are rooting me on as my #1 fan,” she said.

Lizette LaStrape
SEP Program Coordinator

Men of Color Initiative

Historically men of color have faced many challenges in obtaining a college degree such as lack of role models, cultural barriers to higher education, and community pressures. The Men of Color Initiative at MCC encourages young men to stay in school and succeed in life. Students are mentored by MCC faculty and staff on their academic progress and attendance, and mentors support them in handling difficult situations. Mentees are able to develop a network of contacts, increase self-confidence, and experience success and recognition. This initiative not only strives to increase the retention and completion rates of traditionally unrepresented groups but also hopes to increase the campus’ awareness of issues with diversity and equity.

 Ronald Hochstatter

TRIO Student Support Services

One of eight federally-funded TRIO programs, MCC’s Student Support Services is designed to improve student retention, graduation, and overall success rates. Student Support Services (SSS) offers free academic services to help students continue at MCC, graduate, and transfer to a four-year college or university in a timely manner. Students are able to participate in four-year campus visits and tours, tutoring sessions, financial aid and scholarship searches, as well as career and financial counseling.

Dawn Shulz, a TRIO alum and MCC graduate, reflected on how the program helped her while she was here. “I no doubt have an increased confidence in myself and my academic abilities through all the access to cultural events, leadership opportunities, and community volunteering… experiences that I might not have found on my own,” she said.
Student Services Center, Room 304

Participation in these programs has led many students to pursue opportunities they might not have had otherwise. If you know a student that might be letting life get in the way of pursuing their educational goals, let them know there are resources available to them. Please use the contact information provided to easily reach out and get assistance.

Madison Albee is a senior at Baylor University from Fort Worth, Texas. She is studying journalism/public relations with a concentration in marketing and is graduating this coming May. Currently Madison works for MCC as a public relations intern in the marketing and communications department. She is also the public relations assistant for Luca Magazine.

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.org for more information.


We Need Bigger Boxes

By Bill Gaventa

This last weekend saw one of the most popular service events in Waco, the Really Big Fishing Event for very Special People. The pictures in the WacoTrib were great as was the effort and support put in by so many people and organizations in the Waco area”.  But there is a “catch” here (so to speak) and one that is not meant to criticize the event at all. In fact, it is a positive illustration of the very point I wish to make.

The day of fun and service drew together people who often move in very separate worlds. One of the biggest issues for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as people with other disabilities, is the fact that social, cultural, and architectural barriers often limit their opportunities to participate fully in the kinds of activities many of us take for granted. On the other hand, many people we might call “non-disabled” don’t see or interact with people with disabilities on a regular basis, sometimes because the services and supports for them can separate them from typical settings, or because they stay at home with nothing meaningful to do.

Thus, we end up in a world where people who labeled “disabled” are often seen in one conceptual box, and people labeled “normal” are in another. The problem with these kind of labels is they take on far too much power by seeing a person only by one dimension of their lives. That’s not just a problem here: think now-a-days about political labels, racial labels, cultural labels, religious labels, sexual labels…the list can go on and on. Those labels prejudice what we see, because they fill a whole backpack of assumptions and expectations that we think are true about another person even before we know them. In her famous TED Talk, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls it the danger of a single story.”  Every one of us has experienced that from other people in a way that does not feel right or true to who we are.

Labels put people in boxes in the shelves of our minds. What we need, in so many ways, are bigger boxes into which two boxes labeled differently can fit.  Hence the Really Big Fishing Event for Very Special People. The bigger box was fishing, an activity that people from all kinds of backgrounds enjoy. In fact, for avid fishermen and fisherwomen, the fact that some other people may love fishing but never have a chance to go fishing is the real tragedy or disability, not the other kinds of labels they may wear.

The potential power of this annual Saturday event might also lead to other opportunities for people who love fishing to find other ways to help people with disabilities who also love fishing to have more opportunities to do so. Not in big events, but rather in small boats, from the river bank, from the dock, opportunities where the fishing “box” helps tackle the stereotypes and fears we may have, and where people then build relationships and friendships that mess up our smaller boxes and more rigid labels.

There are organizations around Waco making great strides in building those bigger boxes. Sports brings people together with many levels of ability in Special Olympics and No Limitations Athletics. The Arc of McLennan County uses country music, barbecue and a raffle auction to bring together people in the community who support individuals and families. The Autism Walk on Saturday, April 8 does the same as does art in several venues and programs.  Join the Pride, an event on April 23, uses the great Cameron Park Zoo to do the same, as well as to celebrate people of all abilities at a zoo with a great reputation for its work in support of animals with one form of disability or another.  The Waco Mayor’s Committee on Disabilities coordinates this upcoming event with sponsors who help the day to be free for people with disabilities and their families. Volunteers are both needed and welcome.

The events are all inspiring not only because of the commitment and excitement that runs rampant but also because they find bigger boxes into which we all fit.  They are doubly inspiring if we all look for ways this can happen in everyday lives. So rather than seeing people with differences as labeled boxes on a shelf, every time we see someone as “other,” or “not like me,” could we not ask ourselves: “Gee, I wonder what bigger box we could both fit into.”  They are not hard to find and not hard to build.

All we must do is start the conversation, reach beyond the boxes in which might find ourselves, introduce yourself, and ask questions about who they are, what they like to do, and the dreams they have.  Ronald Reagan first designated March as National Developmental Disabilities Month. If you want to do something in March, any of these organizations can help you. But perhaps you already know some individuals or families where you can start. There is no telling how many labels (and bigger boxes) you will find that you share in common with someone sitting on the shelf with you.

Bill Gaventa is an ordained Baptist minister currently serving as the Director of the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability and the national Collaborative on Faith and Disability. . Bill’s pastoral career has been in a variety of roles at the intersections of faith and disability, including community supports with people with disabilities, training for clergy, seminarians and community services staff, aging and end of life/grief issues in intellectual and developmental disabilities, cultural competence, and community building. He is currently serving as the President of American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for 2016-2017.  He and his wife Beverly moved to Waco in 2013 where she serves as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University.  In Waco, Bill serves on the Mayor’s Committee on Disabilities, the Board of the Arc of McLennan County, and the Professional Network Advisory Committee of the Heart of Texas Region MH/MR Center. You can email Bill at Bill.gaventa@gmail.com.

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.org for more information.